Declamation Piece: The Death of Roland
Roland feels his death is near;
His brain is oozing by either ear.
For his peers he prayed.
God keep them well;
Invoked the angel Gabriel.
That none reproach him, his horn he clasped;
His other hand Durendal, his sword, he grasped;
And farther then a crossbow sent a bolt
Across the march of Spain he went
Where on a mound, two trees between
Four flights of marble steps were seen
Backward he fell, on the field to lie;
And he swooned anon, for the end was nigh.
High were the mountains and high the trees,
Bright shone the marble terraces;
On the green grass Roland has swooned away,
A Saracen spied him where he lay;
Stretched with the rest he had feigned him dead,
His face and body with blood he spread.
To his feet he sprang, and in hate he ran
In pride and wrath he was overbold,
And on Roland, body and arms, laid hold
“The nephew of Karl is overthrown!
To Araby bear I this sword, mine own.”
He stooped to grasp it, but as he drew,
Roland returned to his sense anew.
He saw the Saracen seize his sword;
His eyes he opened and he spoke one word,
“You are not one of our band, I know.”
And he clutched the horn he would never forego;
On the golden crest he smote him full.
Shattering steel and bone and skull,
Forth from his head his eyes he beat,
“Miscreant, makes you then so free?
Who hears it will deem you a madman born;
Behold the mouth of my ivory horn
Broken for you and the gems and gold
Around its rim to earth are rolled.”
Roland feels his eyesight going,
Yet he stands erect with what strength is left;
From his bloodless cheek is the color dispelled,
But his Durendal all bare he held
In front a dark-blown rock arose,
He smote upon it ten grievous blows.
Grated the steel as it struck the flint,
Yet it broke not, nor bore its edge one dint.
“Mary, Mother, be you my aid!
Ah, Durendal, my ill-starred blade.
I may no longer be your guardian!
What fields of battle I won with you!
What realms and regions it was ours to gain!
Now the lordship of Charlemagne
Never shall your possessor know
Who would turn from face of mortal foe.
A gallant vassal so long you bore,
Such as France the free shall know no more.”
Roland feels his hour at hand;
On a knoll he lies toward the Spanish land,
With one hand he beats upon his breast:
“In your sight, O God, be my sins confessed;
From my hour of birth, both the great and small,
Down to this day, I repent of all.”
As his glove he raised to God on high,
Angels of heaven descend him nigh.
Beneath a pine was his resting place,
To the land of Spain has turned his face;
In his memory rose full many a thought
Of the lands he won and the fields he fought;
Of his gentle France, of his kin and line;
Of his nursing father, king Karl benign;
He may not tears and sobs control,
Nor yet forget his parting soul.
To God’s compassion he makes his cry;
“O Father true, who cannot lie,
Who did Lazarus raise unto life again.
And Daniel shield in the lion’s den,
Shield my soul from its peril due
For the sins I sinned my lifetime through.”
He did his right-hand glove uplift….
Saint Gabriel took from his hand the gift
Then drooped his head upon his breast,
And with clasped hands he went to rest.
God from on high sent down to him
One of his angel cherubim,
Saint Michael of Peril of the sea.
Saint Gabriel in company.
From heaven they came for that soul of price
And they bore it with them to Paradise.