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    Ch. 2 - La Chason de Roland

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    Chapter 2
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    Molz pelerins qui vunt al Munt
    Enquierent molt e grant dreit unt
    Comment l'igliese fut fundee
    Premierement et estoree.
    Cil qui lor dient de l'estoire
    Que cil demandent en memoire
    Ne l'unt pas bien ainz vunt faillant
    En plusors leus e mespernant.
    Por faire la apertement
    Entendre a cels qui escient
    N'unt de clerzie l'a tornee
    De latin tote et ordenee
    Pars veirs romieus novelement
    Molt en segrei por son convent
    Uns jovencels moine est del Munt
    Deus en son reigne part li dunt.
    Guillaume a non de Saint Paier
    Cen vei escrit en cest quaier.
    El tens Robeirt de Torignie
    Fut cil romanz fait e trove.

    Most pilgrims who come to the Mount
    Enquire much and are quite right,
    How the church was founded
    At first, and established.
    Those who tell them the story
    That they ask, in memory
    Have it not well, but fall in error
    In many places, and misapprehension.
    In order to make it clearly
    Intelligible to those who have
    No knowledge of letters, it has been turned
    From the Latin, and wholly rendered
    In Romanesque verses, newly,
    Much in secret, for his convent,
    By a youth; a monk he is of the Mount.
    God in his kingdom grant him part!
    William is his name, of Saint Pair
    As is seen written in this book.
    In the time of Robert of Torigny
    Was this roman made and invented

    These verses begin the "Roman du Mont-Saint-Michel," and if the
    spelling is corrected, they still read almost as easily as Voltaire;
    more easily than Verlaine; and much like a nursery rhyme; but as
    tourists cannot stop to clear their path, or smooth away the
    pebbles, they must be lifted over the rough spots, even when
    roughness is beauty. Translation is an evil, chiefly because every
    one who cares for mediaeval architecture cares for mediaeval French,
    and ought to care still more for mediaeval English. The language of
    this "Roman" was the literary language of England. William of Saint-
    Pair was a subject of Henry II, King of England and Normandy; his
    verses, like those of Richard Coeur-de-Lion, are monuments of
    English literature. To this day their ballad measure is better
    suited to English than to French; even the words and idioms are more
    English than French. Any one who attacks them boldly will find that
    the "vers romieus" run along like a ballad, singing their own
    meaning, and troubling themselves very little whether the meaning is
    exact or not. One's translation is sure to be full of gross
    blunders, but the supreme blunder is that of translating at all when
    one is trying to catch not a fact but a feeling. If translate one
    must, we had best begin by trying to be literal, under protest that
    it matters not a straw whether we succeed. Twelfth-century art was
    not precise; still less "precieuse," like Moliere's famous
    seventeenth-century prudes.

    The verses of the young monk, William, who came from the little
    Norman village of Saint-Pair, near Granville, within sight of the
    Mount, were verses not meant to be brilliant. Simple human beings
    like rhyme better than prose, though both may say the same thing, as
    they like a curved line better than a straight one, or a blue better
    than a grey; but, apart from the sensual appetite, they chose rhyme
    in creating their literature for the practical reason that they
    remembered it better than prose. Men had to carry their libraries in
    their heads.

    These lines of William, beginning his story, are valuable because
    for once they give a name and a date. Abbot Robert of Torigny ruled
    at the Mount from 1154 to 1186. We have got to travel again and
    again between Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres during these years, but
    for the moment we must hurry to get back to William the Conqueror
    and the "Chanson de Roland." William of Saint-Pair comes in here,
    out of place, only on account of a pretty description he gave of the
    annual pilgrimage to the Mount, which is commonly taken to be more
    or less like what he saw every year on the Archangel's Day, and what
    had existed ever since the Normans became Christian in 912:--

    Li jorz iert clers e sanz grant vent.
    Les meschines e les vallez
    Chascuns d'els dist verz ou sonnez.
    Neis li viellart revunt chantant

    De leece funt tuit semblant.
    Qui plus ne seit si chante outree
    E Dex aie u Asusee.
    Cil jugleor la u il vunt
    Tuit lor vieles traites unt
    Laiz et sonnez vunt vielant.

    Li tens est beals la joie est grant.
    Cil palefrei e cil destrier
    E cil roncin e cil sommier
    Qui errouent par le chemin
    Que menouent cil pelerin
    De totes parz henissant vunt
    Por la grant joie que il unt.
    Neis par les bois chantouent tuit
    Li oiselet grant et petit.

    Li buef les vaches vunt muant
    Par les forez e repaissant.
    Cors e boisines e fresteals
    E fleutes e chalemeals
    Sonnoent si que les montaignes
    En retintoent et les pleignes.
    Que esteit dont les plaiseiz
    E des forez e des larriz.
    En cels par a tel sonneiz
    Com si ce fust cers acolliz.

