James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


Fragments of Ancient Poetry

Collected in the Highlands of Scotland










WHY openeſt thou afreſh the ſpring of my grief, O ſon of Alpin, inquiring how Oſcur fell? My eyes are blind with tears; but memory beams on my heart. How can I relate the mournful death of the head of the people! Prince of the warriours, Oſcur my ſon, ſhall I ſee thee no more!

HE fell as the moon in a ſtorm; as the ſun from the midſt of his courſe, when clouds riſe from the waſte of the waves, when the blackneſs of the ſtorm inwraps the rocks of Ardannider. I, like an ancient oak on Morven, I moulder alone in my place. The blaſt hath lopped my branches away; and I tremble at the wings of the north. Prince of the warriors, Oſcur my ſon! ſhall I ſee thee no more! [p.32]

DERMID and Oſcur were one: They reaped the battle together. Their friendſhip was ſtrong as their ſteel; and death walked between them to the field. They came on the foe like two rocks falling from the brows of Ardven. Their ſwords were ſtained with the blood of the valiant: warriours fainted at their names. Who was a match for Oſcur, but Dermid? and who for Dermid, but Oſcur?

THEY killed mighty Dargo in the field; Dargo before invincible. His daughter was fair as the morn; mild as the beam of night. Her eyes, like two ſtars in a ſhower: her breath, the gale of ſpring: her breaſts, as the new fallen ſnow floating on the moving heath. The warriours ſaw her, and loved; their ſouls were fixed on the maid. Each loved her, as his fame; each muſt poſſeſs her or die. But her ſoul was fixed [p.33] on Oſcur; my ſon was the youth of her love. She forgot the blood of her father; and loved the hand that ſlew him.

SON of Oſcian, ſaid Dermid, I love; O Oſcur, I love this maid. But her ſoul cleaveth unto thee; and nothing can heal Dermid. Here, pierce this boſom, Oſcur; relieve me, my friend, with thy ſword.

MY ſword, ſon of Morny, ſhall never be ſtained with the blood of Dermid.

WHO then is worthy to ſlay me, O Oſcur ſon of Oſcian? Let not my life paſs away unknown. Let none but Oſcur ſlay me. Send me with honour to the grave, and let my death be renowned. [p.34]

DERMID, make uſe of thy ſword; ſon of Moray, wield thy ſteel. Would that I fell with thee! that my death came from the hand of Dermid!

THEY fought by the brook of the mountain; by the ſtreams of Branno. Blood tinged the ſilvery ſtream, and crudled round the moſſy ſtones. Dermid the graceful fell; fell, and ſmiled in death.

AND falleſt thou, ſon of Morny; falleſt, thou by Oſcur's hand! Dermid invincible in war, thus do I ſee thee fall! —He went, and returned to the maid whom he loved; returned, but ſhe perceived his grief.

WHY that gloom, ſon of Oſcian? what ſhades thy mighty ſoul?

THOUGH once renowned for the bow, [p.35] O maid, I have loſt my fame. Fixed on a tree by the brook of the hill, is the ſhield of Gormur the brave, whom in battle I ſlew. I have waſted the day in vain, nor could my arrow pierce it.

LET me try, ſon Oſcian, the ſkill of Dargo's daughter. My hands were taught the bow: my father delighted in my ſkill.

SHE went. He ſtood behind the ſhield. Her arrow flew and pierced his breaſt *).[p.36]

BLESSED be that hand of ſnow; and bleſſed thy bow of yew! I fall reſolved on death: and who but the daughter of Dargo was worthy to ſlay me? Lay me in the earth, my fair-one; lay me by the ſide of Dermid.

OSCUR! I have the blood, the ſoul of the mighty Dargo. Well pleaſed I can meet death. My ſorrow I can end thus.—She pierced her white boſom with ſteel. She fell; ſhe trembled; and died.

BY the brook of the hill their graves are laid; a birch's unequal ſhade covers their tomb. Often on their green earthen tombs the branchy ſons of the mountain feed, when mid-day is all in flames, and ſilence is over all the hills.




*) Nothing was held by the ancient Highlanders more eſſential to their glory, than to die by the hand of ſome perſon worthy or renowned. This was the occaſion of Oſcur's contriving to be ſlain by his miſtreſs, now that he was weary of life. In thoſe early times ſuicide was utterly unknown among that people, and no traces of it are found in the old poetry. Whence the tranſlator ſuſpects the account that follows of the daughter of Dargo killing herſelf, to be the interpolation of ſome later Bard.