You Should Be A Romantic & Throw Your Life Away


This pic comes from the lovely Suzannah Rowntree's Instagram feed (Rowntree is she of Vintage Novels) . It's from Dorothy Sayers' translation of the Song of Roland. The medieval world was, according to Sayers, "a world abounding in self-confidence." And it's true. You can tell just by talking to the people who lived it. But our age is old and insecure and sad and suicidal. The Middle Ages were young, but we moderns are past even our middle age, holding desperately on to what is left of the bone of our lives, gumming toothlessly on it.

Next time you're enjoying Don Quixote, just remember that that book was part of the inauguration of the death of the West. Only mean spirits laugh at windmill tilters. Maybe rather read Beowulf, and The Song of the Cid, and the Song of Roland. Theirs was a young and confident age, unafraid to bleed and die, wanting to die well instead of mocking those who risked death.

How far we have fallen out of a world of mud and fire and wagon wheels. Our world of chrome and plasma and rockets is a poor, Christless substitute.

Roland died young and poetically, and today his legacy is that historians pedantically teach that the historical Roland erred in entering that valley. But the truth is the poetic one, that...
Count Roland lifts the horn up to his mouth,
Then sets his lips and blows it with great force.
The hills are high; the horn's voice loud and long;
They hear it echoing full thirty leagues.
And then he dies. Such a death that songs are sung of. Death by tactical error is a far better fate than that which awaits modern man. We just come upon the battle when it is well over, like Roland's king...
"God," says the king, "how wearisome my life!"
He weeps and pulls at his white beard.
Thus ends the poem that Turoldus declines.
May we all grow Frankish mustaches, eat the body and drink the blood of Christ, and pick up our hammers and axes. We may be middle-aged, or even old, but by God's grace our hands will recall their old skill.
Blessed be Jehovah my rock,
Who teacheth my hands to war,
And my fingers to fight:
My lovingkindness, and my fortress,
My high tower, and my deliverer;
My shield, and he in whom I take refuge;
Who subdueth my people under me.
Jehovah, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him?
Or the son of man, that thou makest account of him?
Man is like to vanity:
His days are as a shadow that passeth away.
Bow thy heavens, O Jehovah, and come down:
Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
Cast forth lightning, and scatter them;
Send out thine arrows, and discomfit them.
I will sing a new song unto thee, O God:
Upon a psaltery of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee.
When our sons shall be as plants grown up in their youth,
And our daughters as corner-stones hewn after the fashion of a palace;
When our garners are full, affording all manner of store,
And our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields;
When our oxen are well laden;
When there is no breaking in, and no going forth,
And no outcry in our streets:
Happy is the people that is in such a case;
Yea, happy is the people whose God is Jehovah.
Man is nothing, only a vanity. And yet, it matters that our God bends his heaven down to us, builds our daughters up to be a brick house, and gives us sheep by the thousand. Man is vanity, but God gives us meaning, and we can say that happy is the people whose God is Jehovah.

Let the haters hate. Let the mockers write their Don Quixote and Lazarillo de Tormes and Candide. Because of them the priests of the Guarani are scattered, and the people but a memory. Because of them the faithful were massacred on the Piedmont and on St. Bartholomew's Day. Because of them we declared that life was a cruel joke, a power play. Because of them we opened the dark satanic mills and killed sex. Because of them we slaughtered Jews and infants.

But today we wake up, and we are young again, and we are not afraid to be innocent and strong.

Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Make your life a romance. Be young. Throw your life away. The Saracens are coming and you are going to die well.


Post script addendum thing: I discovered Miss Rowntree is conducting a read-along of the Chanson de Roland. What's a read-along? I didn't know either until today. It involves reading books and sharing on social media. Read about her read-along here.
Stern now was √Čomer's mood, and his mind clear again. He let blow the horns to rally all men to his banner that could come thither; for he thought to make a great shield-wall at the last, and stand, and fight there on foot till all fell, and do deeds of song on the fields of Pelennor, though no man should be left in the West to remember the last King of the Mark. So he rode to a green hillock and there set his banner, and the White Horse ran rippling in the wind.
"Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!"
These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people. And lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them.

Comments

  1. The Rohirrim were my absolute favorite characters in LOTR.

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  2. It was my Instagram feed! I'm conducting a SONG OF ROLAND readalong on my blog. Under the circumstances, Joffre, you should feel free to add this post to the linkup ;) See here: http://www.vintagenovels.com/2015/12/announcing-song-of-roland-read-along.html

    Part of the reason I chose to re-read ROLAND this year was because of my research for a novel I'm writing about the Crusades - and while I used to think Roland was showing unwarranted pride and hubris in not blowing the horn, Actual History has convinced me that he was quite right to think Oliver was talking through his hat: given some of the other crazy things that happened in that area of history, Roland had good reason to hope for a victory. I mean, just look at the 1098 Battle of Antioch...!

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  3. Have you ever seen the anime Naruto and especially Naruto Shippuden? Now there is a story about men who are not afraid to throw their lives away. A beautiful story about hope, love, friendship and life against despair, hatred and death.

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    1. I'd seen it around, but I usually don't watch anime unless recommended. I just might look into it now. Thank you!

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    2. It's a long series. Naruto (the character) is very annoying at the beginning, but it gets better and better. Skip the approximately 140 episodes of filler (non-canon) at the end of Naruto and go straight into Shippuden. You probably don't want to show it to your younger children. There's some seriously creepy stuff in there. They don't pull any punches is considering the ways various vices and world views can corrupt a person. Part of what makes the story so great.

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