    Entor le mont el bois follu
    Cil travetier unt tres tendu
    Rues unt fait par les chemins.
    Plentei i out de divers vins
    Pain e pastez fruit e poissons
    Oisels obleies veneisons
    De totes parz aveit a vendre
    Assez en out qui ad que tendre.

    The day was clear, without much wind.
    The maidens and the varlets
    Each of them said verse or song;
    Even the old people go singing;

    All have a look of joy.
    Who knows no more sings HURRAH,
    Or GOD HELP, or UP AND ON!
    The minstrels there where they go
    Have all brought their viols;
    Lays and songs playing as they go.

    The weather is fine; the joy is great;
    The palfreys and the chargers,
    And the hackneys and the packhorses
    Which wander along the road
    That the pilgrims follow,
    On all sides neighing go,
    For the great joy they feel.
    Even in the woods sing all
    The little birds, big and small.

    The oxen and the cows go lowing
    Through the forests as they feed.
    Horns and trumpets and shepherd's pipes
    And flutes and pipes of reed
    Sound so that the mountains
    Echo to them, and the plains.
    How was it then with the glades
    And with the forests and the pastures?
    In these there was such sound
    As though it were a stag at bay.

    About the Mount, in the leafy wood,
    The workmen have tents set up;
    Streets have made along the roads.
    Plenty there was of divers wines,
    Bread and pasties, fruit and fish,
    Birds, cakes, venison,
    Everywhere there was for sale.
    Enough he had who has the means to pay.

    If you are not satisfied with this translation, any scholar of
    French will easily help to make a better, for we are not studying
    grammar or archaeology, and would rather be inaccurate in such
    matters than not, if, at that price, a freer feeling of the art
    could be caught. Better still, you can turn to Chaucer, who wrote
    his Canterbury Pilgrimage two hundred years afterwards:--

    Whanne that April with his shoures sote
    The droughte of March hath perced to the rote...
    Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages
    And palmeres for to seken strange strondes...
    And especially, from every shires ende
    Of Englelonde, to Canterbury they wende
    The holy blisful martyr for to seke,
    That hem hath holpen whan that they were seke.

    The passion for pilgrimages was universal among our ancestors as far
    back as we can trace them. For at least a thousand years it was
    their chief delight, and is not yet extinct. To feel the art of
    Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres we have got to become pilgrims again:
    but, just now, the point of most interest is not the pilgrim so much
    as the minstrel who sang to amuse him,--the jugleor or jongleur,--
    who was at home in every abbey, castle or cottage, as well as at
    every shrine. The jugleor became a jongleur and degenerated into the
    street-juggler; the minstrel, or menestrier, became very early a
    word of abuse, equivalent to blackguard; and from the beginning the
    profession seems to have been socially decried, like that of a
    music-hall singer or dancer in later times; but in the eleventh
    century, or perhaps earlier still, the jongleur seems to have been a
    poet, and to have composed the songs he sang. The immense mass of
    poetry known as the "Chansons de Geste" seems to have been composed
    as well as sung by the unnamed Homers of France, and of all spots in
    the many provinces where the French language in its many dialects
    prevailed, Mont-Saint-Michel should have been the favourite with the
    jongleur, not only because the swarms of pilgrims assured him food
    and an occasional small piece of silver, but also because Saint
    Michael was the saint militant of all the warriors whose exploits in
    war were the subject of the "Chansons de Geste." William of Saint-
    Pair was a priest-poet; he was not a minstrel, and his "Roman" was
    not a chanson; it was made to read, not to recite; but the "Chanson
    de Roland" was a different affair.

    So it was, too, with William's contemporaries and rivals or
    predecessors, the monumental poets of Norman-English literature.
    Wace, whose rhymed history of the Norman dukes, which he called the
    "Roman de Rou," or "Rollo," is an English classic of the first rank,
    was a canon of Bayeux when William of Saint-Pair was writing at
    Mont-Saint-Michel. His rival Benoist, who wrote another famous
    chronicle on the same subject, was also a historian, and not a
    singer. In that day literature meant verse; elegance in French prose
    did not yet exist; but the elegancies of poetry in the twelfth
    century were as different, in kind, from the grand style of the
    eleventh, as Virgil was different from Homer.

    William of Saint-Pair introduces us to the pilgrimage and to the
    jongleur, as they had existed at least two hundred years before his
    time, and were to exist two hundred years after him. Of all our two
    hundred and fifty million arithmetical ancestors who were going on
    pilgrimages in the middle of the eleventh century, the two who would
    probably most interest every one, after eight hundred years have
    passed, would be William the Norman and Harold the Saxon. Through
    William of Saint-Pair and Wace and Benoist, and the most charming
    literary monument of all, the Bayeux tapestry of Queen Matilda, we
    can build up the story of such a pilgrimage which shall be as
    historically exact as the battle of Hastings, and as artistically
    true as the Abbey Church.

