James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









A Poem.




CAROS is probably the noted uſurper Carauſius, by birth a Men-apian, who aſſumed the purple in the year 284: and, ſeizing on Britain, defeated the Emperor Maximian Herculius in ſeveral naval engagements, which gives propriety to his being called in this poem the King of Ships. He repaired Agricola's wall in order to obſtruct the incurſions of the Caledonians; and when he was employed in that work it appears he was attacked by a party under the command of Oſcar the ſon of Oſſian. This battle is the foundation of the preſent poem, which is addreſſed to Malvina the daughter of Toſcar.



BRING, daughter of Toſcar! bring the harp! the light of the ſong riſes in Oſſian's ſoul! It is like the field, when darkneſs covers the hills around, and the ſhadow grows ſlowly on the plain of the ſun. I behold my ſon, O Malvina! near the moſſy rock of Crona. 1) But it is the miſt of the deſert, tinged with the beam of the weſt! Lovely is the miſt, that aſſumes the form of Oſcar! turn from it, ye winds, when ye roar on the ſide of Ardven!

Who comes towards my ſon, with the murmur of a ſong? His ſtaff is in his hand, his grey hair looſe on the wind. Surly joy lightens his face. He often looks back to Caros. It is Ryno 2) of ſongs, he that went to view the foe. “What does Caros, king of ſhips?” ſaid the ſon of the now mournful Oſſian. “Spreads he the wingſ 3) of his pride, bard of the times of old?” “He ſpreads them, Oſcar,” replied the bard, “but it is behind his gathered heap. 4) He looks over his ſtones with fear. He beholds thee terrible as the ghoſt of night, that rolls the wave to his ſhips!”

“Go, thou firſt of my bards!” ſays Oſcar, “take the ſpear of Fingal. Fix a flame on its point. Shake it to the winds of heaven. Bid him, in ſongs, to advance, and leave the rolling of his wave. Tell to Caros that I long for battle; that my bow is weary of the chaſe of Cona. Tell him the mighty are not here; and that my arm is young.”

He went with the murmur of ſongs. Oſcar reared his voice on high. It reached his heroes on Ardven, like the noiſe of a cave, when the ſea of Togorma rolls before it, and its trees meet the roaring winds. They gather round my ſon like the ſtreams of the hill; when, after rain, they roll in the pride of their courſe. Ryno came to the mighty Caros. He ſtruck his flaming ſpear. Come to the battle of Oſcar, O thou that ſitteſt on the rolling of waves! Fingal is diſtant far; he hears the ſongs of bards in Morven: the wind of his hall is in his hair. His terrible ſpear is at his ſide; his ſhield that is like the darkened moon! Come to the battle of Oſcar; the hero is alone!

He came not over the ſtreamy Carun. 5) The bard returned with his ſong. Grey night grows dim on Crona. The feaſt of ſhells is ſpread. A hundred oaks burn to the wind; faint light gleams over the heath. The ghoſts of Ardven paſs through the beam, and ſhow their dim and diſtant forms. Comala 6) is half unſeen on her meteor; Hidallan is ſullen and dim, like the darkened moon behind the miſt of night.

“Why art thou ſad?” ſaid Ryno; for he alone beheld the chief. “Why art thou ſad, Hidallan! haſt thou not received thy fame? The ſongs of Oſſian have been heard: thy ghoſt has brightened in wind, when thou didſt bend from thy cloud, to hear the ſong of Morven's bard!” “And do thine eyes,” ſaid Oſcar, “behold the chief, like the dim meteor of night? Say, Ryno, ſay, how fell Hidallan, the renowned in the days of my fathers? His name remains on the rocks of Cona. I have often ſeen the ſtreams of his hills!”

Fingal, replied the bard, drove Hidallan from his wars. The king's ſoul was ſad for Comala, and his eyes could not behold the chief. Lonely, ſad along the heath, he ſlowly moved, with ſilent ſteps. His arms hang diſordered on his ſide. His hair flies looſe from his brow. The tear is in his down-caſt eyes; a ſigh half-ſilent in his breaſt! Three days he ſtrayed unſeen, alone, before he came to Lamor's halls: the moſſy halls of his fathers, at the ſtream of Balva. 7) There Lamor ſat alone beneath a tree; for he had ſent his people with Hidallan to war. The ſtream ran at his feet, his grey head reſted on his ſtaff. Sightleſs are his aged eyes. He hums the ſong of other times. The noiſe of Hidallan's feet came to his ear: he knew the tread of his ſon.

