Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 11/Childe Roland
(FROM THE GERMAN OF UHLAND.)
King Karl sat feasting with his lords,
His busy varlets crowning
With fowl and fish the bending boards,
And thirst in red wine drowning;
And golden goblets’ ruddy blaze
Glowed bright around the rainbow-rays
Of precious jewels shining.
Then out spake Karl, the King,—“I ween
This splendour naught avails us;
The brightest gem the world has seen—
Shame on you!—ever fails us:
The gem that, gleaming like the sun,
The giant wears his shield upon,
In Ardennes’ leafy fastness.”
The nobles will not brook to hear
Their royal master’s taunting,
And knight and bishop, prince and peer,
Their might and prowess vaunting,
Cry out for buckler and for brand
And steel-clad steed to seek the land
Where lurks the giant hiding.
Earl Milo’s son, then, Roland hight,
Cried “O my father, hear me;
Thou deemest me too young to fight,
Or see the foeman near me;
Yet am I old enough to bear
Thy goodly shield and pointed spear,
As thine esquire behind thee!”
Six warriors, riding side by side,
Towards Ardennes’ forest started;
But when they reached the woodland wide
They one from other parted:
Still Roland rode behind his sire,
And pointed spear like trusty squire,
And mighty buckler carried.
’Neath sun and moon the seekers rode.
Of danger all defiant;
But, riding on thro’ rock and wood,
They lit not on the giant.
Four times the sun had led the day,
When fast asleep earl Milo lay,
Beneath an oak recumbent.
Young Roland in the distance spied
A shining and a flashing,
And through the woodland, far and wide,
The frighten’d roebuck dashing!
He saw a light from out a shield
A grisly monster-man did wield,
Adown the steep descending.
The thought sprung up in Roland’s breast,
What is there here to scare me?
Shall I break through my father’s rest
Because the foe is near me?
Here wake and watch both sword and spear,
And shield and steel-clad horse, and here
Childe Roland wakes and watches.
He buckles on the trusty brand
That by his sire is lying,
He lifts the long lance in his hand,
And, thus the foe defying,
His father’s charger he bestrides,
And softly through the firs he rides,
The while the earl is sleeping.
As Roland to the steep draws near.
The giant, laughing loudly,
Asks, “Wherefore comes yon youngster here,
On charger mounted proudly?
His spear will pull him from his seat,—
His shield will crush him at my feet,—
He’s half his sword’s length only!”
“Come out and fight,” young Roland cried,
“No child’s-play thou shalt find it;
The shield I bear is tall and wide,
The safer I behind it;
The man is weak, the steed is strong,
The arm is short, the lance is long,
The sword is sharp—thou’lt feel it!”
The giant struck a mighty blow
As Roland thus defied him;
But Roland swerved, and, bending low,
The club fell vain beside him.
Then forth his pointed spear he flung,
But from the charmed shield it sprung,
On Roland back rebounding.
Then Roland deftly raised his blade,
Both hands the hilt held tightly;
The giant his to lift essayed,
But could not wield it lightly;
Then Roland struck a cunning blow;
He clove the wrist the shield below,
And hand and shield dropped quickly.
The giant’s heart was high no more,
His arm no more the stronger;
The gem that in the shield he bore
Could lend him might no longer.
He reached to raise again the shield,
But Roland’s spear-point made him yield,
And fall before the victor.
Then Roland seized his hair, and through
His drooping neck divided;
And far along the vale below
A stream of life-blood glided;
And Roland wrenched the radiant stone
From out the shield his arm had won,
And in its splendour gloried.
He hid the gem, and in the flood
That at his feet was flowing,
He cleansed the stains of dust and blood
His coat and sword were shewing;
Back Roland rode apace, and found
His sire still laid along the ground,
Beneath the oak-tree sleeping.
He laid him at his father’s side,
And soon was soundly sleeping;
Then in the cool of evening-tide
The earl, erect upleaping,
Cried, “Rouse thee, Roland, seize thy spear,
’Tis late that we should linger here,
Nor ride the giant seeking.”
With haste the two their steeds bestrode,
With thoughts of deeds of daring:
Behind his sire young Roland rode,
The spear and buckler bearing.
And soon they reach’d the battle-ground
Whereon the giant death had found,
And where his corse was lying.
Scarce Roland now can trust his eyes,
The sight his wit defying;
The hand and head, his good blade’s prize,
No longer there are lying.
Both spear and sword and arms are gone,
And shield whereon the jewel shone,
The trunk alone remaining.
Earl Milo gazed upon the dead,
And at the huge corse wonder’d.
“A lengthy log without the head,—
How tall before ’twas sunder’d!
Here lies the foe; asleep! ah, shame!
I’ve lost both victory and fame,
And live for aye dishonour’d!”
King Karl came out before his hall,
His trusty peers expecting,
Afraid lest harm might them befal;
Then forth his gaze directing,
“Say, see I aught? Aye, by my crown,
Duke Haimon’s riding through the town,
His spear the foe’s head bearing.”
Duke Haimon came in cheerless mood,
His lance was lowly drooping;
The giant’s head, all red with blood,
He lower’d, humbly stooping.
“I found it in the wood,” he said,
And fifty steps beyond the head
The headless trunk was lying.”
The bishop soon was seen to bear
The giant’s glove steel-woven;
The stiff and stark hand still was there
That Roland’s sword had sloven.
“A relic of great price!” he cried;
“I found it in the woodland wide,
Cut from the arm that own’d it!”
Next came the bold Bavarian duke,
The giant’s spear-shaft dragging.
“I found it in the forest, look!
No wonder I come lagging;
With sweat and toil I’ve brought the spear;
A cup of my Bavarian beer
Right gladly I’d be drinking!”
Count Richard next approach’d his lord,
Beside his charger striding,
Upon the steed the giant’s sword
And heavy harness riding.
“Who will,” he said, “among the trees,
May find more arms as big as these,
Far more than I could carry.”
Then Count Garin the king espies,
The giant’s buckler swinging.
“He has the shield—his is the prize,
He comes the jewel bringing.”
“The shield I have; the gem is gone;
Another hand has won the stone,
And wrenched it from its setting.”
Earl Milo next came t’wards the hall,
In sorrow slowly riding;
He let his old head lowly fall,
His shamed visage hiding.
Still Roland rode behind his sire,
The pointed spear, like trusty squire,
And heavy buckler bearing.
They near’d the hall; he nothing spoke;
The gate about to enter,
His father’s shield he turn’d, and broke
The boss from out the centre;
The giant’s gem he set thereon;
With dazzling sheen the jewel shone,
As shines the sun of summer.
And when the king the light descried
In Milo’s buckler glowing,
“’Tis Milo slew the foe,” he cried;
“He comes the token shewing;
’Tis Milo smote the giant dead,
And lopped off hand, and lopped off head,
The priceless jewel taking.”
The earl beheld the gem that blazed:
His eyes could scarce believe it;
“Say, stripling,” cried he, all amazed,
“Of whom didst thou receive it?”
“Chide not, my sire; God gave me might,
I slew the giant in the fight;
The while you slept I won it!”