James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









An Epic Poem.


Book II.




THE ghoſt of Crugal, one of the Iriſh heroes who was killed in battle, appearing to Connal, foretells the defeat of Cuthullin in the next battle, and earneſtly adviſes him to make peace with Swaran. Connal communicates the viſion; but Cuthullin is inflexible; from a principle of honour he would not be the firſt to ſue for peace, and he reſolved to continue the war. Morning comes; Swaran propoſes diſhonourable terms to Cuthullin, which are rejected. The battle begins, and is obſtinately fought for ſome time, until, upon the flight of Grumal, the whole Iriſh army gave way. Cuthullin and Connal cover their retreat; Carril leads them to a neighbouring hill, whither they are ſoon followed by Cuthullin himſelf, who deſcries the fleet of Fingal making towards the coaſt; but, night coming on, he loſes ſight of it again. Cuthullin, dejected after his defeat, attributes his ill-ſucceſs to the death of Freda his friend, whom he had killed ſome time before. Carril, to ſhew that ill-ſucceſs did not always attend thoſe who innocently killed their friends, introduces the epiſode of Comal and Galvina.



CONNAL lay by the ſound of the mountain ſtream, beneath the aged tree. A ſtone, with its moſs, ſupported his head. Shrill through the heath of Lena, he heard the voice of night. At diſtance from the heroes he lay; the ſon of the ſword feared no foe! The hero beheld, in his reſt, a dark red ſtream of fire ruſhing down from the hill. Crugal ſat upon the beam, a chief who fell in fight. He fell by the hand of Swaran, ſtriving in the battle of heroes. His face is like the beam of the ſetting moon. His robes are of the clouds of the hill. His eyes are two decaying flames. Dark is the wound of his breaſt! “Crugal,” ſaid the mighty Connal, ſon of Dedgal, famed on the hill of hinds! “Why ſo pale and ſad, thou breaker of the ſhields? Thou haſt never been pale for fear! What diſturbs the departed Crugal?” Dim, and in tears, he ſtood and ſtretched his pale hand over the hero. Faintly he raiſed his feeble voice, like the gale of the reedy Lego!

“My ſpirit, Connal, is on my hills; my corſe on the ſands of Erin. Thou ſhalt never talk with Crugal, nor find his lone ſteps in the heath. I am light as the blaſt of Cromla. I move like the ſhadow of miſt! Connal, ſon of Colgar, I ſee a cloud of death: it hovers dark over the plains of Lena. The ſons of green Erin muſt fall. Remove from the field of ghoſts.” Like the darkened moon he retired, in the midſt of the whiſtling blaſt. “Stay,” ſaid the mighty Connal, “ſtay, my dark-red friend. Lay by that beam of heaven, ſon of the windy Cromla! What cave is thy lonely houſe? What green-headed hill the place of thy repoſe? Shall we not hear thee in the ſtorm? In the noiſe of the mountain-ſtream? When the feeble ſons of the wind come forth, and, ſcarcely ſeen, paſs over the deſert?”

The ſoft-voiced Connal roſe, in the midſt of his ſounding arms. He ſtruck his ſhield above Cuthullin. The ſon of battle waked. “Why,” ſaid the ruler of the car, “comes Connal through my night? My ſpear might turn againſt the ſound; and Cuthullin mourn the death of his friend. Speak, Connal; ſon of Colgar, ſpeak, thy counſel is the ſun of heaven!” “Son of Semo!” replied the chief, “the ghoſt of Crugal came from his cave. The ſtars dim-twinkled through his form. His voice was like the ſound of a diſtant ſtream. He is a meſſenger of death! He ſpeaks of the dark and narrow houſe! Sue for peace, O chief of Erin! or fly over the heath of Lena.”

