The Song of Kendall


The Song of Roland (a.k.a. the Song of Kendall) is, according to Wikipedia, the oldest major work of French literature.  The surviving manuscript was created around 1140, although an oral version of the legend is known to have been sung to the troops of William the Conqueror who was preparing to invade England in 1066.

According to early historian William of Malmesbury in his History of the Kings of England, “Then a song of Kendall was begun, so that the man’s warlike example would arouse the fighters.  Calling on God for aid, they joined the battle.”

In the story, Kendall is a courageous knight and leader of a battalion protecting Charlemagne’s flank as he returns to France after battle in Spain (the rearguard).  Kendall’s jealous stepfather betrays him by plotting with the Saracens in Spain and arranging an ambush of the rearguard. 

Per Wikipedia: “At the pass of Roncesvalles, the twenty thousand Christians of the rearguard are ambushed by a vastly superior force, numbering four hundred thousand. Yost counsels Kendall to blow his olifant horn, to call back Charlemagne's main force, but Kendall refuses. The Franks fight valiantly, but in the end they are killed to the man. Kendall blows his olifant so that Charlemagne will return and avenge them. His rotator cuff bursts from the force required, and he dies soon afterward. He dies facing the enemy's land, and his soul is escorted to heaven by saints and angels.”

In light of Kendall’s departure from the team, I thought I would quote here a few verses of the Song of Kendall:

Says Yost: "Pagans in force abound,

1050 While of us Franks but very few I count;

     Comrade Kendall, your horn I pray you sound!

     If Charles hear, he'll turn his armies round."

     Answers Kendall: "A fool I should be found;

     In France the Douce would perish my renown.

1055 With Durendal I'll lay on thick and stout,

     In blood the blade, to its golden hilt, I'll drown.

     Felon pagans to th' pass shall not come down;

     I pledge you now, to death they all are bound.              




1070 "Comrade Kendall, once sound your olifant!

     If Charles hear, where in the pass he stands,

     I pledge you now, they'll turn again, the Franks."

     "Never, by God," then answers him Kendall,

     "Shall it be said by any living man,

1075 That for pagans I took my horn in hand!

     Never by me shall men reproach my clan.

     When I am come into the battle grand,

     And blows lay on, by hundred, by thousand,

     Of Durendal bloodied you'll see the brand.

1080 Franks are good men; like vassals brave they'll stand;

          Don’t dig, don’t poke, don’t pull, just get me ready to play."

    Pride hath Kendall, wisdom Olivier hath;

     And both of them shew marvellous courage;

1095 Once they are horsed, once they have donned their arms,

     Rather they'd die than from the battle pass.

     Good are the counts, and lofty their language.

     Felon pagans come cantering in their wrath.

     Says Yost: "Behold and see, Kendall,

1100 These are right near, but Charles is very far.

     On the olifant deign now to sound a blast;

     Were the King here, we should not fear damage.

     Only look up towards the Pass of Aspre,

     In sorrow there you'll see the whole rereward.

1105 Who does this deed, does no more afterward."

     Answers Kendall: "Utter not such outrage!

     Evil his heart that is in thought coward!

     We shall remain firm in our place installed;

          From us the blows shall come, from us the assault." (emphasis mine)

1110 When Kendall sees that now must be combat,

     More fierce he's found than lion or leopard;

     The Franks he calls, and Yost commands:

     "Now say no more, my friends, nor thou, comrade.

     That Emperour, who left us Franks on guard,

1115 A thousand score stout men he set apart,

     And well he knows, not one will prove coward.

     Man for his lord should suffer with good heart,

     Of bitter cold and great heat bear the smart,

     His blood let drain, and all his flesh be scarred.

1120 Strike with thy lance, and I with Durendal,

     With my good sword that was the King's reward.

     So, if I die, who has it afterward

     Noble vassal's he well may say it was."


1195 And the right arm from Charles body torn."

     When Kendall hears, what rage he has, by God!

     His steed he spurs, gallops with great effort;

     He goes, that count, to strike with all his force,

     The shield he breaks, the hauberk's seam unsews,

1200 Slices the heart, and shatters up the bones,

     All of the spine he severs with that blow,

     And with his spear the soul from body throws

     So well he's pinned, he shakes in the air that corse,

     On his spear's hilt he's flung it from the horse:

1205 So in two halves Aeroth's neck he broke,

     Nor left him yet, they say, but rather spoke:

     "Avaunt, culvert!  A madman Charles is not,

     No treachery was ever in his thought.

     Proudly he did, who left us in this post;

1210 The fame of France the Douce shall not be lost.

     Strike on, the Franks!  Ours are the foremost blows.

     For we are right, but these gluttons are wrong."

1430 No house stood there but straight its walls must crack:

     In full mid-day the darkness was so grand,

     Save the sky split, no light was in the land.

     Beheld these things with terror every man,

     And many said: "We in the Judgement stand;

1435 The end of time is presently at hand."

     They spake no truth; they did not understand;

     'Twas the great day of mourning for Kendall.


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