James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian










Duan First. 1)




FINGAL when very young, making a voyage to the Orkney Iſlands, was driven by ſtreſs of weather into a bay of Scandinavia, near the reſidence of Starno, king of Lochlin. Starno invites Fingal to a feaſt. Fingal, doubting the faith of the king, and mindful of a former breach of hoſpitality, refuſes to go. — Starno gathers together his tribes; Fingal reſolves to defend himſelf. — Night coming on, Duth-maruno propoſes to Fingal to obſerve the motions of the enemy. — The king himſelf undertakes the watch. Advancing towards the enemy, he accidentally comes to the cave of Turthor, where Starno had confined Conban-Cargla, the captive daughter of a neighboring chief. — Her ſtory is imperfect, a part of the original being loſt. — Fingal comes to a place of worſhip, where Starno, and his ſon Swaran, conſulted the ſpirit of Loda concerning the iſſue of the war. — The rencounter of Fingal and Swaran.— Duan firſt concludes with a deſcription of the airy hall of Cruth-loda, ſuppoſed to be the Odin of Scandinavia.



A TALE of the times of old!

Why, thou wanderer unſeen! thou bender of the thiſtle of Lora; why, thou breeze of the valley, haſt thou left mine ear? I hear no diſtant roar of ſtreams! No ſound of the harp from the rock! Come, thou huntreſs of Lutha, Malvina, call back his ſoul to the bard. I look forward to Lochlin of lakes, to the dark billowy bay of U-thorno, where Fingal deſcends from ocean, from the roar of winds. Few are the heroes of Morven in a land unknown!

Starno ſent a dweller of Loda to bid Fingal to the feaſt; but the king remembered the paſt, and all his rage aroſe. “Nor Gormal's moſſy towers, nor Starno, ſhall Fingal behold. Deaths wander, like ſhadows, over his fiery ſoul! Do I forget that beam of light, the white-handed daughter of kings? 2) Go, ſon of Loda; his words are wind to Fingal: wind, that, to and fro drives the thiſtle in autumn's duſky vale. Duth-maruno 3), arm of death! Cromma-glas, of Iron ſhields! Struthmor, dweller of battle's wing! Cromar, whoſe ſhips bound on ſeas, careleſs as the courſe of a meteor, on dark-rolling clouds! Ariſe around me, children of heroes, in a land unknown! Let each look on his ſhield like Trenmor, the ruler of wars.” — “Come down,” thus Trenmor ſaid, “thou dweller between the harps! Thou ſhalt roll this ſtream away, or waſte with me in earth.”

Around the king they riſe in wrath. No words come forth: they ſeize their ſpears. Each ſoul is rolled into itſelf. At length the ſudden clang is waked on all their echoing ſhields. Each takes his hill by night; at intervals they darkly ſtand. Unequal burſts the hum of ſongs, between the roaring wind!

Broad over them roſe the moon!

In his arms came tall Duth-maruno: he, from Croma of rocks, ſtern hunter of the boar! In his dark boat he roſe on waves, when Crumthormo 4) awaked its woods. In the chaſe he ſhone, among foes: No fear was thine, Duth-maruno!

'O Son of daring Comhal, ſhall my ſteps be forward through night? From this ſhield ſhall I view them, over their gleaming tribes? Starno, king of lakes, is before me, and Swaran, the foe of ſtrangers. Their words are not in vain, by Loda's ſtone of power. Should Duth-maruno not return, his ſpouſe is lonely at home, where meet two roaring ſtreams on Crathmocraulo's plain. Around are hills, with echoing woods; the ocean is rolling near. My ſon looks on ſcreaming ſea-fowl, a young wanderer on the field. Give the head of a boar to Can-dona 5), tell him of his father's joy, when the briſtly ſtrength of U-thorno rolled on his lifted ſpear. Tell him of my deeds in war! Tell where his father fell!”

