L. B. (Laughlan Bellingham) Mackinnon.

Some account of the Falkland Islands, from a six months' residence in 1838 and 1839 online

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THE SONG OF ROLAND



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"v.

THE
SONG OF ROLAND

Done into English, in the original measure

by
^HARLES SCOTT MONCRIEFF

With an Introduction

by

G. K. CHESTERTON

and a Note on Technique

by

GEORGE SAINTSBURY



NEW YORK

E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

68i FIFTH AVENUE

1920



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First Prinitd November, 1919
Reprinted with alterations



Printed in England at

The Westminster Press

411a Harrow Road

London



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. X V'^XV



TO THREE MEN

SCHOLARS, POETS, SOLDIERS

WHO CAME TO THEIR RENCESVALS

IN SEPTEMBER, OCTOBER, AND NOVEMBER

NINETEEN HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN

I DEDICATE MY PART IN A BOOK

OF WHICH THEIR FRIENDSHIP

QUICKENED THE BEGINNING

THEIR EXAMPLE HAS
JUSTIFIED THE CONTINUING

PHILIP BAINBRIGGE
WILFRED OWEN
IAN MACKENZIE



" Mare fustes, seignurs.
Tutes voz anmes ait Deus R glorius.
En Pareis les metet en seintes flurs."



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To P. G. B.

PHILIP, here, at the end of a year that, ending,
Spares for mankind a world that has not
spared thee ;
O'er the sole fathom of earth that may know thee,

bending
Dry-eyed, bitteriy smiling, I now regard thee.

Friend — ^nay, friend were a name too common,

rather
Mind of my intimate mind, I may claim thee lover :
Thoughts of thy mind blown fresh from the void

I gather ;
Half of my limbs, head, heart in thy grave I cover :

I who, the soldier first, had at first designed thee
Heir, now health, strength^ life itself would I give

thee.
More than all that has journeyed hither to find thee.
Half a life from the wreckage saved to survive thee.
• • • • ' •

Fare thee well then hence ; for the scrutinous Devil
Finds no gain in the faults of thy past behaviour,
Seeing good flower everywhere forth from evil :
Christ be at once thy Judge, who is still thy Savioiu:,

Who too suffered death for thy soul's possession ;
Pardoned then thine ojBFences, nor weighed the

merit :
God the Father, hearing His intercession.
Calls thee home to Him. God the Holy Spirit

Grant thee rest therefore : a quiet crossing
From here to the further side, and a safe landing
There, no shore-waves breaking nor breeze tossing,
In the Peace of God, which passeth our under-
standing.

Christmas, 1918.

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II

To W. E, S. O.

WHEN, in the centuries of time to come,
Men shall be happy and rehearse thy
fame,
Shall I be spoken of then, or they grow dumb,
Recall these numbers and forget this name ?
Part of thy praise, shall my dull verses live
In thee, themselves — ^as life without thee —
vain ?
So should I halt, oblivion's fugitive,

Turn, stand, smile, know myself a man again.
I care not : not the glorious boasts of men
Could wake my pride, were I in Heaven with
thee ;
Nor any breath of envy touch me, when.
Swept from the embrace of mortal memory
Beyond the stars' light, in the eternal day.
Our two contented ghosts together stay.

1918.



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Ill

To L H. T. M.

LIKE fire I saw thee
Smiling, running, leaping, glancing and
consuming ;
Like fire thine ardent body moving ;
Scorching and scouring the mind s waste places
Like fire : like fire extinguished.

Now in my hands

Holding thy book, these ashes of thee ;

Still fire I know thee

Gloriously somewhere biuning,

^^o wast so keen, more keenly ;

Who wast so pure, more purely

Beyond my vision,

Somewhere before God's Face,

Eternal.

October, 19 19.



