James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









A Poem.




GAUL, the ſon of Morni, attended Lathmon into his own country, after his being defeated in Morven, as related in the preceding poem. He was kindly entertained by Nuäth, the father of Lathmon, and fell in love with his daughter Oithona. The lady was no leſs enamoured of Gaul, and a day was fixed for their marriage. In the meantime Fingal, preparing for an expedition into the country of the Britons, ſent for Gaul. He obeyed, and went; but not without promiſing to Oithona to return, if he ſurvived the war, by a certain day. Lathmon, too, was obliged to attend his father Nuäth in his wars, and Oithona was left alone at Dunlathmon, the ſeat of the family. Dunrommath, lord of Uthal, ſuppoſed to be one of the Orkneys, taking advantage of the abſence of her friends, came and carried off by force Oithona, who had formerly rejected his love, into Tromáthon, a deſert iſland, where he concealed her in a cave.

Gaul returned on the day appointed; heard of the rape, and ſailed to Tromáthon, to revenge himſelf on Dunrommath. When he landed, he found Oithona diſconſolate and reſolved not to ſurvive the loſs of her honour. She told him the ſtory of her miſfortunes, and ſhe ſcarce ended, when Dunrommath with his followers appeared at the farther end of the iſland. Gaul prepared to attack him, recommending to Oithona to retire till the battle was over. She ſeemingly obeyed; but ſhe ſecretly armed herſelf, ruſhed into the thickeſt of the battle, and was mortally wounded. Gaul purſuing the flying enemy, found her juſt expiring on the field: he mourned over her, raiſed her tomb, and returned to Morven. Thus is the ſtory handed down by tradition; nor is it given with any material difference in the poem, which opens with Gaul's return to Dunlathmon, after the rape of Oithona.



DARKNESS dwells around Dunlathmon, though the moon ſhows half her face on the hill. The daughter of night turns her eyes away; ſhe beholds the approaching grief. The ſon of Morni is on the plain: there is no ſound in the hall. No long-ſtreaming beam of light comes trembling through the gloom. The voice of Oithona 1) is not heard amidſt the noiſe of the ſtreams of Duvranna. “Whither art thou gone in thy beauty, dark-haired daughter of Nuäth? Lathmon is in the field of the valiant, but thou didſt promiſe to remain in the hall till the ſon of Morni returned. Till he returned from Strumon, to the maid of his love! The tear was on thy cheek at his departure; the ſigh roſe in ſecret in thy breaſt. But thou doſt not come forth with ſongs, with the lightly-trembling ſound of the harp!”

Such were the words of Gaul, when he came to Dunlathmon's towers. The gates were open and dark. The winds were bluſtering in the hall. The trees ſtrowed the threſhold with leaves; the murmur of night was abroad. Sad and ſilent, at a rock, the ſon of Morni ſat; his ſoul trembled for the maid; but he knew not whither to turn his courſe! The ſon 2) of Leth ſtood at a diſtance, and heard the winds in his buſhy hair. But he did not raiſe his voice, for he ſaw the ſorrow of Gaul!

Sleep deſcended on the chiefs. The viſions of night aroſe. Oithona ſtood, in a dream, before the eyes of Morni's ſon. Her hair was looſe and diſordered: her lovely eye rolled deep in tears. Blood ſtained her ſnowy arm. The robe half hid the wound of her breaſt. She ſtood over the chief, and her voice was feebly heard. “Sleeps the ſon of Morni, he that was lovely in the eyes of Oithona? Sleeps Gaul at the diſtant rock, and the daughter of Nuäth low? The ſea rolls round the dark iſle of Tromáthon. I ſit in my tears in the cave! Nor do I ſit alone, O Gaul! the dark chief of Cuthal is there. He is there in the rage of his love. What can Oithona do?”