“Not forgetful of my fathers,” ſaid Fingal, “I have bounded over the ſeas. Theirs were the times of danger in the days of old. Nor ſettles darkneſs on me, before foes, though youthful in my locks. Chief of Crathmocraulo, the field of night is mine.”

Fingal ruſhed, in all his arms, wide bounding over Turthor's ſtream, that ſent its ſullen roar, by night, through Gormal's miſty vale. A moonbeam glittered on a rock; in the midſt ſtood a ſtately form; a form with floating locks, like Lochlin's white-boſomed maids. Unequal are her ſteps, and ſhort. She throws a broken ſong on wind. At times ſhe toſſes her white arms: for grief is dwelling in her ſoul.

“Torcal-torno 6), of aged locks,” ſhe ſaid, “where now are thy ſteps, by Lulan? Thou haſt failed at thine own dark ſtreams, father of Conban-cargla! But I behold thee, chief of Lulan, ſporting by Loda's hall, when the dark-ſkirted night is rolled along the ſky. Thou ſometimes hideſt the moon with thy ſhield. I have ſeen her dim, in heaven. Thou kindleſt thy hair into meteors, and ſaileſt along the night. Why am I forgot, in my cave, king of ſhaggy boars? Look from the hall of Loda, on thy lonely daughter.”

“Who art thou,” ſaid Fingal, “voice of night?”

She, trembling, turned away.

“Who art thou, in thy darkneſs?”

She ſhrunk into the cave.

The king looſed the thong from her hands. He aſked about her fathers.

“Torcul-torno,” ſhe ſaid, “once dwelt at Lulan's foamy ſtream: he dwelt-but now, in Loda's hall, he ſhakes the ſounding ſhell. He met Starno of Lochlin in war; long fought the dark-eyed kings. My father fell, in his blood, blue-ſhielded Torcul-torno! By a rock, at Lulan's ſtream, I had pierced the bounding roe. My white hand gathered my hair from off the ruſhing winds. I heard a noiſe. Mine eyes were up. My ſoft breaſt roſe on high. My ſtep was forward, at Lulan, to meet thee, Torcul-torno. It was Starno, dreadful king! His red eves rolled on me in love. Dark waved his ſhaggy brow, above his gathered ſmile. Where is my father, I ſaid, he that was mighty in war! Thou art left alone among foes, O daughter of Torcul-torno! He took my hand. He raiſed the ſail. In this cave he placed me dark. At times he comes a gathered miſt. He lifts before me my father's ſhield. But often paſſes a beam of youth 7) far diſtant from my cave. The ſon of Starno moves in my ſight. He dwells lonely in my ſoul.”

“Maid of Lulan,” ſaid Fingal, “white-handed daughter of grief! a cloud, marked with ſtreaks of fire, is rolled along my ſoul. Look not to that dark-robed moon; look not to thoſe meteors of heaven. My gleaming ſteel is around thee, the terror of my foes! It is not the ſteel of the feeble, nor of the dark in ſoul! The maids are not ſhut in our 8) caves of ſtreams! They toſs not their white arms alone. They bend fair within their locks, above the harps of Selma. Their voice is not in the deſert wild. We melt along the pleaſing ſound!”


*  *  *  *  *  *  *


Fingal again advanced his ſteps, wide through the boſom of night, to where the trees of Loda ſhook amid ſqually winds. Three ſtones, with heads of moſs, are there; a ſtream with foaming courſe: and dreadful, rolled around them, is the dark red cloud of Loda. High from its top looked forward a ghoſt, half formed of the ſhadowy ſtroke. He poured his voice, at times, amidſt the roaring ſtream. Near, bending beneath a blaſted tree, two heroes received his words: Swaran of lakes, and Starno, foe of ſtrangers. On their dun ſhields they darkly leaned: their ſpears are forward through night. Shrill ſounds the blaſt of darkneſs in Starno's floating beard.

