James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









A Poem.




AFTER an addreſs to Malvina, the daughter of Toſcar, Oſſian proceeds to relate his own expedition to Fuärfed, an iſland of Scandinavia. Mal-orchol, king of Fuärfed, being hard preſſed in war by Ton-thormod, chief of Sar-dronlo (who had demanded, in vain, the daughter of Mal-orchol in marriage), Fingal ſent Oſſian to his aid. Oſſian, on the day after his arrival, came to battle with Ton-thormod, and took him priſoner. Mal-orchol offers his daughter Oina-morul to Oſſian; but he, diſcovering her paſſion for Ton-thormod, generouſly ſurrenders her to her lover, and brings about a reconciliation between the two kings.



AS flies the inconſtant ſun, over Larmon's graſſy hill, ſo paſs the tales of old, along my ſoul by night! When bards are removed to their place: when harps are hung in Selma's hall; then comes a voice to Oſſian, and awakes his ſoul! It is the voice of years that are gone! they roll before me, with all their deeds! I ſeize the tales as they paſs, and pour them forth in ſong. Nor a troubled ſtream is the ſong of the king, it is like the riſing of muſic from Lutha of the ſtrings. Lutha of many ſtrings, not ſilent are thy ſtreamy rocks, when the white hands of Malvina move upon the harp! Light of the ſhadowy thoughts, that fly acroſs my ſoul, daughter of Toſcar of helmets, wilt thou not hear the ſong? We call back, maid of Lutha, the years that have rolled away!

It was in the days of the king, while yet my locks were young, that I marked Con-cathlin, 1) on high, from ocean's nightly wave. My courſe was towards the iſle of Fuärfed, woody dweller of ſeas! Fingal had ſent me to the aid of Mal-orchol, king of Fuärfed wild: for war was around him, and our fathers had met at the feaſt.

In Col-coiled, I bound my ſails; I ſent my ſword to Mal-orchol of ſhells. He knew the ſignal of Albion, and his joy aroſe. He came from his own high hall, and ſeized my hand in grief. “Why comes the race of heroes to a falling king? Ton-thormod of many ſpears is the chief of wavy Sar-dronlo. He ſaw and loved my daughter, white-boſomed Oina-morul. He ſought; I denied the maid! for our fathers had been foes. He came, with battle, to Fuärfed; my people are rolled away. Why comes the race of heroes to a falling king?”

I come not, I ſaid, to look, like a boy, on the ſtrife. Fingal remembers Mal-orchol, and his hall for ſtrangers. From his waves, the warrior deſcended on thy woody iſle. Thou wert no cloud before him. Thy feaſt was ſpread with ſongs. For this my ſword ſhall riſe; and thy foes perhaps may fail. Our friends are not forgot in their danger, though diſtant is our land.

“Deſcendant of the daring Trenmor, thy words are like the voice of Cruth-loda, when he ſpeaks, from his parting cloud, ſtrong dweller of the ſky! Many have rejoiced at my feaſt; but they all have forgot Mal-orchol. I have looked towards all the winds; but no white ſails were ſeen. But ſteel 2) reſounds in my hall; and not the joyful ſhells. Come to my dwelling, race of heroes! dark-ſkirted night is near. Hear the voice of ſongs, from the maid of Fuärfed wild.”

We went. On the harp aroſe the white hands of Oina-morul. She waked her own ſad tale, from every trembling ſtring. I ſtood in ſilence; for bright in her locks was the daughter of many iſles! Her eyes were two ſtars, looking forward through a ruſhing ſhower. The mariner marks them on high, and bleſſes the lovely beams. With morning we ruſhed to battle, to Tormul's reſounding ſtream: the foe moved to the ſound of Ton-thormod's boſſy ſhield. From wing to wing the ſtrife was mixed. I met Ton-thormod in fight. Wide flew his broken ſteel. I ſeized the king in war. I gave his hand, bound faſt with thongs, to Mal-orchol, the giver of ſhells. Joy roſe at the feaſt of Fuärfed, for the foe had failed. Ton-thormod turned his face away, from Oina-morul of iſles!

