James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









A Poem.




AN addreſs to Malvina, the daughter of Toſcar. The poet relates the arrival of Cathlin in Selma to ſolicit againſt. Duth-carmor of Cluba, who had killed Cathmol for the ſake of his daughter Lanul. Fingal, declining to make a choice among his heroes, who were all claiming the command of the expedition, they retired each to his hill of ghoſts; to be determined by dreams. The ſpirit of Trenmor appears to Oſſian and Oſcar; they ſail from the bay of Carmona; and on the fourth day appear off the valley of Rath-col, in Inis-huna, where Duth-carmor had fixed his reſidence. Oſſian deſpatches a bard to Duth-carmor to demand battle. Night comes on. The diſtreſs of Cathlin of Clutha. Oſſian devolves the command on Oſcar, who, according to the cuſtom of the kings of Morven, before battle retired to a neighbouring hill. Upon the coming on of day the battle joins. Oſcar and Duth-carmor meet. The latter falls. Oſcar carries the mail and helmet of Duth-carmor to Cathlin, who had retired from the field. Cathlin is diſcovered to be the daughter of Cathmol in diſguiſe, who had been carried off by force by, and had made her eſcape from, Duth-carmor.



COME, 1) thou beam that art lonely, from watching in the night! The ſqually winds are around thee, from all their echoing hills. Red, over my hundred ſtreams, are the light-covered paths of the dead. They rejoice, on the eddying winds, in the ſeaſon of night. Dwells there no joy in ſong, white hand of the harps of Lutha? Awake the voice of the ſtring; roll my ſoul to me. It is a ſtream that has failed. Malvina, pour the ſong.

I hear thee, from thy darkneſs, in Selma, thou that watcheſt, lonely, by night! Why didſt thou withhold the ſong, from Oſſian's failing ſoul? As the falling brook to the ear of the hunter, deſcending from his ſtorm-covered hill; in a ſun-beam rolls the echoing ſtream; he hears, and ſhakes his dewy locks: ſuch is the voice of Lutha, to the friend of the ſpirits of heroes. My ſwelling boſom beats high. I look back on the days that are paſt. Come, thou beam that art lonely, from watching in the night!

In the echoing bay of Carmona 2) we ſaw, one day, the bounding ſhip. On high, hung a broken ſhield; it was marked with wandering blood. Forward came a youth, in arms, and ſtretched his pointleſs ſpear. Long, over his tearful eyes, hung looſe his diſordered locks. Fingal gave the ſhell of kings. The words of the ſtranger aroſe. “In his hall lies Cathmol of Clutha, by the winding of his own dark ſtreams. Duth-carmor ſaw white-boſomed Lanul, 3) and pierced her father's ſide. In the ruſhy deſert were my ſteps. He fled in the ſeaſon of night. Give thine aid to Cathlin to revenge his father. I ſought thee not as a beam, in a land of clouds. Thou, like the ſon, art known, king of echoing Selma!”

Selma's king looked around. In his preſence, we roſe in arms. But who ſhould lift the ſhield? for all had claimed the war. The night came down; we ſtrode, in ſilence; each to his hill of ghoſts: that ſpirits might deſcend, in our dreams, to mark us for the field. We ſtruck the ſhield of the dead; we raiſed the hum of ſongs. We thrice called the ghoſts of our fathers. We laid us down in dreams. Trenmor came, before mine eyes, the tall form of other years! His blue hoſts were behind him in half-diſtinguiſhed rows. Scarce ſeen is their ſtrife in miſt, or their ſtretching forward to deaths. I liſtened; but no ſound was there. The forms were empty wind!