“He ſpoke to Connal,” replied the hero, “though ſtars dim-twinkled through his form! Son of Colgar, it was the wind that murmured acroſs thy ear. Or if it was the form 1) of Crugal, why didſt thou not force him to my ſight? Haſt thou inquired where is his cave? The houſe of that ſon of wind? My ſword might find that voice, and force his knowledge from Crugal. But ſmall is his knowledge, Connal; he was here to-day. He could not have gone beyond our hills! who could tell him there of our fall?” “Ghoſts fly on clouds, and ride on winds,” ſaid Connal's voice of wiſdom. “They reſt together in their caves, and talk of mortal men.”

“Then let them talk of mortal men; of every man but Erin's chief. Let me be forgot in their cave. I will not fly from Swaran! If fall I muſt, my tomb ſhall riſe, amidſt the fame of future times. The hunter ſhall ſhed a tear on my ſtone; ſorrow ſhall dwell round the high-boſomed Bragéla. I fear not death, to fly I fear! Fingal has ſeen me victorious! Thou dim phantom of the hill, ſhew thyſelf to me! come on thy beam of heaven, ſhew me my death in thine hand; yet I will not fly, thou feeble ſon of the wind! Go, ſon of Colgar, ſtrike the ſhield. It hangs between the ſpears. Let my warriors riſe to the ſound, in the midſt of the battles of Erin. Though Fingal delays his coming with the race of his ſtormy iſles, we ſhall fight, O Colgar's ſon, and die in the battle of heroes!”

The ſound ſpreads wide. The heroes riſe, like the breaking of a blue-rolling wave. They ſtood on the heath, like oaks with all their branches round them; when they echo to the ſtream of froſt, and their withered leaves are ruſtling to the wind! High Cromla's head of clouds is grey. Morning trembles on the half-enlightened ocean. The blue miſt ſwims ſlowly by, and hides the ſons of Inis-fail!

“Riſe ye,” ſaid the king of the dark-brown ſhields, “ye that came from Lochlin's waves. The ſons of Erin have fled from our arms; purſue them over the plains of Lena! Morla, go to Cormac's hall. Bid them yield to Swaran; before his people ſink to the tomb; and ſilence ſpread over his iſle.” They roſe ruſtling like a flock of ſea-fowl, when the waves expel them from the ſhore. Their ſound was like a thouſand ſtreams that meet in Cona's vale, when, after a ſtormy night, they turn their dark eddies beneath the pale light of the morn.

As the dark ſhades of autumn fly over hills of graſs: ſo gloomy, dark, ſucceſſive came the chiefs of Lochlin's echoing woods. Tall as the ſtag of Morven, moved ſtately before them the king. His ſhining ſhield is on his ſide, like a flame on the heath at night; when the world is ſilent and dark, and the traveller ſees ſome ghoſt ſporting in the beam! Dimly gleam the hills around, and ſhew indiſtinctly their oaks. A blaſt from the troubled ocean removed the ſettled miſt. The ſons of Erin appear, like a ridge of rocks on the coaſt; when mariners, on ſhores unknown, are trembling at veering winds!

“Go, Morla, go,” ſaid the kin of Lochlin, “offer peace to theſe! Offer the terms we give to kings, when nations bow down to our ſwords. When the valiant are dead in war; when virgins weep on the field!” Tall Morla came, the ſon of Swarth, and ſtately ſtrode the youth along! He ſpoke to Erin's blue-eyed chief, among the leſſer heroes. “Take Swaran's peace,” the warrior ſpoke, “the peace he gives to kings, when nations bow to his ſword. Leave Erin's ſtreamy plains to us, and give thy ſpouſe and dog. Thy ſpouſe high-boſom'd, heaving fair! Thy dog that overtakes the wind! Give theſe to prove the weakneſs of thine arm; live then beneath our power!”

