James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









A Poem.




REFLECTIONS on the poet's youth. An apoſtrophe to Selma. Oſcar obtains leave to go to Inis-thona, an iſland of Scandinavia. The mournful ſtory of Argon and Ruro, the two ſons of the king of Inis-thona. Oſcar revenges their death, and returns in triumph to Selma. A ſoliloquy by the poet himſelf.



OUR youth is like the dream of the hunter on the hill of heath. He ſleeps in the mild I beams of the ſun; he awakes amidſt a ſtorm; the red lightning flies around: trees ſhake their heads to the wind! He looks back with joy, on the day of the ſun; and the pleaſant dreams of his reſt! When ſhall Oſſian's youth return? When his ear delight in the ſound of arms? When ſhall I, like Oſcar, travel in the light of my ſteel? Come, with your ſtreams, ye hills of Cona! liſten to the voice of Oſſian. The ſong riſes, like the ſun, in my ſoul. I feel the joys of other times!

I behold thy towers, O Selma! the oaks of thy ſhaded wall: thy ſtreams ſound in my ear; thy heroes gather around. Fingal ſits in the midſt. He leans on the ſhield of Trenmor: his ſpear ſtands againſt the wall; he liſtens to the ſong of his bards. The deeds of his arm are heard; the actions of the king in his youth! Oſcar had returned from the chaſe, and heard the hero's praiſe. He took the ſhield of Branno 1) from the wall; his eyes were filled with tears. Red was the cheek of youth. His voice was trembling low. My ſpear ſhook its bright head in his hand: he ſpoke to Morven's king.

“Fingal! thou king of heroes! Oſſian, next to him in war! ye have fought in your youth; your names are renowned in ſong. Oſcar is like the miſt of Cona; I appear and I vaniſh away. The bard will not know my name. The hunter will not ſearch in the heath for my tomb. Let me fight, O heroes, in the battles of Inis-thona. Diſtant is the land of my war! ye ſhall not hear of Oſcar's fall! Some bard may find me there; ſome bard may give my name to ſong. The daughter of the ſtranger ſhall ſee my tomb, and weep over the youth, that came from afar. The bard ſhall ſay, at the feaſt, ›Hear the ſong of Oſcar from the diſtant land!‹”

“Oſcar,” replied the king of Morven; “thou ſhalt fight, ſon of my fame; prepare my dark-boſomed ſhip to carry my hero to Inis-thona. Son of my ſon, regard our fame; thou art of the race of renown! Let not the children of ſtrangers ſay, feeble are the ſons of Morven! Be thou, in battle, a roaring ſtorm! mild as the evening ſun in peace! Tell, Oſcar, to Inis-thona's king, that Fingal remembers his youth, when we ſtrove in the combat together in the days of Agandecca.”

They lifted up the ſounding ſail; the wind whiſtled through the thongs 2) of their maſts. Waves laſh the oozy rocks: the ſtrength of ocean roars. My ſon beheld, from the wave, the land of groves. He ruſhed into Runa's ſounding bay, and ſent his ſword to Annir of ſpears. The grey-haired hero roſe, when he ſaw the ſword of Fingal. His eyes were full of tears; he remembered his battles in youth. Twice had they lifted the ſpear, before the lovely Agandecca: heroes ſtood far diſtant, as if two ſpirits were ſtriving in winds.

“But now,” began the king, “I am old; the ſword lies uſeleſs in my hall. Thou, who art of Morven's race! Annir has ſeen the battle of ſpears; but now he is pale and withered, like the oak of Lano. I have no ſon to meet thee with joy, to bring thee to the halls of his fathers. Argon is pale in the tomb, and Ruro is no more. My daughter is in the hall of ſtrangers: ſhe longs to behold my tomb. Her ſpouſe ſhakes ten thouſand ſpears; he comes 3) a cloud of death from Lano. Come, to ſhare the feaſt of Annir, ſon of echoing Morven!”

Three days they feaſted together; on the fourth, Annir heard the name of Oſcar. They rejoiced in the ſhell. 4) They purſued the boars of Runa. Beſide the fount of moſſy ſtones, the weary heroes reſt. The tear ſteals in ſecret from Annir: he broke the riſing ſigh. “Here darkly reſt,” the hero ſaid, “the children of my youth. This ſtone is the tomb of Ruro; that tree ſounds over the grave of Argon. Do ye hear my voice, O my ſons, within your narrow houſe? Or do ye ſpeak in theſe ruſtling leaves, when the winds of the deſert riſe?”

“King of Inis-thona,” ſaid Oſcar, “how fell the children of youth? The wild boar ruſhes over their tombs, but he does not diſturb their repoſe. They purſue deer 5) formed of clouds, and bend their airy bow. They ſtill love the ſport of their youth; and mount the wind with joy.”