I ſtarted from the dream of ghoſts. On a ſudden blaſt flew my whiſtling hair. Low-ſounding, in the oak, is the departure of the dead. I took my ſhield from its bough. Onward came the rattling of ſteel. It was Oſcar 4) of Lego. He had ſeen his fathers. “As ruſhes forth the blaſt, on the boſom of whitening waves; ſo careleſs ſhall my courſe be, through ocean, to the dwelling of foes. I have ſeen the dead, my father! My beating ſoul is high! My fame is bright I before me, like the ſtreak of light on a cloud, when the broad ſun comes forth, red traveller of the ſky!”

“Grandſon of Branno,” I ſaid, “not Oſcar alone ſhall meet the foe. I ruſh forward, through ocean, to the woody dwelling of heroes. Let us contend, my ſon, like eagles, from one rock; when they lift their broad wings, againſt the ſtream of winds.” We raiſed our ſails in Carmona. From three ſhips, they marked my ſhield on the wave, as I looked on nightly Ton-thèna, 5) red traveller between the clouds. Four days came the breeze abroad. Lumon came forward in miſt. In winds were its hundred groves. Sun-beams marked at times its brown ſide. White, leaped the foamy ſtreams, from all its echoing rocks.

A green field, in the boſom of hills, winds ſilent with its own blue ſtream. Here, midſt the waving of oaks, were the dwellings of kings of old. But ſilence for many dark-brown years, had ſettled in graſſy Rath-col 6); for the race of heroes had failed, along the pleaſant vale. Duth-carmor was here, with his people, dark rider of the wave. Ton-thèna had hid her head in the ſky. He bound his white-boſomed ſails. His courſe is on the hills of Rath-col, to the ſeats of roes. We came. I ſent the bard, with ſongs, to call the foe to fight. Duth-carmor heard him, with joy. The king's ſoul was like a beam of fire; a beam of fire, marked with ſmoke, ruſhing, varied, through the boſom of night. The deeds of Duth-carmor were dark, though his arm was ſtrong.

Night came, with the gathering of clouds. By the beam of the oak we ſat down. At a diſtance ſtood Cathlin of Clutha. I ſaw the changeful 7) ſoul of the ſtranger. As ſhadows fly over the field of graſs, ſo various is Cathlin's cheek. It was fair, within locks, that roſe on Rath-col's wind. I did not ruſh, amidſt his ſoul, with my words. I bade the ſong to riſe.

“Oſcar of Lego,” I ſaid, “be thine the ſecret hill, 8) to-night. Strike the ſhield, like Morven's kings. With day, thou ſhalt lead in war. From my rock, I ſhall ſee thee, Oſcar, a dreadful form aſcending in fight, like the appearance of ghoſts, amidſt the ſtorms they raiſe. Why ſhould mine eyes return to the dim times of old, ere yet the ſong had burſted forth, like the ſudden riſing of winds? But the years, that are paſt, are marked with mighty deeds. As the nightly rider of waves looks up to Ton-thèna of beams, ſo let us turn our eyes to Trenmor, the father of kings.”

“Wide, in Caracha's echoing field, Carmal had poured his tribes. They were a dark ridge of waves. The grey-haired bards were like moving foam on their face. They kindled the ſtrife around, with their red-rolling eyes. Nor alone were the dwellers of rocks; a ſon of Loda was there; a voice, in his own dark land, to call the ghoſts from high. On his hill he had dwelt, in Lochlin, in the midſt of a leafleſs grove. Five ſtones lifted, near, their heads. Loud roared his ruſhing ſtream. He often raiſed his voice to the winds, when meteors marked their nightly wings; when the dark-robed moon was rolled behind her hill. Nor unheard of ghoſts was he! They came with the ſound of eagle wings. They turned battle, in fields, before the kings of men.