“Is the ſon of Lamor returned; or is it the ſound of his ghoſt? Haſt thou fallen on the banks of Carun, ſon of the aged Lamor? Or, if I hear the ſound of Hidallan's feet, where are the mighty in war? where are my people, Hidallan! that were wont to return with their echoing ſhields? Have they fallen on the banks of Carun?”

“No”: replied the ſighing youth, “the people of Lamor live. They are renowned in war, my father! but Hidallan is renowned no more. I muſt ſit alone on the banks of Balva, when the roar of the battle grows.”

“But thy fathers never ſat alone,” replied the riſing pride of Lamor. “They never ſat alone on the banks of Balva, when the roar of battle roſe. Doſt thou not behold that tomb? My eyes diſcern it not; there reſts the noble Garmállon, who never fled from war! Come, thou renowned in battle, he ſays, come to thy father's tomb. How am I renowned, Garmállon? my ſon has fled from war!”

“King of the ſtreamy Balva!” ſaid Hidallan with a ſigh, “why doſt thou torment my ſoul? Lamor, I never fled. Fingal was ſad for Comala; he denied his wars to Hidallan. Go to the grey ſtreams of thy land, he ſaid; moulder like a leafleſs oak, which the winds have bent over Balva, never more to grow!”

“And muſt I hear,” Lamor replied, “the lonely tread of Hidallan's feet? When thouſands are renowned in battle ſhall he bend over my grey ſtreams? Spirit of the noble Garmállon! carry Lamor to his place; his eyes are dark; his ſoul is ſad; his ſon has loſt his fame!”

“Where,” ſaid the youth, “ſhall I ſearch for fame to gladden the ſoul of Lamor? From whence ſhall I return with renown, that the ſound of my arms may be pleaſant in his ear? If I go to the chaſe of hinds, my name will not be heard. Lamor will not feel my dogs, with his hands, glad at my arrival from the hill. He will not inquire of his mountains, or of the dark-brown deer of his deſerts!”

“I muſt fall,” ſaid Lamor, “like a leafleſs oak: it grew on a rock! it was overturned by the winds! My ghoſt will be ſeen on my hills, mournful for my young Hidallan. Will not ye, ye miſts! as ye riſe, hide him from my ſight? My ſon! go to Lamor's hall; there the arms of our fathers hang. Bring the ſword of Garmállon; he took it from a foe!”

He went and brought the ſword with all its ſtudded thongs. He gave it to his father. The grey-haired hero felt the point with his hand.

“My ſon! lead me to Garmállon's tomb: it riſes beſide that ruſtling tree. The long graſs is withered; I hear the breezes whiſtling there. A little fountain murmurs near, and ſends its water to Balva. There let me reſt; it is noon: the ſun is on our fields!”

He led him to Garmállon's tomb. Lamor pierced the ſide of his ſon. They ſleep together: their ancient halls moulder away. Ghoſts are ſeen there at noon: the valley is ſilent, and the people ſhun the place of Lamor.

“Mournful is thy tale,” ſaid Oſcar, “ſon of the times of old! My ſoul ſighs for Hidallan; he fell in the days of his youth. He flies on the blaſt of the deſert, his wandering is in a foreign land. Sons of the echoing Morven! draw near to the foes of Fingal. Send the night away in ſongs; watch the ſtrength of Caros. Oſcar goes to the people of other times; to the ſhades of ſilent Ardven, where his fathers ſit dim in their clouds, and behold the future war. And art thou there, Hidallan, like a half-extinguiſhed meteor! Come to my ſight in thy ſorrow, chief of the winding Balva!”

The heroes move with their ſongs. Oſcar ſlowly aſcends the hill. The meteors of night ſet on the heath before him. A diſtant torrent faintly roars. Unfrequent blaſts ruſh through aged oaks. The half enlightened moon ſinks dim and red behind her hill. Feeble voices are heard on the heath. Oſcar drew his ſword!

“Come,” ſaid the hero, “O ye ghoſts of my fathers! ye that fought againſt the kings of the world! Tell me the deeds of future times; and your converſe in your caves, when you talk together and behold your ſons in the fields of the brave.”

