The Song of Roland

The Song of Roland

The Song of Roland

The Song of Roland

Excerpt

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 lightly over the Roman Empire and the Crusades on the way to serious things, such as the genealogy of George I or the administration of Addington. But that one image emerged in the imagination as something alive in its dead surroundings; like finding a familiar face in a faded tapestry. The song he sang, it is needless to say, was presumably not the noble and rugged epic which Captain Scott 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 favounte assages, or the battle would have been unduly elayed. 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, through all the deadening effects of distance and indifference, that a man does not make such a gesture with a sword unless he feels something, and that a man does not sing unless he has something to sin about. Dull 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 really to learn history 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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