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Introduction

MOST of us remember reading, in the
school histories of our childhood, that
at the Battle of Hastings, Taillefer the
Jongleur went in front of the Norman Army
throwing his sword in the air and singing the
Song of Roland. They were naturally histories
of a very Victorian sort, which passed hghtly over
the Roman Empire and the Crusades on the way
to serious things, such as the genealogy of Greorge i
or the administration of Addington. But that one
image emerged in the imagination as something
alive in its dead surrounmngs ; like finding a
familiar face in a faded tapestry. The song he sang,
it is needless to say, was presimiably not the noble
and rugged epic which Captain &x)tt Moncrieff
has done so solid and even historic a service to
letters in rendering in its entirety. The jongleur
must at least have selected extracts or favourite
passages, or the battle would have been unduly
delayed. But the tale has the same moral as the
translation ; since both have the same inspiration.
The value of the tale was that it did suggest to
the childish mind, throueh all the deadening
effects of distance and inmfference, that a man
does not make such a gesture with a sword unless
he feels somethii^, and that a man does not sing
unless he has something to sine about. DuU
avarice and an appetite for feudal lands do not
inspire such jugglery. In short, the value of the
tale was that it hinted that there is a heart in
history, even remote history. And the value of
the translation is that if we are reallv to learn his-
tory we must, in a double sense of the word, learn
it by heart. We must learn it at length and as it
were at large ; lingering over chance spaces of

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contemporary work, for love of its detail and one
might almost say for love of its dulness. Even a
random reader like myself, only dipping here and
there into such things, so long as they are really
things of the period, can often learn more from
them than from the most careful constitutional
digests or political sununaries, by modem men
more learned than himself. I adnure the abnega-
tion of the translator, who is himself a very brilli^t
and individual writer, in having really translated
the Song of Roland. It would l^ve been easy for
a man of his poetic ^h to make out of it a modem
poem. It might easily have been a temptation to
him to deal with Roland rather as Tennyson dealt
with Arthur. But the value of his vivid and very
laborious service to literature is precisely that a
modem man, educated on the modem histories,
may find here the things he does not expect. I
have here only space for one example, out of many
that I could give to show what 1 mean. Most of
the stock histories tell the young student some-
thing of what Feudalism was in legal form and
custom ; that the subordinates were called vas-
sals, that they did homage and so on. But they do
it somehow m such a way as to suggest a savage
and sullen obedience ; as if a vassal were no more
than a serf. What is left out is the fact that the
homage really was homage ; a thing worthy of a
man. The first feudal feeling had something ideal
and even impersonal like patriotism. The nations
w:ere not yet bom ; and these smaller groups had
almost the souls of nations. Now in this trans-
lation, merely because it is an honest translation,
the reader will find the word " vassalage *' used
again and again, on a note which is not only heroic
but even haugh^. The vassal is obviously as proud
of being a vassal as anybody could be of being a
lord. Indeed the feudal poet uses the word '^ vas-
salage " where a modem poet would use the word
" cmvalry.*' The Paladins charging the Paynims



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arc spurred on by vassalage. Turpin the Arch-
bishop hacks the Moslem chieftain rib from rib ;
and me Christians, beholding his triimiph, cry
aloud in their pride that he has shown great vassal-
age ; and that with such an Archbishop the Cross
is safe. There were no Conscientious Objections
in their Christianity.

This a t3rpe of the truths that historical literature
ought to make us feel ; but which mere histories
very seldom do. The one example I have already
given, of the Jongleur at Hastings, is a com-
plexity of curious truths that mieht be conveyed
and which very seldom are. We might Kave
learned, for instance, what a Jonglem* was ; and
realised that this one may have had feelings as
deep or fantastic as the Jongleur celebrated in the
twelfth century poem, who died gloriously of
dancing and turning somersaults before the image
of Our Lady ; that he was of the trade taken as a
type by the mystical mirth of St. Francis, who
called his monks the Jugglers of God. A man must
read at least a little of the contemporary work
itself, before he thus finds the human heart inside
the armour and the monastic gown ; the men who
write the philosophy of history seldom give us
the pliilosophy, still less the religion, of the his-
torical characters. And the final example of this
is something which is also illustrated by the
obscure minstrel who threw up his sword as he
sang the Song of Roland, as well as by the Song
of Koland itself. Modem history, mamlv ethno-
logical or economic, always talks of a thing like
the N^jrman adventure in the somewhat vulgar
language oi ouccess. For these it is well to note, in
the real Norman story, that the very bard in front
of their battle line was shouting the glorification
of failure. It testifies to a truth in the very heart
of Christendom, that even the court poet of
William the Conqueror was celebrating Roland
the conquered.