    According to Wace's "Roman de Rou," when Harold's father, Earl
    Godwin, died, April 15, 1053, Harold wished to obtain the release of
    certain hostages, a brother and a cousin, whom Godwin had given to
    Edward the Confessor as security for his good behaviour, and whom
    Edward had sent to Duke William for safe-keeping. Wace took the
    story from other and older sources, and its accuracy is much
    disputed, but the fact that Harold went to Normandy seems to be
    certain, and you will see at Bayeux the picture of Harold asking
    permission of King Edward to make the journey, and departing on
    horseback, with his hawk and hounds and followers, to take ship at
    Bosham, near Chichester and Portsmouth. The date alone is doubtful.
    Common sense seems to suggest that the earliest possible date could
    not be too early to explain the rash youth of the aspirant to a
    throne who put himself in the power of a rival in the eleventh
    century. When that rival chanced to be William the Bastard, not even
    boyhood could excuse the folly; but Mr. Freeman, the chief authority
    on this delicate subject, inclined to think that Harold was forty
    years old when he committed his blunder, and that the year was about
    1064. Between 1054 and 1064 the historian is free to choose what
    year he likes, and the tourist is still freer. To save trouble for
    the memory, the year 1058 will serve, since this is the date of the
    triumphal arches of the Abbey Church on the Mount. Harold, in
    sailing from the neighbourhood of Portsmouth, must have been bound
    for Caen or Rouen, but the usual west winds drove him eastward till
    he was thrown ashore on the coast of Ponthieu, between Abbeville and
    Boulogne, where he fell into the hands of the Count of Ponthieu,
    from whom he was rescued or ransomed by Duke William of Normandy and
    taken to Rouen. According to Wace and the "Roman de Rou":--

    Guillaume tint Heraut maint jour
    Si com il dut a grant enor.
    A maint riche torneiement
    Le fist aller mult noblement.
    Chevals e armes li dona
    Et en Bretaigne le mena
    Ne sai de veir treiz faiz ou quatre
    Quant as Bretons se dut combattre.

    William kept Harold many a day,
    As was his due in great honour.
    To many a rich tournament
    Made him go very nobly.
    Horses and arms gave him
    And into Brittany led him
    I know not truly whether three or four times
    When he had to make war on the Bretons.

    Perhaps the allusion to rich tournaments belongs to the time of Wace
    rather than to that of Harold a century earlier, before the first
    crusade, but certainly Harold did go with William on at least one
    raid into Brittany, and the charming tapestry of Bayeux, which
    tradition calls by the name of Queen Matilda, shows William's men-
    at-arms crossing the sands beneath Mont-Saint-Michel, with the Latin
    legend:--"Et venerunt ad Montem Michaelis. Hic Harold dux trahebat
    eos de arena. Venerunt ad flumen Cononis." They came to Mont-Saint-
    Michel, and Harold dragged them out of the quicksands.

    They came to the river Couesnon. Harold must have got great fame by
    saving life on the sands, to be remembered and recorded by the
    Normans themselves after they had killed him; but this is the affair
    of historians. Tourists note only that Harold and William came to
    the Mount:--"Venerunt ad Montem." They would never have dared to
    pass it, on such an errand, without stopping to ask the help of
    Saint Michael.

    If William and Harold came to the Mount, they certainly dined or
    supped in the old refectory, which is where we have lain in wait for
    them. Where Duke William was, his jongleur--jugleor--was not far,
    and Wace knew, as every one in Normandy seemed to know, who this
    favourite was,--his name, his character, and his song. To him Wace
    owed one of the most famous passages in his story of the assault at
    Hastings, where Duke William and his battle began their advance
    against the English lines:--

    Taillefer qui mult bien chantout
    Sor un cheval qui tost alout
    Devant le duc alout chantant
    De Karlemaigne e de Rollant
    E d'Oliver e des vassals
    Qui morurent en Rencevals.
    Quant il orent chevalchie tant
    Qu'as Engleis vindrent apreismant:
    "Sire," dist Taillefer, "merci!
    Io vos ai longuement servi.
    Tot mon servise me devez.
    Hui se vos plaist le me rendez.
    Por tot guerredon vos require
    E si vos veil forment preier
    Otreiez mei que io ni faille
    Le premier colp de la bataille."
    Li dus respondi: "Io l'otrei."

    Taillefer who was famed for song,
    Mounted on a charger strong,
    Rode on before the Duke, and sang
    Of Roland and of Charlemagne,
    Oliver and the vassals all
    Who fell in fight at Roncesvals.
    When they had ridden till they saw
    The English battle close before:
    "Sire," said Taillefer, "a grace!
    I have served you long and well;
    All reward you owe me still;
    To-day repay me if you please.
    For all guerdon I require,
    And ask of you in formal prayer,
    Grant to me as mine of right
    The first blow struck in the fight."
    The Duke answered: "I grant."