Trenmor came, from his hill, at the voice of his mighty ſon. A cloud, like the ſteed of the ſtranger, ſupported his airy limbs. His robe is of the miſt of Lano, that brings death to the people. His ſword is a green meteor half-extinguiſhed. His face is without form, and dark. He ſighed thrice over the hero: thrice the winds of night roared around! Many were his words to Oſcar; but they only came by halves to our ears: they were dark as the tales of other times, before the light of the ſong aroſe. He ſlowly vaniſhed, like a miſt that melts on the ſunny hill. It was then, O daughter of Toſcar! my ſon began firſt to be ſad. He foreſaw the fall of his race. At times, he was thoughtful and dark; like the ſun when he carries a cloud on his face, but again he looks forth from his darkneſs on the green hills of Cona.

Oſcar paſſed the night among his fathers, grey morning met him on Carun's banks. A green vale ſurrounded a tomb which aroſe in the times of old. Little hills lift their head at a diſtance; and ſtretch their old trees to the wind. The warriors of Caros ſat there, for they had paſſed the ſtream by night. They appeared, like the trunks of aged pines, to the pale light of the morning. Oſcar ſtood at the tomb, and raiſed thrice his terrible voice. The rocking hills echoed around! the ſtarting roes bounded away: and the trembling ghoſts of the dead fled, ſhrieking on their clouds. So terrible was the voice of my ſon when he called his friends!

A thouſand ſpears aroſe around; the people of Caros roſe. Why, daughter of Toſcar, why that tear? My ſon, though alone, is brave. Oſcar is like a beam of the ſky; be turns around, and the people fall. His hand is the arm of a ghoſt, when he ſtretches it from a cloud; the reſt of his thin form is unſeen; but the people die in the vale! My ſon beheld the approach of the foe; he ſtood in the ſilent darkneſs of his ſtrength. “Am I alone,” ſaid Oſcar, “in the midſt of a thouſand foes? Many a ſpear is there! many a darkly-rolling eye! Shall I fly to Ardven? But did my fathers ever fly? The mark of their arm is in a thouſand battles. Oſcar, too, ſhall be renowned! Come, ye dim ghoſts of my fathers, and behold my deeds in war! I may fall; but I will be renowned like the race of the echoing Morven.” He ſtood, growing in his place, like a flood in a narrow vale! The battle came, but they fell: bloody was the ſword of Oſcar!

The noiſe reached his people at Crona; they came like a hundred ſtreams. The warriors of Caros fled; Oſcar remained like a rock left by the ebbing ſea. Now dark and deep, with all his ſteeds, Caros rolled his might along: the little ſtreams are loſt in his courſe; the earth is rocking round. Battle ſpreads from wing to wing: ten thouſand ſwords gleam at once in the ſky. But why ſhould Oſſian ſing of battles? For never more ſhall my ſteel ſhine in war. I remember the days of my youth with grief, when I feel the weakneſs of my arm. Happy are they who fell in their youth, in the midſt of their renown! They have not beheld the tombs of their friends, or failed to bend the bow of their ſtrength. Happy art thou, O Oſcar! in the midſt of thy ruſhing blaſt. Thou often goeſt to the fields of thy fame, where Caros fled from thy lifted ſword.

Darkneſs comes on my ſoul, O fair daughter of Toſcar! I behold not the form of my ſon at Carun; nor the figure of Oſcar on Crona. The ruſtling winds have carried him far away; and the heart of his father is ſad. But lead me, O Malvina! to the ſound of my woods; to the roar of my mountain ſtreams. Let the chaſe be heard on Cona; let me think on the days of other years. And bring me the harp, O maid! that I may touch it, when the light of my ſoul ſhall ariſe. Be thou near, to learn the ſong: future times ſhall hear of me! The ſons of the feeble hereafter will lift the voice on Cona; and, looking up to the rocks, ſay, “Here Oſſian dwelt.” They ſhall admire the chiefs of old, the race that are no more! while we ride on our clouds, Malvina! on the wings of the roaring winds. Our voices ſhall be heard, at times, in the deſert; we ſhall ſing on the breeze of the rock.





Crona is the name of a ſmall ſtream which runs into the Carron. 


Ryno is often mentioned in the ancient poetry. He ſeems to have been a bard of the firſt rank in the days of Fingal. 


The Roman eagle. 


Agricola's wall which Carauſius repaired. 


The river Carron. 


This is the ſcene of Comala's death, which is the ſubject of the dramatic poem. The poet mentions her in this place in order to introduce the ſequel of Hidallan's ſtory, who, on account of her death, had been expelled from the wars of Fingal. 


This is perhaps that ſmall ſtream ſtill retaining the name of Balva which runs through the romantic valley of Glentivar in Stirlingſhire. Balva ſignifies a ſilent ſtream; and Glentivar the ſequeſtered vale.