But, Trenmor, they turned not from battle. He drew forward that troubled war; in its dark ſkirt was Trathal, like a riſing light. It was dark; and Loda's ſon poured forth his ſigns, on night. The feeble were not before thee, ſon of other lands! 9) Then roſe the ſtrife of kings, about the hill of night; but it was ſoft as two ſummer gales, ſhaking their light wings, on a lake. Trenmor yielded to his ſon; for the fame of the king had been heard. Trathal came forth before his father, and the foes failed, in echoing Caracha. The years that are paſt, my ſon, are marked with mighty deeds.” 10)

In clouds roſe the eaſtern light. The foe came forth in arms. The ſtrife is mixed on Rath-col, like the roar of ſtreams. Behold the contending of kings! They meet beſide the oak. In gleams of ſteel the dark forms are loſt; ſuch is the meeting of meteors, in a vale by night; red light is ſcattered round, and men foreſee the ſtorm! Duth-carmor is low in blood! The ſon of Oſſian overcame! Not harmleſs in battle was he, Malvina hand of harps!

Nor, in the field, were the ſteps of Cathlin. The ſtranger ſtood by a ſecret ſtream, where the foam of Rath-col ſkirted the moſſy ſtones. Above, bends the branchy birch, and ſtrews its leaves, on wind. The inverted ſpear of Cathlin touched, at times, the ſtream. Oſcar brought Duth-carmor's mail: his helmet with its eagle wing. He placed them before the ſtranger, and his words were heard. “The foes of thy father have failed. They are laid in the field of ghoſts. Renown returns to Morven like a riſing wind. Why art thou dark, chief of Clutha? Is there cauſe for grief?”

“Son of Oſſian of harps, my ſoul is darkly ſad. I behold the arms of Cathmol, which he raiſed in war. Take the mail of Cathlin, place it high in Selma's hall, that thou mayeſt remember the hapleſs in thy diſtant land.” From white breaſts deſcended the mail. It was the race of kings; the ſoft-handed daughter of Cathmol, at the ſtream of Clutha! Duth-carmor ſaw her bright in the hall; he had come, by night, to Clutha. Cathmol met him, in battle, but the hero fell. Three days dwelt the foe, with the maid. On the fourth ſhe fled in arms. She remembered the race of kings, and felt her burſting ſoul!

Why, maid of Toſcar of Lutha, ſhould I tell how Cathlin failed? Her tomb is at ruſhy Lumon, in a diſtant land. Near it were the ſteps of Sul-malla, in the days of grief. She raiſed the ſong, for the daughter of ſtrangers, and touched the mournful harp.

Come, from the watching of night, Malvina, lonely beam!





The traditions which accompany this poem inform us that it went of old under the name of Laoi-Oi-lutha – i.e. the hymn of the maid of Lutha. They pretend alſo to fix the time of its compoſition to the third year after the death of Fingal – that is, during the expedition of Fergus the ſon of Fingal to the banks of Uiſca-duthon. In ſupport of this opinion the Highland ſenachies have prefixed to this poem an addreſs of Oſſian to Congal the young ſon of Fergus, which I have rejected as having no manner of connection with the reſt of the piece. It has poetical merit; and probably it was the opening of one of Oſſian's other poems, though the bards injudiciouſly tranſferred it to the piece now before us.

«Congal, ſon of Fergus of Durath, thou light between thy locks, aſcend to the rock of Selma, to the oak of the breaker of ſhields. Look over the boſom of night, it is ſtreaked with the red paths of the dead: look on the night of ghoſts, and kindle, O Congal! thy ſoul. Be not, like the moon on a ſtream, lonely in the midſt of clouds: darkneſs cloſes around it; and the beam departs. Depart not, ſon of Fergus! ere thou markeſt the field with thy ſword. Aſcend to the rock of Selma; to the oak of the breaker of ſhields.» 


Carmona, bay of the dark brown hills, an arm of the ſea in the neighbourhood of Selma.

In this paragraph are mentioned the ſignals preſented to Fingal by thoſe who came to demand his aid. The ſuppliants held in one hand a ſhield covered with blood, and in the other, a broken ſpear; the firſt a ſymbol of the death of their friends, the laſt an emblem of their own helpleſs ſituation. If the king choſe to grant ſuccours, which generally was the caſe, he reached to them the ſhell of feaſts as a token of his hoſpitality and friendly intentions towards them.