“Tell Swaran, tell that heart of pride, Cuthullin never yields. I give him the dark rolling ſea; I give his people graves in Erin. But never ſhall a ſtranger have the pleaſing ſun-beam of my love. No deer ſhall fly on Lochlin's hills, before ſwift-footed Luath.” “Vain ruler of the car,” ſaid Morla, “wilt thou then fight the king? The king whoſe ſhips of many groves could carry off thine iſle? So little is thy green-hilled Erin to him who rules the ſtormy waves!” “In words I yield to many, Morla. My ſword ſhall yield to none. Erin ſhall own the ſway of Cormac, while Connal and Cuthullin live! O Connal, firſt of mighty men, thou hear'ſt the words of Morla. Shall thy thoughts then be of peace, thou breaker of the ſhields? Spirit of fallen Crugal! why didſt thou threaten us with death? The narrow houſe ſhall receive me, in the midſt of the light of renown. Exalt, ye ſons of Erin, exalt the ſpear and bend the bow: ruſh on the foe in darkneſs, as the ſpirits of ſtormy nights!”

Then diſmal, roaring, fierce, and deep the gloom of battle poured along; as miſt that is rolled on a valley, when ſtorms invade the ſilent ſunſhine of heaven! Cuthullin moves before in arms, like an angry ghoſt before a cloud; when meteors incloſe him with fire; when the dark winds are in his hand. Carril, far on the heath, bids the horn of battle ſound. He raiſes the voice of ſong, and pours his ſoul into the minds of the brave.

“Where?” ſaid the mouth of the ſong, “where is the fallen Crugal? He lies forgot on earth; the hall of ſhells 2) is ſilent. Sad is the ſpouſe of Crugal! She is a ſtranger 3) in the hall of her grief. But who is ſhe that, like a ſun-beam, flies before the ranks of the foe? It is Degrena, 4) lovely fair, the ſpouſe of fallen Crugal. Her hair is on the wind behind. Her eye is red; her voice is ſhrill. Pale, empty is thy Crugal now! His form is in the cave of the hill. He comes to the ear of reſt; he raiſes his feeble voice; like the humming of the mountain-bee; like the collected flies of the eve! But Degrena falls like a cloud of the morn; the ſword of Lochlin is in her ſide. Cairbar, ſhe is fallen, the riſing thought of thy youth. She is fallen, O Cairbar, the thought of thy youthful hours!”

Fierce Cairbar heard the mournful ſound. He ruſhed along like ocean's whale. He ſaw the death of his daughter: He roared in the midſt of thouſands. His ſpear met a ſon of Lochlin! battle ſpreads from wing to wing! As a hundred winds in Lochlin's groves; as fire in the pines of a hundred hills; ſo loud, ſo ruinous, ſo vaſt the ranks of men are hewn down. Cuthullin cut off heroes like thiſtle; Swaran waſted Erin. Curach fell by his hand, Cairbar of the boſſy ſhield! Morglan lies in laſting reſt! Ca-olt trembles as he dies! His white breaſt is ſtained with blood; his yellow hair ſtretched in the duſt of his native land! He often had ſpread the feaſt where he fell. He often there had raiſed the voice of the harp: when his dogs leaped around for joy; and the youths of the chaſe prepared the bow!

Still Swaran advanced, as a ſtream that burſts from the deſert. The little hills are rolled in its courſe; the rocks are half ſunk by its ſide! But Cuthullin ſtood before him, like a hill, that catches the clouds of heaven. The winds contend on its head of pines; the hail rattles on its rocks. But firm in its ſtrength, it ſtands and ſhades the ſilent vale of Cona! So Cuthullin ſhaded the ſons of Erin, and ſtood in the midſt of thouſands. Blood riſes like the fount of a rock, from panting heroes around. But Erin falls on either wing, like ſnow in the day of the ſun.

“O ſons of Erin,” ſaid Grumal, “Lochlin conquers on the field. Why ſtrive we as reeds againſt the wind? Fly to the hill of dark-brown hinds.” He fled like the ſtag of Morven; his ſpear is a trembling beam of light behind him. Few fled with Grumal, chief of the little ſoul: they fell in the battle of heroes, on Lena's echoing heath. High on his car, of many gems, the chief of Erin ſtood. He ſlew a mighty ſon of Lochlin, and ſpoke, in haſte to Connal. “O Connal, firſt of mortal men, thou haſt taught this arm of death! Though Erin's ſons have fled, ſhall we not fight the foe? Carril, ſon of other times, carry my friends to that buſhy hill. Here, Connal, let us ſtand, like rocks, and ſave our flying friends.”

