The Song of Roland

I love translations that make me feel I am reading what a native speaker is reading. Kenneth Rexroth did for me with 100 Poems from the Chinese, 100 Poems from the Japanese, and other collections.

Schoken did a tremendous job publishing Kafka. Their books often had, side by side, the original page in German and then its corresponding  page in English.

Have you tried to read War and Peace? Look over several translations at the library or online. There’s a tremendous difference and with luck you’ll find a readable version. I wish I could remember the translation that got me through that great book.

But onto the Song of Roland. You can read plenty about it online, (external link) The translation from the French is by Frederick Bliss Luquiens and there is no equal. Stirring stuff. Just a few random snippets.

Charles the great King, lord of the land of France,
Has fought beyond the hills for seven years,
And led his conquering host to the land’s end.
There is but one of all the towns of Spain
Unshattered – grim Saragossa – mountain-girt,
Held by Marsila, King of Spain, of those
Who love not God and serve false gods of stone
Brought from the shores of Araby – Hapless King!
Your hour is come, for all your gods of stone!

And then he cried: “From yonder pointed rock
I saw the Paynims riding. Never, I think,
Hath living man seen more of them. Alone
The vanguard rides a hundred thousand strong!
Shield upon shining shield they surge, as far
As eye can reach. Their helms and coats of mail
Are laced upon them. Heavenward point their spears,
The burnished tips bright-gleaming. Franks of France,
You shall have battle such as never was
Till now. Be strong in God! Nor yield of ground
The measure of this lance” And all the Franks
Cried with one voice: “A curse on him who flees!
Not one of us will fail you in this hour!”

He spake: and Roland winded loud and long
His ivory horn. Amid the towering hills
Echoed the flying sound. And Charles the King,
Full thirty leagues away, hearkened, and all
Who rode beside him hearkened, and he cried:
“Our men are fighting in far Spain!” and then
Spake Ganelon: “Nay, if other man than you
Should say it, we should laugh, and call him fool.”

And Roland, with a wild and fearful blast
Winded his horn, so that his temples brake
And from his mouth leapt the bright blood. And Charles
Heard it, and all his soldiers, as they rode
Down to sweet France through valleys far away.

About thomasfarley01

Freelance writer who specializes in history, technology, and human interest stories.
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