They heard the tread of Fingal. The warriors roſe in arms. “Swaran, lay that wanderer low,” ſaid Starno, in his pride. “Take the ſhield of thy father. It is a rock in war.” Swaran threw his gleaming ſpear. It ſtood fixed in Loda's tree. Then came the foes forward with ſwords. They mixed their rattling ſteel. Through the thongs of Swaran's ſhield ruſhed the blade 9) of Luno. The ſhield fell rolling on earth. Cleft, the helmet 10) fell down. Fingal ſtopt the lifted ſteel. Wrathful ſtood Swaran, unarmed. He rolled his ſilent eyes; he threw his ſword on earth. Then, ſlowly ſtalking over the ſtream, he whiſtled as he went.

Nor unſeen of his father is Swaran. Starno turns away in wrath. His ſhaggy brows were dark above his gathered rage. He ſtrikes Loda's tree with his ſpear. He raiſes the hum of ſongs. They come to the hoſt of Lochlin, each in his own dark path; like two foam-covered ſtreams from two rainy vales!

To Turthor's plain Fingal returned. Fair roſe the beam of the eaſt. It ſhone on the ſpoils of Lochlin in the hand of the king. From her cave came forth, in her beauty, the daughter of Torcul- torno. She gathered her hair from wind. She wildly raiſed her ſong. The ſong of Lulan of ſhells, where once her father dwelt. She ſaw Starno's bloody ſhield. Gladneſs roſe, a light. on her face. She ſaw the cleft helmet of Swaran 11). She ſhrunk, darkened, from Fingal. “Art thou fallen by thy hundred ſtreams, O love of the mournful maid?”

U-thorno that riſeſt in waters! on whoſe ſide are the meteors of night? I behold the dark moon deſcending behind thy reſounding woods. On thy top dwells the miſty Loda: the houſe of the ſpirits of men! In the end of his cloudy hall bends forward Cruth-loda of ſwords. His form is dimly ſeen amid his wavy miſt. His right hand is on his ſhield. In his left is the half viewleſs ſhell. The roof of his dreadful hall is marked with nightly fires!

The race of Cruth-loda advance, a ridge of formleſs ſhades. He reaches the ſounding ſhell to thoſe who ſhone in war. But between him and the feeble, his ſhield riſes a darkened orb. He is a ſetting meteor to the weak in arms. Bright as a rainbow on ſtreams, came Lulan's white-boſomed maid.





The bards diſtinguiſhed thoſe compoſitions, in which the narration is often interrupted by epiſodes and apoſtrophes, by the name of Duan. Since the extinction of the order of the bards, it has been a general name for all ancient compoſitions in verſe. The abrupt manner in which the ſtory of this poem begins may render it obſcure to ſome readers; it may not therefore be improper to give here the traditional preface which is generally prefixed to it. Two years after he took to wife Ros-crana, the daughter of Cormac, king of Ireland, Fingal undertook an expediton into Orkney, to viſit his friend Cathulla, king of Iniſtore. After ſtaying a few days at Carric-thura, the reſidence of Cathulla, the king ſet ſail, to return to Scotland; but, a violent ſtorm ariſing, his ſhips were driven into a bay of Scandinavia, near Gormal, the ſeat of Starno, king of Lochlin, his avowed enemy. Starno, upon the appearance of ſtrangers on his coaſt, ſummoned together the neighbouring tribes, and advanced, in a hoſtile manner, towards the bay of U-thorno, where Fingal had taken ſhelter. Upon diſcovering who the ſtrangers were, and fearing the valour of Fingal, which he had, more than once, experienced before, he reſolved to accompliſh by treachery what he was afraid he ſhould fail in by open force. He invited, therefore, Fingal to a feaſt, at which he intended to aſſaſſinate him. The king prudently declined to go, and Starno betook himſelf to arms. The ſequel of the ſtory may be learned from the poem itſelf. 


Agandecca, the daughter of Starno, whom her father killed, on account of her diſcovering to Fingal a plot laid againſt his life. Her ſtory is related at large in the third book of Fingal. 