Connal mounts the car of gems. They ſtretch their ſhields, like the darkened moon, the daughter of the ſtarry ſkies, when ſhe moves, a dun circle through heaven; and dreadful change is expected by men. Sithfadda panted up the hill, and Sronnal haughty ſteed. Like waves behind a whale behind them ruſhed the foe. Now on the riſing ſide of Cromla ſtood Erin's few ſad ſons; like a grove through which the flame had ruſhed, hurried on by the winds of the ſtormy night; diſtant withered, dark they ſtand, with not a leaf to ſhake in the gale.

Cuthullin ſtood beſide an oak. He rolled his red eye in ſilence, and heard the wind in his buſhy hair; the ſcout of ocean came, Moran the ſon of Fithil. “The ſhips,” he ſaid, “the ſhips of the lonely iſles. Fingal comes, the firſt of men, the breaker of the ſhields! The waves foam before his black prows! His maſts with ſails are like groves in clouds!” “Blow,” ſaid Cuthullin, “blow ye winds that ruſh along my iſle of miſt. Come to the death of thouſands, O king of reſounding Selma! Thy ſails, my friend, are to me the clouds of the morning; thy ſhips the light of heaven; and thou thyſelf a pillar of fire that beams on the world by night. O Connal, firſt of men, how pleaſing, in grief, are our friends! But the night is gathering around! Where now are the ſhips of Fingal? Here let us paſs the hours of darkneſs; here wiſh for the moon of heaven.”

The winds come down on the woods. The torrents ruſh from the rocks. Rain gathers round the head of Cromla. The red ſtars tremble between flying clouds. Sad by the ſide of a ſtream whoſe ſound is echoed by a tree, ſad by the ſide of a ſtream the chief of Erin ſits. Connal, ſon of Colgar, is there, and Carril of other times. “Unhappy is the hand of Cuthullin,” ſaid the ſon of Semo, “unhappy is the hand of Cuthullin, ſince he ſlew his friend! Ferda, ſon of Damman, I loved thee as myſelf!”

“How, Cuthullin, ſon of Semo! how fell the breaker of the ſhields? Well I remember,” ſaid Connal, “the ſon of the noble Damman. Tall and fair he was like the rainbow of heaven.” Ferda, from Albion came, the chief of a hundred hills. In Muri's 5) hall he learned the ſword, and won the friendſhip of Cuthullin. We moved to the chaſe together: one was our bed in the heath!

Deugala was the ſpouſe of Cairbar, chief of the plains of Ullin. She was covered with the light of beauty, but her heart was the houſe of pride. She loved that ſun-beam of youth, the ſon of noble Damman. “Cairbar,” ſaid the white-armed Deugala, “give me half of the herd. No more I will remain in your halls. Divide the herd, dark Cairbar!” “Let Cuthullin,” ſaid Cairbar, “divide my herd on the hill. His breaſt is the ſeat of juſtice. Depart, thou light of beauty!” I went and divided the herd. One ſnow-white bull remained. I gave that bull to Cairbar. The wrath of Deugala roſe!

“Son of Damman,” begun the fair, “Cuthullin hath pained my ſoul. I muſt hear of his death, or Lubar's ſtream ſhall roll over me. My pale ghoſt ſhall wander near thee, and mourn the wound of my pride. Pour out the blood of Cuthullin, or pierce this heaving breaſt.” “Deugala,” ſaid the fair-haired youth, “how ſhall I ſlay the ſon of Semo? He is the friend of my ſecret thoughts. Shall I then lift the ſword?” She wept three days before the chief, on the fourth he ſaid he would fight. “I will fight my friend, Deugala! but may I fall by his ſword! Could I wander on the hill alone? Could I behold the grave of Cuthullin?” We fought on the plain of Muri. Our ſwords avoid a wound. They ſlide on the helmets of ſteel; or ſound on the ſlippery ſhields. Deugala was near with a ſmile, and ſaid to the ſon of Damman: “Thine arm is feeble, ſun-beam of youth! Thy years are not ſtrong for ſteel. Yield to the ſon of Semo. He is a rock on Malmor.”