Son of Fingal, began Mal-orchol, not forgot ſhalt thou paſs from me. A light ſhall dwell in thy ſhip, Oina-morul of ſlow-rolling eyes. She ſhall kindle gladneſs, along thy mighty ſoul. Nor unheeded ſhall the maid move in Selma, through the dwelling of kings!

In the hall I lay in night. Mine eyes were half-cloſed in ſleep. Soft muſic came to mine ear: it was like the riſing breeze, that whirls, at firſt, the thiſtle's beard; then flies, dark ſhadowy, over the graſs. It was the maid of Fuärfed wild! ſhe raiſed the nightly ſong; ſhe knew that my ſoul was a ſtream, that flowed at pleaſant ſounds. “Who looks,” ſhe ſaid, “from his rock on ocean's cloſing miſt? His long locks, like the raven's wing, are wandering on the blaſt. Stately are his ſteps in grief! The tears are in his eyes! His manly breaſt is heaving over his burſting ſoul! Retire, I am diſtant far; a wanderer in lands unknown. Though the race of kings are around me, yet my ſoul is dark. Why have our fathers been foes, Ton-thormod, love of maids?”

“Soft voice of the ſtreamy iſle,” I ſaid, “why doſt thou mourn by night? The race of daring Trenmor are not the dark in ſoul. Thou ſhalt not wander, by ſtreams unknown, blue-eyed Oina-morul! Within this boſom is a voice; it comes not to other ears: it bids Oſſian hear the hapleſs, in their hour of woe. Retire, ſoft ſinger by night! Ton-thormod ſhall not mourn on his rock!”

With morning I looſed the king. I gave the long-haired maid. Mal-orchol heard my words, in the midſt of his echoing halls. “King of Fuärfed wild, why ſhould Ton-thormod mourn? He is of the race of heroes, and a flame in war. Your fathers have been foes, but now their dim ghoſts rejoice in death. They ſtretch their hands of miſt to the ſame ſhell in Loda. Forget their rage, ye warriors! it was the cloud of other years.”

Such were the deeds of Oſſian, while yet his locks were young: though lovelineſs, with a robe of beams, clothed the daughter of many iſles. We call back, maid of Lutha, the years that have rolled away!





Con-cathlin, mild beam of the wave. What ſtar was ſo called of old is not eaſily aſcertained. Some now diſtinguiſh the pole-ſtar by that name. A ſong, which is ſtill in repute among the ſeafaring part of the Highlanders, alludes to this paſſage of Oſſian. The writer commends the knowledge of Oſſian in ſea affairs, a merit which, perhaps, few of us moderns will allow him, or any in the age in which he lived. One thing is certain, that the Caledonians often made their way through the dangerous and tempeſtuous ſeas of Scandinavia; which is more, perhaps, than the more poliſhed nations ſubſiſting in thoſe times dared to venture. In eſtimating the degree of knowledge of arts among the ancients, we ought not to bring it into compariſon with the improvements of modern times. Our advantages over them proceed more from accident than any merit of ours. 


There is a ſevere ſatire couched in this expreſſion againſt the gueſts of Mal-orchol. Had his feaſt been ſtill ſpread, had joy continued in his hall, his former paraſites would not have failed to reſort to him. But as the time of feſtivity was paſt, their attendance alſo ceaſed. The ſentiments of a certain old bard are agreeable to this obſervation. He, poetically, compares a great man to a fire kindled in a deſert place. «Thoſe that pay court to him,» ſays he, «are rolling large around him, like the ſmoke about the fire. This ſmoke gives the fire a great appearance at a diſtance, but it is but an empty vapour itſelf, and varying its form at every breeze. When the trunk which fed the fire is conſumed, the ſmoke departs on all the winds. – So the flatterers forſake their chief, when his power declines.» I have choſen to give a paraphraſe, rather than a tranſlation, of this paſſage, as the original is verboſe and frothy, notwithſtanding the ſentimental merit of the author. He was one of the leſs ancient bards, and their compoſitions are not nervous enough to bear a literal tranſlation.