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That high note of the forlorn hope^ of a.host at
bay anJ a oattle against odds without €fnd, is the
note on which the great French epic end?. I Imow
nothing more moving in poetry than that strange
and unexpected endme ; that splendidly incon-
clusive conclusion. Charlemagne the Christian
emperor has at last established his empire in quiet;
has done justice almost in the manner of a day of
judgement, and sleeps as it were upon his throne
with a peace almost like that of raradise. And
there appears to him the angel of God crying
aloud that his arms are needed in a new and distant
land, and that he must take up again the endless
march of his days. And the great king tears his
long white beard and cries out against his restless
life. The poem ends, as it were with a vision and
vista of wars against the barbarians ; and the vision
is true. For that war is never ended, which defends
the sanity of the world against all the stark anar-
chies and rending negations which rage against it
for ever. That war is never finished in this world ;
and the grass has hardly grown on the graves of
our own friends who fell in it.

G. K. Chesterton.



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Translator's Note

WHAT follows is not a work of scholarship,
nor yet of imagination : it is an attempt
to reproduce Ime for line, and, so far as
is possible, word for word, the Old French epic
poem which lay dormant for centuries in the
Bodleian Library at Oxford.

My part in it began almost by accident when,
on a hot afternoon in the simmier of 1918, turning
into the coolness of Hatchard's, I found lying
there a copy of M. Petit de Julleville's edition of
La Chanson de Roland.^ Amid the distractions of
that simuner in London, where the soimd of the
olifant came so often and so direfuUy across the
Channel, Roland was a constant solace, and in the
leisure hours of that summer the first fourteen
laisses were translated, copied, and circulated
in manuscript. Afterwards the original went with
me during winter and spring through France and
Belgiimi, and returned with me to London where,
in the summer months of 19199 the translation
was begun again.

M. retit de Julleville's is the only edition I
have used or even seen : of Mr. Masefield's and
other translations I know only by hearsay. M. de
JuUeville's text, with which his translation was
interleaved, is in the main that of the Oxford MS.,
with some emendations by Miillerf and him-
self. In the Oxford MS. there are 3,998 lines ; to
these Miiller added four, as follows : —

* " La Chanson de Roland." Traduction Nouvelle Rh3rthmte
et A88onano6e. Avec une Introduction et des Notes par L.
Petit de Julleville. Paris. Alphonse Lemerre, Editeur 27-31,
Passage Choiseul, M DCCC LXXVIII.

t " La Chanson de Roland," berichtigt und mit einem
Glossar versehen, nebst Beitragen zur Geschichte der franz-
dsischen Sprache, von Th. MQller. Gdttingen, 1851.

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Line 1615 from the Venice MS.
3146 Versailles ,
3390 Paris ,

3494 Venice „

I have added a fifth, which I number 1777a, frcMtn
the Venice and Paris MSS. This line is quoted in
a note by M. de JuUeville. I have also followed
Miiller's arrangement of the lines 1466- 1670,
which are displaced in the Oxford, but not in
other MSS. The comparative result is as follows :

Laisses.

Miiller, de JuUeville, ) ^^^ rr^^^rr^^ t^a t<i.- t<iA
and diis edition. [ "3""^ » "3, "4, 125, 126

Oxford Manuscript. 1 15-124 ; 126, 125, 113, 114

With these precautions, my translation may, I
hope, be used as a " Companion to the Study "
of the Oxford MS.