The tear is in the eye of youth. He faltering ſaid to me: “Cuthullin, raiſe thy boſſy ſhield. Defend thee from the hand of thy friend. My ſoul is laden with grief: for I muſt ſlay the chief of men!” I ſighed as the wind in the cleft of a rock. I lifted high the edge of my ſteel. The ſun-beam of battle fell: the firſt of Cuthullin's friends! Unhappy is the hand of Cuthullin ſince the hero fell!

“Mournful is thy tale, ſon of the car,” ſaid Carril of other times. “It ſends my ſoul back to the ages of old, to the days of other years. Often have I heard of Comal, who ſlew the friend he loved; yet victory attended his ſteel: the battle was conſumed in his preſence!”

Comal was a ſon of Albion; the chief of an hundred hills! His deer drunk of a thouſand ſtreams. A thouſand rocks replied to the voice of his dogs. His face was the mildneſs of youth. His hand the death of heroes. One was his love, and fair was ſhe! the daughter of mighty Conloch. She appeared like a ſunbeam among women. Her hair was the wing of the raven. Her dogs were taught to the chaſe. Her bowſtring ſounded on the winds. Her ſoul was fixed on Comal. Often met their eyes of love. Their courſe in the chaſe was one. Happy were their words in ſecret. But Grumal loved the maid, the dark chief of the gloomy Ardven. He watched her lone ſteps in the heath; the foe of unhappy Comal!

One day, tired of the chaſe, when the miſt had concealed their friends, Comal and the daughter of Comloch met, in the cave of Ronan. It was the wonted haunt of Comal. Its ſides were hung with his arms. A hundred ſhields of thongs were there; a hundred helms of ſounding ſteel. “Reſt here,” he ſaid, “my love, Galbina: thou light of the cave of Ronan! A deer appears on Mora's brow. I go; but I will ſoon return.” “I fear,” ſhe ſaid, “dark Grumal my foe: he haunts the cave of Ronan! I will reſt among the arms; but ſoon return, my love.”

He went to the deer of Mora. The daughter of Conloch would try his love. She clothed her fair ſides with his armour; ſhe ſtrode from the cave of Ronan! He thought it was his foe. His heart beat high. His colour changed, and darkneſs dimmed his eyes. He drew the bow. The arrow flew. Galbina fell in blood! He ran with wildneſs in his ſteps! he called the daughter of Conloch. No anſwer in the lonely rock. Where art thou, O my love? He ſaw, at length, her heaving heart, beating around the arrow he threw. “O Conloch's daughter, is it thou?” He ſunk upon her breaſt! The hunters found the hapleſs pair; he afterwards walked the hill. But many and ſilent were his ſteps round the dark dwelling of his love. The fleet of the ocean came. He fought, the ſtrangers fled. He ſearched for death along the field. But who could ſlay the mighty Comal! He threw away his dark-brown ſhield. An arrow found his manly breaſt. He ſleeps with his loved Galbina at the noiſe of the ſounding ſurge! Their green tombs are ſeen by the mariner, when he bounds on the waves of the north.





The poet teaches us the opinions that prevailed in his time concerning the ſtate of ſeparate ſouls. From Connal's expreſſion, “that the ſtars dim-twinkled through the form of Crugal,” and Cuthullin's reply, we may gather that they both thought the ſoul was material: ſomething like the εἰδωλον of the ancient Greeks. 


The ancient Scots, as well as the preſent Highlanders, drank out of ſhells; hence it is that we ſo often meet, in the old poetry, with the chief of ſhells and the halls of ſhells. 


Crugal had married Degrena but a little time before the battle, conſequently ſhe may with propriety be called a ſtranger in the hall of her grief. 


Deo-gréna ſignifies a ſun-beam. 


A place in Ulſter.