“Cormalo,” replied the king, “is a chief of ten thouſand ſpears. He dwells at the waters of Lano, 6) which ſends forth the vapour of death. He came to Runa's echoing halls, and ſought the honour of the ſpear. 7) The youth was lovely as the firſt beam of the ſun; few were they who could meet him in fight! My heroes yielded to Cormalo: my daughter was ſeized in his love. Argon and Ruro returned from the chaſe; the tears of their pride deſcend: they roll their ſilent eyes on Runa's heroes, who had yielded to a ſtranger. Three days they feaſted with Cormalo: on the fourth young Argon fought. But who could fight with Argon! Cormalo is overcome. His heart ſwelled with the grief of pride; he reſolved, in ſecret, to behold the death of my ſons. They went to the hills of Runa: they purſued the dark-brown hinds. The arrow of Cormalo flew in ſecret; my children fell in blood. He came to the maid of his love; to Inis-thona's long-haired maid. They fled over the deſert. Annir remained alone. Night came on, and day appeared: nor Argon's voice, nor Ruro's came. At length their much-loved dog was ſeen; the fleet and bounding Runar. He came into the hall and howled; and ſeemed to look towards the place of their fall. We followed him: we found them here; we laid them by this moſſy ſtream. This is the haunt of Annir, when the chaſe of the hinds is paſſed. I bend like the trunk of an aged oak; my tears for ever flow!”

“O Ronnan!” ſaid the riſing Oſcar, “Ogar king of ſpears! call my heroes to my ſide, the ſons of ſtreamy Morven. To-day we go to Lano's water, that ſends forth the vapour of death. Cormalo will not long rejoice: death is often at the point of our ſwords!”

They came over the deſert like ſtormy clouds, when the winds roll them along the heath; their edges are tinged with lightning; the echoing groves foreſee the ſtorm! The horn of Oſcar's battle is heard; Lano ſhook over all its waves. The children of the lake convened around the ſounding ſhield of Cormalo. Oſcar fought, as he was wont in war. Cormalo fell beneath his ſword: the ſons of diſmal Lano fled to their ſecret vales! Oſcar brought the daughter of Inis-thona to Annir's echoing halls. The face of age is bright with joy, he bleſſed the king of ſwords!

How great was the joy of Oſſian, when he beheld the diſtant ſail of his ſon! it was like a cloud of light that riſes in the eaſt, when the traveller is ſad in a land unknown; and diſmal night, with her ghoſts, is ſitting around in ſhades! We brought him with ſongs to Selma's halls. Fingal ſpread the feaſt of ſhells. A thouſand bards raiſed the name of Oſcar: Morven anſwered to the ſound. The daughter of Toſcar was there; her voice was like the harp; when the diſtant ſound comes, in the evening, on the ſoft-ruſtling breeze of the vale!

O lay me, ye that ſee the light, near ſome rock of my hills! let the thick hazels be around, let the ruſtling oak be near. Green be the place of my reſt; let the ſound of the diſtant torrent be heard. Daughter of Toſcar, take the harp, and raiſe the lovely ſong of Selma; that ſleep may overtake my ſoul in the midſt of joy; that the dreams of my youth may return, and the days of the mighty Fingal. Selma! I behold thy towers, thy trees, thy ſhaded wall! I ſee the heroes of Morven; I hear the ſong of bards; Oſcar lifts the ſword of Cormalo; a thouſand youths admire its ſtudded thongs. They look with wonder on my ſon. They admire the ſtrength of his arm. They mark the joy of his father's eyes; they long for an equal fame. And ye ſhall have your fame, O ſons of ſtreamy Morven! My ſoul is often brightened with ſong; I remember the friends of my youth. But ſleep deſcends in the ſound of the harp; pleaſant dreams begin to riſe. Ye ſons of the chaſe ſtand far diſtant, nor diſturb my reſt. The bard of other times holds diſcourſe with his fathers, the chiefs of the days of old! Sons of the chaſe, ſtand far diſtant! diſturb not the dreams of Oſſian!





This is Branno, the father of Evirallin, and grandfather to Oſcar; he was of Iriſh extraction, and lord of the country round the lake of Lego. His great actions are handed down by tradition, and his hoſpitality has paſſed into a proverb. 


Leather thongs were uſed among the Celtic nations inſtead of ropes. 


Cormalo had reſolved on a war againſt his father-in-law, Annir, king of Inis-thona, in order to deprive him of his kingdom; the injuſtice of his deſigns was ſo much reſented by Fingal that he ſent his grandſon Oſcar to the aſſiſtance of Annir. Both armies came ſoon to a battle, in which the conduct and valour of Oſcar obtained a complete victory. An end was put to the war by the death of Cormalo, who fell in a ſingle combat by Oſcar's hand. Thus is the ſtory delivered down by tradition: though the poet, to raiſe the character of his ſon, makes Oſcar himſelf propoſe the expedition. 


To rejoice in the ſhell is a phraſe for feaſting ſumptuouſly and drinking freely. 


The notion of Oſſian concerning the ſtate of the deceaſed was the ſame with that of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They imagined that the ſouls purſued, in their ſeparate ſtate, the employments and pleaſures of their former life. 


Lano was a lake of Scandinavia, remarkable in the days of Oſſian for emitting a peſtilential vapour in autumn. And thou, O valiant Duchomar like the miſt of marſhy Lano, when it ſails over the plains of autumn, and brings death to the hoſt. Fingal, Book I. 


By the honour of the ſpear is meant the tournament practiſed among the ancient northern nations.