    Of course, critics doubt the story, as they very properly doubt
    everything. They maintain that the "Chanson de Roland" was not as
    old as the battle of Hastings, and certainly Wace gave no sufficient
    proof of it. Poetry was not usually written to prove facts. Wace
    wrote a hundred years after the battle of Hastings. One is not
    morally required to be pedantic to the point of knowing more than
    Wace knew, but the feeling of scepticism, before so serious a
    monument as Mont-Saint-Michel, is annoying. The "Chanson de Roland"
    ought not to be trifled with, at least by tourists in search of art.
    One is shocked at the possibility of being deceived about the
    starting-point of American genealogy. Taillefer and the song rest on
    the same evidence that Duke William and Harold and the battle itself
    rest upon, and to doubt the "Chanson" is to call the very roll of
    Battle Abbey in question. The whole fabric of society totters; the
    British peerage turns pale.

    Wace did not invent all his facts. William of Malmesbury is supposed
    to have written his prose chronicle about 1120 when many of the men
    who fought at Hastings must have been alive, and William expressly
    said: "Tune cantilena Rollandi inchoata ut martium viri exemplum
    pugnaturos accenderet, inclamatoque dei auxilio, praelium
    consertum." Starting the "Chanson de Roland" to inflame the fighting
    temper of the men, battle was joined. This seems enough proof to
    satisfy any sceptic, yet critics still suggest that the "cantilena
    Rollandi" must have been a Norman "Chanson de Rou," or "Rollo," or
    at best an earlier version of the "Chanson de Roland"; but no Norman
    chanson would have inflamed the martial spirit of William's army,
    which was largely French; and as for the age of the version, it is
    quite immaterial for Mont-Saint-Michel; the actual version is old
    enough.

    Taillefer himself is more vital to the interest of the dinner in the
    refectory, and his name was not mentioned by William of Malmesbury.
    If the song was started by the Duke's order, it was certainly
    started by the Duke's jongleur, and the name of this jongleur
    happens to be known on still better authority than that of William
    of Malmesbury. Guy of Amiens went to England in 1068 as almoner of
    Queen Matilda, and there wrote a Latin poem on the battle of
    Hastings which must have been complete within ten years after the
    battle was fought, for Guy died in 1076. Taillefer, he said, led the
    Duke's battle:--

    Incisor-ferri mimus cognomine dictus.

    "Taillefer, a jongleur known by that name." A mime was a singer, but
    Taillefer was also an actor:--

    Histrio cor audax nimium quem nobilitabat.

    "A jongleur whom a very brave heart ennobled." The jongleur was not
    noble by birth, but was ennobled by his bravery.

    Hortatur Gallos verbis et territat Anglos
    Alte projiciens ludit et ense suo.

    Like a drum-major with his staff, he threw his sword high in the air
    and caught it, while he chanted his song to the French, and
    terrified the English. The rhymed chronicle of Geoffrey Gaimer who
    wrote about 1150, and that of Benoist who was Wace's rival, added
    the story that Taillefer died in the melee.

    The most unlikely part of the tale was, after all, not the singing
    of the "Chanson," but the prayer of Taillefer to the Duke:--

    "Otreiez mei que io ni faille
    Le premier colp de la bataille."

    Legally translated, Taillefer asked to be ennobled, and offered to
    pay for it with his life. The request of a jongleur to lead the
    Duke's battle seems incredible. In early French "bataille" meant
    battalion,--the column of attack. The Duke's grant: "Io l'otrei!"
    seems still more fanciful. Yet Guy of Amiens distinctly confirmed
    the story: "Histrio cor audax nimium quem nobilitabat"; a stage-
    player--a juggler--the Duke's singer--whose bravery ennobled him.
    The Duke granted him--octroya--his patent of nobility on the field.

    All this preamble leads only to unite the "Chanson" with the
    architecture of the Mount, by means of Duke William and his Breton
    campaign of 1058. The poem and the church are akin; they go
    together, and explain each other. Their common trait is their
    military character, peculiar to the eleventh century. The round arch
    is masculine. The "Chanson" is so masculine that, in all its four
    thousand lines, the only Christian woman so much as mentioned was
    Alda, the sister of Oliver and the betrothed of Roland, to whom one
    stanza, exceedingly like a later insertion, was given, toward the
    end. Never after the first crusade did any great poem rise to such
    heroism as to sustain itself without a heroine. Even Dante attempted
    no such feat.

    Duke William's party, then, is to be considered as assembled at
    supper in the old refectory, in the year 1058, while the triumphal
    piers of the church above are rising. The Abbot, Ralph of Beaumont,
    is host; Duke William sits with him on a dais; Harold is by his side
    "a grant enor"; the Duke's brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, with the
    other chief vassals, are present; and the Duke's jongleur Taillefer
    is at his elbow. The room is crowded with soldiers and monks, but
    all are equally anxious to hear Taillefer sing. As soon as dinner is
    over, at a nod from the Duke, Taillefer begins:--

    Carles li reis nostre emperere magnes
    Set anz tuz pleins ad estet en Espaigne
    Cunquist la tere tresque en la mer altaigne
    Ni ad castel ki devant lui remaigne
    Murs ne citez ni est remes a fraindre.

