The Song of Roland is acknowledged today as the first masterpiece of French vernacular literature and one of the world’s greatest epic poems. Written down around the year 1090, The Song of Roland finely crafted verses tell of the betrayal and defeat of Charlemagne’s beloved nephew at the Pass of Roncevaux in the Pyrenees and of the revenge subsequently sought on his behalf. Although the identity of the surviving work’s author cannot be known with certainty, his poetic genius cannot be doubted. His mastery of chanson de geste compositional techniques transformed an historically minor military setback - the ambush and slaughter of the great emperor’s rearguard by a band of Basque highlanders in August 778 - into the most immediately popular and subsequently cherished artistic expression of medieval chivalry, kingship, national pride, feudal and Christian service in the Western world. The earliest extant example of a medieval chanson de geste (song of deeds), The Song of Roland’s 4,000 lines represent the most famous literary celebration of Carolingian mythology from the Middle Ages.
Michael Newth’s new verse translation of the “Chanson de Roland” - the first in English in over 50 years to preserve the full poetic diction of the medieval composition - recaptures the form, feel and flow of the original work in performance by restoring the genre’s “verbal music” to the The Song of Roland. This translation of the Chanson de Roland meets the need for a new version of the great poem for English readers of the 21st century, and it also highlights its potential as a viable piece of performance art. The audio book includes brief selections of medieval music interspersed between various sections.
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- Tad Davis