I do not propose to discuss the operation of
the Law of Assonance on our language, beyond
suggesting that it is an operation imder local
anaesthetics, which some degree of painfulness
may accompany. For variety, there are twenty-
two diflFerent vowel-endings m the original poem,
of which half are femimne or double endings.
This number I have not attempted to match.
For consonance, I know that in the old language
the predominance of vowel over consonant sounds
makes it almost always rhyme ; and in this belief
I have indulged in sequences of rhyme to which
the professors of assonance may easily take ex-
ception. I claim only that my translation is literal :
if it cannot be read with enjoyment, there is no
more to be said..

Proper names I have spelt mostly as in the
original, anglicising such words as England and
Spain — ^as also Rhone (1583), Toledan (1568),
and some others ; some I have further varied to
improve my assonances. I claim also the privilege

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of making one or two syllables, as the metre may
require, of Charles, Neimes and Guenes ; and
of similarly treating past participles. The vowels
of " to," " the " and someother words I have treated
as elided before initial vowels : " The Arch-
bishop " and ** The Emperour " are invariably
three syllables ; " That Archbishop " and " That
Emperour " are four.

The light thrown by Prosody, a science that
once heard my vows of lifelong service is, I find
after five years spent in reading Routine Orders
and writing on Army Forms, dazzling rather than
illuminant. I have therefore asked the Historian
of Prosody, of French and of English Literature,
and (incidentally) of Criticism, to review my work
in its relation to the original, asperging both with
the blessing of his imexhausted pen.

Scottish rresbyterian readers may, meanwhile,
like to be reminded that the whole poem can be
simg, both in French and EngUsh, to the favourite
tune of their metrical Psalm :

" Now Israel^may say, and that truly."

And, as of Prosody, so of Chivalry I can, after
this war, speak witn no certain voice. But Mr.
Chesterton has shewn, as I think he only is now
qualified to shew, that mv work is not a mere
exercise in a dead dialect, but may be read in the
light of many of the aspirations, the intentions,
even the despairs of to-day.

I am indebted also to some who have let them-
selves be charged with my manuscript at different
stages of its progress ; namely. Lord Howard de
Walden, Mr. C. E. Montague, Mr. J. C. Squire,
Mr. Robert Graves, and Mr. Alec Waugh.

To three others, on whose sympathy I can still
rely, I have dedicated this book ; and, when the
time comes, I will thank them.

Charles Scott Moncrieff.

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\.



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Note on Technique

Carles li reis, nostre emperere magne
Set anz tus pleins ad ested en Espaigne,
Tresqu*en la mer cnnquist la tere altaigne ;
N'i ad castel ki devant lui remaigne,
Mur ni citet n*i est rem6s k fraindre,
Fors Sarraguce, k'est en une muntaigne.
Li reis Marsilie la tient, ki Deu n'enaimet,
Mahummet sert e ApoUin reclaimet;
Ne s'poet guarder que mals ne li ataignet.

IT is considerably more than forty years since
the present writer first read the Chanson de
Roland in the original, of which the above
lines form the first section, and, up to a few
months ago, he would have said, though in the
interval he has read it often in various forms, that
a satisfactory modernisation or translation of it
was so difiicult as to be nearly impossible, and
that such an enterprise in English was the darkest
tower of all. Among the considerations which
determined this opimon we have nothing, in this
particular place, to do with those affecting the
sjpirit of the poem. It is with the language to some,
though the least extent, with the prosodic char-
acter mainly, that it is proposed here to deal.