    Charles the king, our emperor, the great,
    Seven years complete has been in Spain,
    Conquered the land as far as the high seas,
    Nor is there castle that holds against him,
    Nor wall or city left to capture.

    The "Chanson" opened with these lines, which had such a direct and
    personal bearing on every one who heard them as to sound like
    prophecy. Within ten years William was to stand in England where
    Charlemagne stood in Spain. His mind was full of it, and of the
    means to attain it; and Harold was even more absorbed than he by the
    anxiety of the position. Harold had been obliged to take oath that
    he would support William's claim to the English throne, but he was
    still undecided, and William knew men too well to feel much
    confidence in an oath. As Taillefer sang on, he reached the part of
    Ganelon, the typical traitor, the invariable figure of mediaeval
    society. No feudal lord was without a Ganelon. Duke William saw them
    all about him.

    He might have felt that Harold would play the part, but if Harold
    should choose rather to be Roland, Duke William could have foretold
    that his own brother, Bishop Odo, after gorging himself on the
    plunder of half England, would turn into a Ganelon so dangerous as
    to require a prison for life. When Taillefer reached the battle-
    scenes, there was no further need of imagination to realize them.
    They were scenes of yesterday and to-morrow. For that matter,
    Charlemagne or his successor was still at Aix, and the Moors were
    still in Spain. Archbishop Turpin of Rheims had fought with sword
    and mace in Spain, while Bishop Odo of Bayeux was to marshal his men
    at Hastings, like a modern general, with a staff, but both were
    equally at home on the field of battle. Verse by verse, the song was
    a literal mirror of the Mount. The battle of Hastings was to be
    fought on the Archangel's Day. What happened to Roland at
    Roncesvalles was to happen to Harold at Hastings, and Harold, as he
    was dying like Roland, was to see his brother Gyrth die like Oliver.
    Even Taillefer was to be a part, and a distinguished part, of his
    chanson. Sooner or later, all were to die in the large and simple
    way of the eleventh century. Duke William himself, twenty years
    later, was to meet a violent death at Mantes in the same spirit, and
    if Bishop Odo did not die in battle, he died, at least, like an
    eleventh-century hero, on the first crusade. First or last, the
    whole company died in fight, or in prison, or on crusade, while the
    monks shrived them and prayed.

    Then Taillefer certainly sang the great death-scenes. Even to this
    day every French school-boy, if he knows no other poetry, knows
    these verses by heart. In the eleventh century they wrung the heart
    of every man-at-arms in Europe, whose school was the field of battle
    and the hand-to-hand fight. No modern singer ever enjoys such power
    over an audience as Taillefer exercised over these men who were
    actors as well as listeners. In the melee at Roncesvalles, overborne
    by innumerable Saracens, Oliver at last calls for help:--

    Munjoie escriet e haltement e cler.
    Rollant apelet sun ami e sun per;
    "Sire compainz a mei kar vus justez.
    A grant dulur ermes hoi deserveret." Aoi.

    "Montjoie!" he cries, loud and clear,
    Roland he calls, his friend and peer;
    "Sir Friend! ride now to help me here!
    Parted today, great pity were."

    Of course the full value of the verse cannot be regained. One knows
    neither how it was sung nor even how it was pronounced. The
    assonances are beyond recovering; the "laisse" or leash of verses or
    assonances with the concluding cry, "Aoi," has long ago vanished
    from verse or song. The sense is as simple as the "Ballad of Chevy
    Chase," but one must imagine the voice and acting. Doubtless
    Taillefer acted each motive; when Oliver called loud and clear,
    Taillefer's voice rose; when Roland spoke "doulcement et suef," the
    singer must have sung gently and soft; and when the two friends,
    with the singular courtesy of knighthood and dignity of soldiers,
    bowed to each other in parting and turned to face their deaths,
    Taillefer may have indicated the movement as he sang. The verses
    gave room for great acting. Hearing Oliver's cry for help, Roland
    rode up, and at sight of the desperate field, lost for a moment his
    consciousness:--

    As vus Rollant sur sun cheval pasmet
    E Olivier ki est a mort nafrez!
    Tant ad sainiet li oil li sunt trublet
    Ne luinz ne pres ne poet veeir si cler
    Que reconuisset nisun hume mortel.
    Sun cumpaignun cum il l'ad encuntret
    Sil fiert amunt sur l'elme a or gemmet
    Tut li detrenchet d'ici que al nasel
    Mais en la teste ne l'ad mie adeset.
    A icel colp l'ad Rollanz reguardet
    Si li demandet dulcement et suef
    "Sire cumpainz, faites le vus de gred?
    Ja est co Rollanz ki tant vus soelt amer.
    Par nule guise ne m'aviez desfiet,"
    Dist Oliviers: "Or vus oi jo parler
    Io ne vus vei. Veied vus damnedeus!
    Ferut vus ai. Kar le me pardunez!"
    Rollanz respunt: "Jo n'ai nient de mel.
    Jol vus parduins ici e devant deu."
    A icel mot l'uns al altre ad clinet.
    Par tel amur as les vus desevrez!