It may not be diſagreeable to the reader to lay here before him the ceremony of the Cran-tara, which was of a ſimilar nature, and, till very lately, uſed in the Highlands. When the news of an enemy came to the reſidence of the chief, he immediately killed a goat with his own ſword, dipped the end of a half-burnt piece of wood in the blood, and gave it to one of his ſervants to be carried to the next hamlet. From hamlet to hamlet this teſſara was carried with the utmoſt expedition, and in the ſpace of a few hours the whole clan were in arms and convened in an appointed place; the name of which was the only word that accompanied the delivery of the Cran-tara. This ſymbol was the manifeſto of the chief, by which he threatened fire and ſword to thoſe of his clan that did not immediately appear at his ſtandard. 


Lanul, full eyed, a ſurname which, according to tradition, was beſtowed on the daughter of Cathmol on account of her beauty; this tradition, however, may have been founded on that partiality which the bards have ſhown to Cathlin of Clutha; for, according to them, no falſehood could dwell in the ſoul of the lovely. 


Oſcar is here called Oſcar of Lego, from his mother being the daughter of Branno, a powerful chief on the banks of that lake. It is remarkable that Oſſian addreſſes no poem to Malvina in which her lover Oſcar was not one of the principal actors. His attention to her after the death of his ſon ſhows that delicacy of ſentiment is not confined, as ſome fondly imagine, to our own poliſhed times. 


Ton-thèna, fire of the wave, was the remarkable ſtar mentioned in the ſeventh book of Temora, which directed the courſe of Larthon to Ireland. It ſeems to have been well known to thoſe who ſailed on that ſea which divides Ireland from South-Britain. As the courſe of Oſſian was along the coaſt of Inis-huna, he mentions with propriety that ſtar which directed the voyage of the colony from that country to Ireland. 


Rath-col, woody field, does not appear to have been the reſidence of Duth-carmor: he ſeems rather to have been forced thither by a ſtorm; at leaſt I ſhould think that to be the meaning of the poet from his expreſſion that Ton-thèna had hid her head, and that he bound his white-boſomed ſails, which is as much as to ſay that the weather was ſtormy and that Duth-carmor put into the bay of Rath-col for ſhelter. 


From this circumſtance ſucceeding bards feigned that Cathlin, who is here in the diſguiſe of a young warrior, had fallen in love with Duth-carmor at a feaſt to which he had been invited by her father. Her love was converted into deteſtation for him after he had murdered her father. But as thoſe rainbows of heaven are changeful, ſay my authors, ſpeaking of women, ſhe felt the return of her former paſſion upon the approach of Duth-carmor's danger. I myſelf, who think more favourably of the ſex, muſt attribute the agitation of Cathlin's mind to her extreme ſenſibility to the injuries done her by Duth-carmor; and this opinion is favoured by the ſequel of the ſtory. 


This paſſage alludes to the well-known cuſtom among the ancient kings of Scotland to retire from their army on the night preceding a battle. The ſtory which Oſſian introduces in the next paragraph concerns the fall of the Druids. It is ſaid in many old poems that the Druids, in the extremity of their affairs, had ſolicited and obtained aid from Scandinavia. Among the auxiliaries there came many pretended magicians, which circumſtance Oſſian alludes to in his deſcription of the ſon of Loda. Magic and incantation could not, however, prevail; for Trenmor, aſſiſted by the valour of his ſon Trathal, entirely broke the power of the Druids. 


Trenmor and Trathal. Oſſian introduced this epiſode as an example to his ſon from ancient times. 


Thoſe who deliver down this poem in tradition lament that there is a great part of it loſt. In particular, they regret the loſs of an epiſode which was here introduced with the ſequel of the ſtory of Carmal and his Druids. Their attachment to it was founded on the deſcriptions of magical enchantments which it contained.