Duth-maruno is a name very famous in tradition. Many of his great actions are handed down; but the poems, which contained the detail of them, are long ſince loſt. He lived, it is ſuppoſed, in that part of the north of Scotland which is over againſt Orkney. Duth-maruno, Cromma-glas, Struthmor, and Cormar, are mentioned, as attending Comhal in his laſt battle againſt the tribe of Morni, in a poem, which is ſtill preſerved. It is not the work of Oſſian; the phraſeology betrays it to be a modern compoſition. It is ſomething like thoſe trivial compoſitions which the Iriſh bards forged, under the name of Oſſian, in the fifteenth and ſixteenth centuries. Duth-maruno ſignifies, black and ſteady; Cromma-glas, bending and ſwarthy; Struthmor, roaring ſtream; Cormar, expert at ſea. 


Crumthormo, one of the Orkney or Shetland Iſlands. 


Cean-daona, head of the people, the ſon of Duth-maruno. He became afterwards famous, in the expeditions of Oſſian, after the death of Fingal. The traditional tales concerning him are very numerous, and, from the epithet in them beſtowed on him (Candona of boars), it would appear that he applied himſelf to that kind of hunting, which his father, in this paragraph, is ſo anxious to recommend to him. 


Torcul-torno, according to tradition, was king of Crathlun, a diſtrict in Sweden. The river Lulan ran near the reſidence of Torcul-torno. There is a river in Sweden, ſtill called Lula, which is probably the ſame with Lulan. The war between Starno and Torcul-torno, which terminated in the death of the latter, had its riſe at a hunting party. Starno being invited, in a friendly manner, by Torcul-torno, both kings, with their followers, went to the mountains of Stivamore, to hunt. A boar ruſhed from the wood before the kings, and Torcul-torno killed it. Starno thought this behaviour a breach upon the privilege of gueſts, who were always honoured, as tradition expreſſes it, with the danger of the chaſe. A quarrel aroſe, the kings came to battle, with all their attendants, and the party of Torcul-torno were totally defeated, and he himſelf ſlain. Starno purſued his victory, laid waſte the diſtrict of Crathlun, and, coming to the reſidence of Torcul-torno, carried off, by force, Corban-carglas, the beautiful daughter of his enemy. Her he confined in a cave, near the palace of Gormal, where, on account of her cruel treatment, ſhe became diſtracted.

The paragraph juſt now before us is the ſong of Corban-carglas, at the time ſhe was diſcovered by Fingal. It is in lyric meaſure, and ſet to muſic, which is wild and ſimple, and ſo inimitably ſuited to the ſituation of the unhappy lady that few can hear it without tears. 


By the beam of youth, it afterwards appears, that Corban-carglas means Swaran, the ſon of Starno, with whom, during her captivity, ſhe had fallen in love. 


From this contraſt, which Fingal draws, between his own nation and the inhabitants of Scandinavia, we may learn that the former were much leſs barbarous than the latter. This diſtinction is ſo much obſerved throughout the poems of Oſſian, that there can be no doubt that he followed the real manners of both nations in his own time. At the cloſe of the ſpeech of Fingal, there is a great part of the original loſt. 


The ſword of Fingal, ſo called from its maker, Luno of Lochlin. 


The helmet of Swaran. The behaviour of Fingal is always conſiſtent with that generoſity of ſpirit which belongs to a hero. He takes no advantage of a foe diſarmed. 


Corban-carglas, from ſeeing the helmet of Swaran bloody in the hands of Fingal, conjectured that that hero was killed. A part of the original is loſt. It appears, however, from the ſequel of the poem, that the daughter of Torcul-torno did not long ſurvive her ſurpriſe, occaſioned by the ſuppoſed death of her lover. The deſcription of the airy hall of Loda, which is ſuppoſed to be the ſame with that of Odin, the deity of Scandinavia, is more pictureſque and deſcriptive, than any in the Edda, or other works of the northern Scalders.