    There Roland sits unconscious on his horse,
    And Oliver who wounded is to death,
    So much has bled, his eyes grow dark to him,
    Nor far nor near can see so clear
    As to recognize any mortal man.
    His friend, when he has encountered him,
    He strikes upon the helmet of gemmed gold,
    splits it from the crown to the nose-piece,
    But to the head he has not reached at all.
    At this blow Roland looks at him,
    Asks him gently and softly:
    "Sir Friend, do you it in earnest?
    You know 't is Roland who has so loved you.
    In no way have you sent to me defiance."
    Says Oliver: "Indeed I hear you speak,
    I do not see you. May God see and save you!
    Strike you I did. I pray you pardon me."
    Roland replies: "I have no harm at all.
    I pardon you here and before God!"
    At this word, one to the other bends himself.
    With such affection, there they separate.

    No one should try to render this into English--or, indeed, into
    modern French--verse, but any one who will take the trouble to catch
    the metre and will remember that each verse in the "leash" ends in
    the same sound,--aimer, parler, cler, mortel, damnede, mel, deu,
    suef, nasel,--however the terminal syllables may be spelled, can
    follow the feeling of the poetry as well as though it were Greek
    hexameter. He will feel the simple force of the words and action, as
    he feels Homer. It is the grand style,--the eleventh century:--

    Ferut vus ai! Kar le me pardunez!

    Not a syllable is lost, and always the strongest syllable is chosen.
    Even the sentiment is monosyllabic and curt:--

    Ja est co Rollanz ki tant vus soelt amer!

    Taillefer had, in such a libretto, the means of producing dramatic
    effects that the French comedy or the grand opera never approached,
    and such as made Bayreuth seem thin and feeble. Duke William's
    barons must have clung to his voice and action as though they were
    in the very melee, striking at the helmets of gemmed gold. They had
    all been there, and were to be there again. As the climax
    approached, they saw the scene itself; probably they had seen it
    every year, more or less, since they could swing a sword. Taillefer
    chanted the death of Oliver and of Archbishop Turpin and all the
    other barons of the rear guard, except Roland, who was left for dead
    by the Saracens when they fled on hearing the horns of Charlemagne's
    returning host. Roland came back to consciousness on feeling a
    Saracen marauder tugging at his sword Durendal. With a blow of his
    ivory horn--oliphant--he killed the pagan; then feeling death near,
    he prepared for it. His first thought was for Durendal, his sword,
    which he could not leave to infidels. In the singular triple
    repetition which gives more of the same solidity and architectural
    weight to the verse, he made three attempts to break the sword, with
    a lament--a plaint--for each. Three times he struck with all his
    force against the rock; each time the sword rebounded without
    breaking. The third time--

    Rollanz ferit en une pierre bise
    Plus en abat que jo ne vus sai dire.
    L'espee cruist ne fruisset ne ne briset
    Cuntre le ciel amunt est resortie.
    Quant veit li quens que ne la fraindrat mie
    Mult dulcement la plainst a sei meisme.
    "E! Durendal cum ies bele e saintisme!
    En l'oret punt asez i ad reliques.
    La dent saint Pierre e del sanc seint Basilie
    E des chevels mun seignur seint Denisie
    Del vestment i ad seinte Marie.
    Il nen est dreiz que paien te baillisent.
    De chrestiens devez estre servie.
    Ne vus ait hum ki facet cuardie!
    Mult larges terres de vus averai cunquises
    Que Carles tient ki la barbe ad flurie.
    E li emperere en est e ber e riches."

    Roland strikes on a grey stone,
    More of it cuts off than I can tell you.
    The sword grinds, but shatters not nor breaks,
    Upward against the sky it rebounds.
    When the Count sees that he can never break it,
    Very gently he mourns it to himself:
    "Ah, Durendal, how fair you are and sacred!
    In your golden guard are many relics,
    The tooth of Saint Peter and blood of Saint Basil,
    And hair of my seigneur Saint-Denis,
    Of the garment too of Saint Mary.
    It is not right that pagans should own you.
    By Christians you should be served,
    Nor should man have you who does cowardice.
    Many wide lands by you I have conquered
    That Charles holds, who has the white beard,
    And emperor of them is noble and rich."

