Translator: A.I. du P. Coleman
Duke William of the Normans spoke unto his servants all:
“Who is it sings so sweetly in the court and in the hall?
Who sings from early morn till the house is still at night
So sweetly that he fills my heart with laughter and delight?”
“‘Tis Taillefer,” they answered him, “so joyously that sings
Within the courtyard, as the wheel above the well he swings,
And when the fire upon the hearth he stirs to burn more bright,
And when he rises to his toil or lays him down at night.”
Then spoke the Duke, “In him I trow I have a faithful knave–
This Taillefer that serves me here, so loyal and so brave;
He turns the wheel and stirs the fire with willing, sturdy arm,
And, best of all, with blithesome song he knows my heart to charm.”
Then out spake lusty Taillefer, “Ah, lord, if I were free,
Far better would I serve thee then, and gladly sing to thee.
How on my stately charger would I serve thee in the field,
How sing before thee cheerily, with clang of sword and shield!”
The days went by, and Taillefer rode out as rides a knight
Upon a prancing charger borne, a gay and gallant sight;
And from the tower looked down on him Duke William’s sister fair,
And softly murmured, “By my troth, a stately knight goes there!”
When as he rode before the tower, and spied her harkening,
Now sang he like a driving storm, now like a breeze of spring;
She cried, “To hear that wondrous song is of all joys the best–
The very stones they tremble, and the heart within my breast.”
And now the Duke has called his men and crossed the salt sea-foam;
With gallant knights and vassals bold to England he has come.
And as he sprang from out the ship, he slipped upon the strand,
And “By this token, thus,” he cried, “I seize a subject land!”
And now on Hastings field arrayed, the host for fight prepare;
Before the Duke reins up his horse the valiant Taillefer:
“If I have sung and blown the fire for many a weary year,
And since for other years have borne the knightly shield and spear,
“If I have sung and served thee well, and praises won from thee,
First as a lowly knave and then a warrior, bold and free,
Today I claim my guerdon just, that all the host may know–
To ride the foremost to the field, strike first against the foe!”
So Taillefer rode on before the glittering Norman line
Upon his stately steed, and waved a sword of temper fine;
Above the embattled plain his song rang all the tumult o’er–
Of Roland’s knightly deeds he sang and many a hero more.
And as the noble song of old with tempest-might swelled out,
The banners waved and knights pressed on with war-cry and with shout;
And every heart among the host throbbed prouder still and higher,
And still through all sang Taillefer, and blew the battle-fire.
Then forward, lance in rest, against the waiting foe he dashed,
And at the shock an English knight from out the saddle crashed;
Anon he swung his sword and struck a grim and grisly blow,
And on the ground beneath his feet an English knight lay low.
The Norman host his prowess saw, and followed him full fain;
With joyful shouts and clang of shields the whole field rang again,
And shrill and fast the arrows sped, and swords made merry play–
Until at last King Harold fell, his stubborn carles gave way.
The Duke his banner planted high upon the bloody plain,
And pitched his tent a conqueror amid the heaps of slain;
Then with his captains sat at meat, the wine-cup in his hand,
Upon his head the royal crown of all the English land.
“Come hither, valiant Taillefer, and drink a cup with me!
Full oft thy song has soothed my grief, made merrier my glee;
But all my life I still shall hear the battle-shout that pealed
Above the noise of clashing arms today on Hastings field!”
Johann Ludwig Uhland
1787 – 1862