A rougher blaſt ruſhed through the oak. The dream of night departed. Gaul took his aſpen ſpear. He ſtood in the rage of his ſoul. Often did his eyes turn to the eaſt. He accuſed the lagging light. At length the morning came forth. The hero lifted up the ſail. The winds came ruſtling from the hill; he bounded on the waves of the deep. On the third day aroſe Tromáthon 3) like a blue ſhield in the midſt of the ſea. The white wave roared againſt its rocks; ſad Oithona ſat on the coaſt! She looked on the rolling waters, and her tears came down. But when ſhe ſaw Gaul in his arms, ſhe ſtarted and turned her eyes away. Her lovely cheek is bent and red: her white arm trembles by her ſide. Thrice ſhe ſtrove to fly from his preſence; thrice her ſteps failed her as ſhe went!

“Daughter of Nuäth,” ſaid the hero, “why doſt thou fly from Gaul? Do my eyes ſend forth the flame of death? Darkens hatred in my ſoul? Thou art to me the beam of the eaſt, riſing in a land unknown. But thou covereſt thy face with ſadneſs, daughter of car-borne Nuäth! Is the foe of Oithona near? My ſoul burns to meet him in fight. The ſword trembles by the ſide of Gaul, and longs to glitter in his hand. Speak, daughter of Nuäth! doſt thou not behold my tears?”

“Young chief of Strumon,” replied the maid, “why comeſt thou over the dark-blue wave, to Nuäth's mournful daughter? Why did I not paſs away in ſecret, like the flower of the rock, that lifts its fair head unſeen and ſtrows its withered leaves on the blaſt? Why didſt thou come, O Gaul! to hear my departing ſigh? I vaniſh in my youth; my name ſhall not be heard. Or it will be heard with grief; the tears of Nuäth muſt fall. Thou wilt be ſad, ſon of Morni! for the departed fame of Oithona. But ſhe ſhall ſleep in the narrow tomb, far from the voice of the mourner. Why didſt thou come, chief of Strumon! to the ſea-beat rocks of Tromáthon?”

“I came to meet thy foes, daughter of car-borne Nuäth! the death of Cuthal's chief darkens before me; or Morni's ſon ſhall fall! Oithona! when Gaul is low, raiſe my tomb on that oozy rock. When the dark-bounding ſhip ſhall paſs, call the ſons of the ſea! call them, and give this ſword, to bear it hence to Morni's hall. The grey-haired chief will then ceaſe to look towards the deſert, for the return of his ſon!”

“Shall the daughter of Nuäth live?” ſhe replied with a burſting ſigh. “Shall I live in Tromáthon, and the ſon of Morni low? My heart is not of that rock; nor my ſoul careleſs as that ſea, which lifts its blue waves to every wind, and rolls beneath the ſtorm! The blaſt which ſhall lay thee low, ſhall ſpread the branches of Oithona on earth. We ſhall wither together, ſon of car-borne Morni! The narrow houſe is pleaſant to me, and the grey ſtone of the dead: for never more will I leave thy rocks, O ſea-ſurrounded Tromáthon! Night 4) came on with her clouds, after the departure of Lathmon, when he went to the wars of his fathers, to the moſs-covered rock of Duthormoth. Night came on. I ſat in the hall at the beam of the oak! The wind was abroad in the trees. I heard the ſound of arms. Joy roſe in my face. I thought of thy return. It was the chief of Cuthal, the red-haired ſtrength of Dunrommath. His eyes rolled in fire: the blood of my people was on his ſword. They who defended Oithona fell by the gloomy chief! What could I do? My arm was weak. I could not lift the ſpear. He took me in my grief; amidſt my tears he raiſed the ſail. He feared the returning Lathmon, the brother of unhappy Oithona! But behold he comes with his people! the dark wave is divided before him! Whither wilt thou turn thy ſteps, ſon of Morni? Many are the warriors of thy foe!”

“My ſteps never turned from battle,” Gaul ſaid, and unſheathed his ſword. “Shall I then begin to fear, Oithona, when thy foes are near? Go to thy cave, my love, till our battle ceaſe on the field. Son of Leth, bring the bows of our fathers! the ſounding quiver of Morni! Let our three warriors bend the yew. Ourſelves will lift the ſpear. They are an hoſt on the rock! our ſouls are ſtrong in war!”