The above specimen of the original itself should
make it tolerably easy for any one who can get
rid of that singular terror of the unknown which
still seems to beset Englishmen as to Old English
and even Frenchmen as to Old French, to see
what has to be done. There is a language, some-
what rough and uncut, but with the grandeur of
uncut precious stones about it, and of a remark-
able sonority. There is a measure, very exact and
possessed of more definitely metrical rhythm
than modem French poetry usually aims at. And

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lastly, there is the pre-eminent characteristic of
the unes of this measure, each of which is strikingly
'^ single-moulded " as the word has been u^
of English — ^that is to say, held up at the end, and
constructed all through so as to run to that end
and stop. This arrangement is neither ** blank "
— ^that is to say disregardful of, and in fact shunn-
ing, any agreement of vowel soimd at the end ;
nor rhymed — that is to say, constructed with
couplet or some other arrangement so as to effect
consonance of sound ending ; nor stanzaed —
that is to say, shaped in corresponding sets of
rhymed or even imrhymed verses. It consists of
bimdles — ^to use the least flattering term — of lines
— bundles quite arbitrary in size or number, but
closely connected by assonance — ^that is to say,
identity of vowel sound in the last syllable, but
independent of the agreement in consonantal
clothing which rhyme reauires.

Now, the difficulty ot competition under the
first of these heads — ^that of language — crests upon
all competitors in modernising or translatmg,
and indeed is onlv an intense form of the general
difficulty of translation itself. I do not propose to
say much about it, though I think Captain Scott
Moncrieff has wrestled well with it. It is the
metrical and generally prosodic character which
is so specially hard to retain. Translators have,
naturally enough, tried all sorts of outflankings in
their attack ; but the worst point of these is that
the adventure is not achieved, only evaded. If
you do not convey the steady, fearless, ruthless
tramp of the single line repeating itself ; if you
fail to reproduce the dropping fire of the assonance
with its strangely combined advantage of repeti-
tion in the individual laisse or bundle, and free-
dom from monotony both in character and in
quantity of soimd in the several laisses — ^you do
not give the effect of the Chanson de Roland to
those who do know it, while you give something

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else to those who do not. Prose, even rhythmed
prose is a flat refusal ; blank verse loses half, and
the most characteristic half, of the effect ; couplet
substitutes something foreign and very difiicmtly
reconcilable ; regular stanza something more of
the same kind ; while rhyme in any form alters,
and in the case of the longer laisses has a terrible
tendency, both in French and Endish, to " over-
draw its account/* The very latest French version,
M. Henri Chamard's (of which a notice by the
present writer appeared in the Athetumtn for
September 5th, 1919) tries different rhymes,
some of them rather tree according to orthodox
standards, in the same laisse. But tms not merely
alters, but actually destroys, the music of the
single assonance throughout.

In his directer erappte with the problem Captain
Scott Moncrieff has nad advantages in regard to
the single line which few Frenchmen, except
Agrippa d*Aubign6 and Victor Hugo, have ever
been able to reach. Our earlier Elizabethans gave
us the sinde-moulded line in perfection : and the
thud of the iamb (Marlowe trochaicallv scanned
provokes a mixture of laugh and shudder) rises
to the final assonance note with perfect effect.
But, of course, it is in the attaining and retaining
of that assonance note itself that the work, and
the labour, and the crown of both lie.

I confess that, as I hinted at the beginning of
this paper, I was, until very recently, under the
impression that the attainment was difficult and
the retainment impossible — ^first, owing to the
peculiar obstacles to assonance in English, and
secondly, because of its doubtfully agreeable
effect even when obtained. If I say that Captain
Scott Moncrieff has not wholly converted me, I
shall only, I hope, be speaking with the frankness
allowable between old professor and old student ;
if I add that he has brought me a lone way to-
wards conversion I am sure I use that other



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frankness which befits the scholar whether old or
young. It seems to me that this is not merely
m detail but in general effect, the most faithful
version I have ever seen of the great Song that


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Online LibraryL. B. (Laughlan Bellingham) MackinnonSome account of the Falkland Islands, from a six months' residence in 1838 and 1839 → online text (page 1 of 10)