The Song of Roland
Back to the Song of Roland, that “anonymous old French epic, dating perhaps as early as the middle 11th century.”
If you’ve been turned off by old poetry, you may just be reading the wrong translation.
I’ve written about Luqiens’s translation before. I think is still under copyright. I understand his translation was a passion project for him which took years to complete.
Take a look at this exciting beginning by Luquiens and then read some standard translations after that. Any online bookseller should have Luquiens’ work. It’s not online.
I mustn’t criticize the other translators too harshly. They may have worked on the letter of the poem, rather that the spirit of it. Perhaps they wanted things grammatically correct or in the cadence of the time.
Some academics might criticize Luquiens. Perhaps he took too many liberties. I don’t know. Still, what he produced was stirring and makes you want to read further.
How many other great poems and books have you ignored because they were too difficult to read or too boring? Maybe it wasn’t the poet. Maybe it was the translator. Find out what works for you!
Translated by Frederick Bliss Luquiens 1952
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!
Translated by C. K. [Charles Kenneth] Moncreiff 1919 external link):
Charles the King, our Lord and Sovereign,
Full seven years hath sojourned in Spain,
Conquered the land, and won the western main,
Now no fortress against him doth remain,
No city walls are left for him to gain,
Save Sarraguce, that sits on high mountain.
Marsile its King, who feareth not God’s name,
Mahumet’s man, he invokes Apollin’s aid,
Nor wards off ills that shall to him attain.
Translated by Léonce Rabillon 1885 (external link)
Carle our most noble Emperor and King,
Hath tarried now full seven years in Spain,
Conqu’ring the highland regions to the sea;
No fortress stands before him unsubdued,
Nor wall, nor city left, to be destroyed,
Save Sarraguce, high on a mountain set.
There rules the King Marsile who loves not God,
Apollo worships and Mohammed serves;
Nor can he from his evil doom escape.
Leonarde Bacon 1914 (external link)
For seven years together, the Emperor Charlemagne,
Our Lord and King, had sojourned within the land of Spain.
From the upland to the sea-coast he had conquered all the land
Nor was there any castle before him left to stand.
There was not town nor bulwark unbroken by his might,
Save only Saragossa that standeth on the height.
King Marsile held that city, in whom no grace was found
To love his God. He worshipped Apollo and Mahound,
Nor could shun the evil fortune that beleagruered him around.
Dorothy Sayers 1957 (external link)
Carlon the King, our Emperor Charlemayn,
Full seven years long has been abroad in Spain,
He’s won the highlands as far as to the main;
No castle more can stand before his face,
City nor wall is left for him to break,
Save Saragossa in its high mountain place;
Marsilion holds it, the king who hates God’s name,
Mahound he serves, and to Apollyon prays:
He’ll not escape the ruin that awaits.
Grandes Chroniques de France, St. Petersburg, Ms. Hermitage. fr. 88: (Niederl. Burgund, Mitte 15. Jh., Exemplar Philipps des Guten), folio. 154v — Wikipedia — public domain
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