    This "laisse" is even more eleventh-century than the other, but it
    appealed no longer to the warriors; it spoke rather to the monks. To
    the warriors, the sword itself was the religion, and the relics were
    details of ornament or strength. To the priest, the list of relics
    was more eloquent than the Regent diamond on the hilt and the
    Kohinoor on the scabbard. Even to us it is interesting if it is
    understood. Roland had gone on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He had
    stopped at Rome and won the friendship of Saint Peter, as the tooth
    proved; he had passed through Constantinople and secured the help of
    Saint Basil; he had reached Jerusalem and gained the affection of
    the Virgin; he had come home to France and secured the support of
    his "seigneur" Saint Denis; for Roland, like Hugh Capet, was a
    liege-man of Saint Denis and French to the heart. France, to him,
    was Saint Denis, and at most the Ile de France, but not Anjou or
    even Maine. These were countries he had conquered with Durendal:--

    Jo l'en cunquis e Anjou e Bretaigne
    Si l'en cunquis e Peitou e le Maine
    Jo l'en cunquis Normendie la franche
    Si l'en cunquis Provence e Equitaigne.

    He had conquered these for his emperor Charlemagne with the help of
    his immediate spiritual lord or seigneur Saint Denis, but the monks
    knew that he could never have done these feats without the help of
    Saint Peter, Saint Basil, and Saint Mary the Blessed Virgin, whose
    relics, in the hilt of his sword, were worth more than any king's
    ransom. To this day a tunic of the Virgin is the most precious
    property of the cathedral at Chartres. Either one of Roland's relics
    would have made the glory of any shrine in Europe, and every monk
    knew their enormous value and power better than he knew the value of
    Roland's conquests.

    Yet even the religion is martial, as though it were meant for the
    fighting Archangel and Odo of Bayeux. The relics serve the sword;
    the sword is not in service of the relics. As the death-scene
    approaches, the song becomes even more military:--

    Co sent Rollanz que la mort le tresprent
    Devers la teste sur le quer li descent.
    Desuz un pin i est alez curanz
    Sur l'erbe verte si est culchiez adenz
    Desuz lui met s'espee e l'olifant
    Turnat sa teste vers la paiene gent.
    Pur co l'ad fait que il voelt veirement
    Que Carles diet et trestute sa gent
    Li gentils quens quil fut morz cunqueranz.

    Then Roland feels that death is taking him;
    Down from the head upon the heart it falls.
    Beneath a pine he hastens running;
    On the green grass he throws himself down;
    Beneath him puts his sword and oliphant,
    Turns his face toward the pagan army.
    For this he does it, that he wishes greatly
    That Charles should say and all his men,
    The gentle Count has died a conqueror.

    Thus far, not a thought or a word strays from the field of war. With
    a childlike intensity, every syllable bends toward the single idea--

    Li gentils quens quil fut morz cunqueranz.

    Only then the singer allowed the Church to assert some of its
    rights:-

    Co sent Rollanz de sun tens ni ad plus
    Devers Espaigne gist en un pui agut
    A l'une main si ad sun piz batut.
    "Deus meie culpe vers les tues vertuz
    De mes pecchiez des granz e des menuz
    Que jo ai fait des l'ure que nez fui
    Tresqu'a cest jur que ci sui consouz."
    Sun destre guant en ad vers deu tendut
    Angle del ciel i descendent a lui. Aoi.

    Then Roland feels that his last hour has come
    Facing toward Spain he lies on a steep hill,
    While with one hand he beats upon his breast:
    "Mea culpa, God! through force of thy miracles
    Pardon my sins, the great as well as small,
    That I have done from the hour I was born
    Down to this day that I have now attained."
    His right glove toward God he lifted up.
    Angels from heaven descend on him. Aoi.
    Li quens Rollanz se jut desuz un pin
    Envers Espaigne en ad turnet sun vis
    De plusurs choses a remembrer li prist
    De tantes terres cume li bers cunquist
    De dulce France des humes de sun lign
    De Carlemagne sun seignur kil nurrit
    Ne poet muer men plurt e ne suspirt
    Mais lui meisme ne voelt metre en ubli
    Claimet sa culpe si priet deu mercit.
    "Veire paterne ki unkes ne mentis
    Seint Lazarun de mort resurrexis
    E Daniel des liuns guaresis
    Guaris de mei l'anme de tuz perils
    Pur les pecchiez que en ma vie fis."

    Sun destre guant a deu en puroffrit
    E de sa main seinz Gabriel lad pris
    Desur sun braz teneit le chief enclin
    Juintes ses mains est alez a sa fin.
    Deus li tramist sun angle cherubin
    E Seint Michiel de la mer del peril
    Ensemble od els Seinz Gabriels i vint
    L' anme del cunte portent en pareis.

    Count Roland throws himself beneath a pine
    And toward Spain has turned his face away.
    Of many things he called the memory back,
    Of many lands that he, the brave, had conquered,
    Of gentle France, the men of his lineage,
    Of Charlemagne his lord, who nurtured him;
    He cannot help but weep and sigh for these,
    But for himself will not forget to care;
    He cries his Culpe, he prays to God for grace.
    "O God the Father who has never lied,
    Who raised up Saint Lazarus from death,
    And Daniel from the lions saved,
    Save my soul from all the perils
    For the sins that in my life I did!"