Oithona went to the cave. A troubled joy roſe on her mind, like the red path of lightning on a ſtormy cloud! Her ſoul was reſolved; the tear was dried from her wildly-looking eye. Dunrommath ſlowly approached. He ſaw the ſon of Morni. Contempt contracted his face, a ſmile is on his dark-brown cheek; his red eye rolled, half-concealed, beneath his ſhaggy brows!

“Whence are the ſons of the ſea?” begun the gloomy chief. “Have the winds driven you on the rocks of Tromáthon? Or come you in ſearch of the white-handed maid? The ſons of the unhappy, ye feeble men, come to the hand of Dunrommath! His eyes ſpare not the weak; he delights in the blood of ſtrangers. Oithona is a beam of light, and the chief of Cuthal enjoys it in ſecret; wouldſt thou come on its lovelineſs, like a cloud, ſon of the feeble hand? Thou mayeſt come, but ſhalt thou return to the halls of thy fathers?” “Doſt thou not know me,” ſaid Gaul, “red-haired chief of Cuthal? Thy feet were ſwift on the heath, in the battle of car-borne Lathmon; when the ſword of Morni's ſon purſued his hoſt, in Morven's woody land. Dunrommath! thy words are mighty, for thy warriors gather behind thee. But do I fear them, ſon of pride? I am not of the race of the feeble!”

Gaul advanced in his arms; Dunrommath ſhrunk behind his people. But the ſpear of Gaul pierced the gloomy chief; his ſword lopped off his head, as it bended in death. The ſon of Morni ſhook it thrice by the lock: the warriors of Dunrommath fled. The arrows of Morven purſued them: ten fell on the moſſy rocks. The reſt lift the ſounding ſail, and bound on the troubled deep. Gaul advanced towards the cave of Oithona. He beheld a youth leaning on a rock. An arrow had pierced his ſide; his eye rolled faintly beneath his helmet. The ſoul of Morni's ſon was ſad, he came and ſpoke the words of peace.

“Can the hand of Gaul heal thee, youth of the mournful brow? I have ſearched for the herbs of the mountains; I have gathered them on the ſecret banks of their ſtreams. My hand has cloſed the wound of the brave, their eyes have bleſſed the ſon of Morni. Where dwelt thy fathers, warrior? Were they of the ſons of the mighty? Sadneſs ſhall come, like night, on thy native ſtreams. Thou art fallen in thy youth!”

“My fathers,” replied the ſtranger, “were of the race of the mighty; but they ſhall not be ſad; for my fame is departed like morning miſt. High walls riſe on the banks of Duvranna; and ſee their moſſy towers in the ſtream; a rock aſcends behind them with its bending pines. Thou mayeſt behold it far diſtant. There my brother dwells. He is renowned in battle: give him this glittering helm.”

The helmet fell from the hand of Gaul. It was the wounded Oithona! She had armed herſelf in the cave and came in ſearch of death. Her heavy eyes are half cloſed; the blood pours from her heaving ſide. “Son of Morni!” ſhe ſaid, “prepare the narrow tomb. Sleep grows, like darkneſs, on my ſoul. The eyes of Oithona are dim! O had I dwelt at Duvranna, in the bright beam of my fame! then had my years come on with joy; the virgins would then bleſs my ſteps. But I fall in youth, ſon of Morni! my father ſhall bluſh in his hall!”

She fell pale on the rock of Tromáthon. The mournful warrior raiſed her tomb. He came to Morven; we ſaw the darkneſs of his ſoul. Oſſian took the harp in the praiſe of Oithona. The brightneſs of the face of Gaul returned. But his ſigh roſe at times in the midſt of his friends; like blaſts that ſhake their unfrequent wings, after the ſtormy winds are laid!





Oi-thona, the virgin of the wave. 


Morlo, the ſon of Leth, is one of Fingal's moſt famous heroes. He and three other men attended Gaul on his expedition to Tromáthon. 


Tróm-thón, heavy or deep-ſounding wave. 


Oithona relates how ſhe was carried away by Dunrommath.