James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









A Poem.




THIS poem, which properly ſpeaking is a continuation of Cathlin of Clutha, opens with an addreſs to Sul-malla, the daughter of the king of Inis-huna, whom Oſſian met at the chaſe as he returned from the battle of Rath-col. Sul-malla invites Oſſian and Oſcar to a feaſt at the reſidence of her father, who was then abſent in the wars. Upon hearing their name and family, ſhe relates an expedition of Fingal into Inis-huna. She caſually mentioning Cathmor, chief of Atha (who then aſſiſted her father againſt his enemies), Oſſian introduces the epiſode of Culgorm and Suran-dronlo, two Scandinavian kings, in whoſe wars Oſſian himſelf and Cathmor were engaged on oppoſite ſides. The ſtory is imperfect, a part of the original being loſt. Oſſian, warned in a dream by the ghoſt of Trenmor, ſets ſail from Inis-huna. M. — This poem ſhould have taken precedence of ſome of the foregoing ones; and I am induced to hazard an opinion that the conjecture of the tranſlator relative to the country of Inis-huna is badly founded. Lumon, I think, is nearly oppoſite Coleraine, on the Derry ſide of the river Bann. This is borne out by the ſequel. C.



WHO 1) moves ſo ſtately, on Lumon, at the roar of the foamy waters? Her hair falls upon her heaving breaſt. White is her arm behind, as ſlow ſhe bends the bow. Why I doſt thou wander in deſerts, like a light through a cloudy field? The young roes are panting, by their ſecret rocks. Return, thou daughter of kings! the cloudy night is near! It was the young branch of green Inis-huna, Sul-malla of blue eyes. She ſent the bard from her rock, to bid us to her feaſt. Amidſt the ſong we ſat down, in Cluba's echoing hall. White moved the hands of Sul-malla, on the trembling ſtrings. Half-heard amidſt the ſound, was the name of Atha's king: he that was abſent in battle for her own green land. Nor abſent from her ſoul was he; he came midſt her thoughts by night. Ton-thèna looked in, from the ſky, and ſaw her toſſing arms.

The ſound of ſhells had ceaſed. Amidſt long locks, Sul-malla roſe. She ſpoke with bended eyes, and aſked of our courſe through ſeas; “for of the kings of men are ye, tall riders of the wave.” 2) “Not unknown,” I ſaid, “at his ſtreams is he, the father of our race. Fingal has been heard of at Cluba, blue-eyed daughter of kings. Nor only, at Cona's ſtream, is Oſſian and Oſcar known. Foes trembled at our voice, and ſhrunk in other lands.”

“Not unmarked,” ſaid the maid, “by Sul-malla, is the ſhield of Morven's king. It hangs high, in my father's hall, in memory of the paſt; when Fingal came to Cluba, in the days of other years. Loud roared the boar of Culdarnu, in the midſt of his rocks and woods. Inis-huna ſent her youths, but they failed; and virgins wept over tombs. Careleſs went Fingal to Culdarnu. On his ſpear rolled the ſtrength of the woods. He was bright, they ſaid, in his locks, the firſt of mortal men. Nor at the feaſt were heard his words. His deeds paſſed from his ſoul of fire, like the rolling of vapours from the face of the wandering ſun. Not careleſs looked the blue eyes of Cluba on his ſtately ſteps. In white boſoms roſe the king of Selma, in the midſt of their thoughts by night. But the winds bore the ſtranger to the echoing vales of his roes. Nor loſt to other lands was he, like a meteor that ſinks in a cloud. He came forth, at times, in his brightneſs, to the diſtant dwelling of foes. His fame came, like the ſound of winds, to Cluba's woody vale.

Darkneſs dwells in Cluba of harps, the race of kings is diſtant far; in battle is my father Conmor; and Lormar 3) my brother, king of ſtreams. Nor darkening alone are they; a beam from other lands, is nigh; the friend of ſtrangers 4) in Atha, the troubler of the field. High from their miſty hills, look forth the blue eyes of Erin; for he is far away, young dweller of their ſouls! Nor, harmleſs, white hands of Erin! is Cathmor in the ſkirts of war; he rolls ten thouſand before him, in his diſtant field.”

“Not unſeen by Oſſian,” I ſaid, “ruſhed Cathmor from his ſtreams, when he poured his ſtrength on I-thorno, 5) iſle of many waves! In ſtrife met two kings in I-thorno, Culgorm and Suran-dronlo: each from his echoing iſle, ſtern hunters of the boar!

They met a boar, at a foamy ſtream: each pierced him with his ſpear. They ſtrove for the fame of the deed; and gloomy battle roſe. From iſle to iſle they ſent a ſpear, broken and ſtained with blood, to call the friends of their fathers in their ſounding arms. Cathmor came, from Erin, to Culgorm, red-eyed king: I aided Suran-dronlo, in his land of boars.

We ruſhed on either ſide of a ſtream, which roared through a blaſted heath. High broken rocks were round, with all their bending trees. Near were two circles of Loda, with the ſtone of power; where ſpirits deſcended, by night, in dark-red ſtreams of fire. There, mixed with the murmur of waters, roſe the voice of aged men; they called the forms of night, to aid them in the war.

Heedleſs 6) I ſtood, with my people, where fell the foamy ſtream from rocks. The moon moved red from the mountain. My ſong, at times, aroſe. Dark, on the other ſide, young Cathmor heard my voice; for he lay, beneath the oak, in all his gleaming arms. Morning came; we ruſhed to fight: from wing to wing is the rolling of ſtrife. They fell like the thiſtle's head, beneath autumnal winds.