    His right-hand glove to God he proffered;
    Saint Gabriel from his hand took it;
    Upon his arm he held his head inclined,
    Folding his hands he passed to his end.
    God sent to him his angel cherubim
    And Saint Michael of the Sea in Peril,
    Together with them came Saint Gabriel.
    The soul of the Count they bear to Paradise.

    Our age has lost much of its ear for poetry, as it has its eye for
    colour and line, and its taste for war and worship, wine and women.
    Not one man in a hundred thousand could now feel what the eleventh
    century felt in these verses of the "Chanson," and there is no
    reason for trying to do so, but there is a certain use in trying for
    once to understand not so much the feeling as the meaning. The
    naivete of the poetry is that of the society. God the Father was the
    feudal seigneur, who raised Lazarus--his baron or vassal--from the
    grave, and freed Daniel, as an evidence of his power and loyalty; a
    seigneur who never lied, or was false to his word. God the Father,
    as feudal seigneur, absorbs the Trinity, and, what is more
    significant, absorbs or excludes also the Virgin, who is not
    mentioned in the prayer. To this seigneur, Roland in dying,
    proffered (puroffrit) his right-hand gauntlet. Death was an act of
    homage. God sent down his Archangel Gabriel as his representative to
    accept the homage and receive the glove. To Duke William and his
    barons nothing could seem more natural and correct. God was not
    farther away than Charlemagne.

    Correct as the law may have been, the religion even at that time
    must have seemed to the monks to need professional advice. Roland's
    life was not exemplary. The "Chanson" had taken pains to show that
    the disaster at Roncesvalles was due to Roland's headstrong folly
    and temper. In dying, Roland had not once thought of these faults,
    or repented of his worldly ambitions, or mentioned the name of Alda,
    his betrothed. He had clung to the memory of his wars and conquests,
    his lineage, his earthly seigneur Charlemagne, and of "douce
    France." He had forgotten to give so much as an allusion to Christ.
    The poet regarded all these matters as the affair of the Church; all
    the warrior cared for was courage, loyalty, and prowess.

    The interest of these details lies not in the scholarship or the
    historical truth or even the local colour, so much as in the art.
    The naivete of the thought is repeated by the simplicity of the
    verse. Word and thought are equally monosyllabic. Nothing ever
    matched it. The words bubble like a stream in the woods:--

    Co sent Rollanz de sun tens ni ad plus.

    Try and put them into modern French, and see what will happen:--

    Que jo ai fait des l'ure que nez fui.

    The words may remain exactly the same, but the poetry will have gone
    out of them. Five hundred years later, even the English critics had
    so far lost their sense for military poetry that they professed to
    be shocked by Milton's monosyllables:--

    Whereat he inly raged, and, as they talked,
    Smote him into the midriff with a stone
    That beat out life.

    Milton's language was indeed more or less archaic and Biblical; it
    was a Puritan affectation; but the "Chanson" in the refectory
    actually reflected, repeated, echoed, the piers and arches of the
    Abbey Church just rising above. The verse is built up. The qualities
    of the architecture reproduce themselves in the song: the same
    directness, simplicity, absence of self-consciousness; the same
    intensity of purpose; even the same material; the prayer is
    granite:--

    Guaris de mei l'anme de tuz perils Pur les pecchiez que en ma vie
    fisi

    The action of dying is felt, like the dropping of a keystone into
    the vault, and if the Romanesque arches in the church, which are
    within hearing, could speak, they would describe what they are doing
    in the precise words of the poem:--

    Desur sun braz teneit Ie chief enclin Juintes ses mains est alez a
    sa fin.

    Upon their shoulders have their heads inclined,
    Folded their hands, and sunken to their rest.

    Many thousands of times these verses must have been sung at the
    Mount and echoed in every castle and on every battle-field from the
    Welsh Marches to the shores of the Dead Sea. No modern opera or play
    ever approached the popularity of the "Chanson." None has ever
    expressed with anything like the same completeness the society that
    produced it. Chanted by every minstrel,--known by heart, from
    beginning to end, by every man and woman and child, lay or
    clerical,--translated into every tongue,--more intensely felt, if
    possible, in Italy and Spain than in Normandy and England,--perhaps
    most effective, as a work of art, when sung by the Templars in their
    great castles in the Holy Land,--it is now best felt at Mont-Saint-
    Michel, and from the first must have been there at home. The proof
    is the line, evidently inserted for the sake of its local effect,
    which invoked Saint Michael in Peril of the Sea at the climax of
    Roland's death, and one needs no original documents or contemporary
    authorities to prove that, when Taillefer came to this invocation,
    not only Duke William and his barons, but still more Abbot Ranulf
    and his monks, broke into a frenzy of sympathy which expressed the
    masculine and military passions of the Archangel better than it
    accorded with the rules of Saint Benedict.
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    Chapter 2
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