In armour came a ſtately form: I mixed my ſtrokes with the chief. By turns our ſhields are pierced: loud rung our ſteely mails. His helmet fell to the ground. In brightneſs ſhone the foe. His eyes, two pleaſant flames, rolled between his wandering locks. I knew Cathmor of Atha, and threw my ſpear on earth. Dark, we turned, and ſilent paſſed to mix with other foes.

Not ſo paſſed the ſtriving kings. 7) They mixed in echoing fray, like the meeting of ghoſts, in the dark wing of winds. Through either breaſt ruſhed the ſpears, nor yet lay the foes on earth! A rock received their fall; half-reclined they lay in death. Each held the lock of his foe; each grimly ſeemed to roll his eyes. The ſtream of the rock leaped on their ſhields, and mixed below with blood.

The battle ceaſed in I-thorno. The ſtrangers met in peace: Cathmor from Atha of ſtreams, and Oſſian, king of harps. We placed the dead in earth. Our ſteps were by Runar's bay. With the bounding boat, afar, advanced a ridgy wave. Dark was the rider of ſeas, but a beam of light was there, like the ray of the ſun, in Stromlo's rolling ſmoke. It was the daughter 8) of Suran-dronlo, wild in brightened looks. Her eyes were wandering flames, amidſt diſordered locks. Forward is her white arm, with the ſpear; her high heaving breaſt is ſeen, white as foamy waves that riſe, by turns, amidſt rocks. They are beautiful but terrible, and mariners call the winds!”

“Come, ye dwellers of Loda!” ſhe ſaid, “come, Car-char, pale in the midſt of clouds! Sluthmor that ſtrideſt in airy halls! Corchtur, terrible in winds! Receive, from his daughter's ſpear, the foes of Suran-dronlo. No ſhadow, at his roaring ſtreams; no mildly-looking form he! When he took up his ſpear, the hawks ſhook their ſounding wings: for blood was poured around the ſteps of dark-eyed Suran-dronlo. He lighted me, no harmleſs beam, to glitter on his ſtreams. Like meteors, I was bright, but I blaſted the foes of Suran-dronlo.”

.    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

Nor unconcerned heard Sul-malla, the praiſe of Cathmor of ſhields. He was within her ſoul, like a fire in ſecret heath, which awakes at the voice of the blaſt, and ſends its beam abroad. Amidſt the ſong removed the daughter of kings, like the voice of a ſummer-breeze: when it lifts the heads of flowers, and curls the lakes and ſtreams. The ruſtling ſound gently ſpreads o'er the vale, ſoftly-pleaſing as it ſaddens the ſoul.

By night came a dream to Oſſian; formleſs ſtood the ſhadow of Trenmor. He ſeemed to ſtrike the dim ſhield, on Selma's ſtreamy rock. I roſe, in my rattling ſteel; I knew that war was near, before the winds our ſails were ſpread; when Lumon ſhewed its ſtreams to the morn.

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





The expedition of Oſſian to Inis-huna happened a ſhort time before Fingal paſſed over into Ireland to dethrone Cairbar, the ſon of Borbar-duthul. Cathmor, the brother of Cairbar, was aiding Conmor, king of Inis-huna, in his wars at the time that Oſſian defeated Duth-carmor in the valley of Rath-col. The poem is more intereſting that it contains ſo many particulars concerning thoſe perſonages who make ſo great a figure in Temora. 


Sul-malla here diſcovers the quality of Oſſian and Oſcar from their ſtature and ſtately gait. Among nations not far advanced in civiliſation, a ſuperior beauty and ſtatelineſs of perſon were inſeparable from nobility of blood. 


Lormar was the ſon of Conmor, and the brother of Sul-malla. After the death of Conmor, Lormar ſucceeded him in the throne. 


Cathmor, the ſon of Borbar-duthul. It would appear from the partiality with which Sul-malla ſpeaks of that hero that ſhe had ſeen him previous to his joining her father's army; though tradition poſitively aſſerts that it was after his return that ſhe fell in love with him. 


I-thorno, ſays tradition, was an iſland of Scandinavia. In it at a hunting party met Culgorm and Suran-dronlo, the kings of two neighbouring iſles. They differed about the honour of killing a boar; and a war was kindled between them. From this epiſode we may learn that the manners of the Scandinavians were much more ſavage and cruel than thoſe of Britain. It is remarkable that the names introduced in this ſtory are not of Gaelic origin, which circumſtance affords room to ſuppoſe that it had its foundation in true hiſtory. 


From the circumſtance of Oſſian not being preſent at the rites deſcribed in the preceding paragraph we may ſuppoſe that he held them in contempt. This difference of ſentiment with regard to religion is a ſort of argument that the Caledonians were not originally a colony of Scandinavians, as ſome have imagined. Concerning ſo remote a period, mere conjecture muſt ſupply the place of argument and poſitive proofs. 


Culgorm and Suran-dronlo. The combat of the kings and their attitude in death are highly pictureſque, and expreſſive of that ferocity of manners which diſtinguiſhed the northern nations. 


Tradition has handed down the name of this princeſs. The bards call her Runo-forlo, which has no other ſort of title for being genuine but its not being of Gaelic origin, a diſtinction which the bards had not the art to preſerve when they feigned names for foreigners. The Highland ſenachies, who very often endeavoured to ſupply the deficiency they thought they found in the tales of Oſſian, have given us the continuation of the ſtory of the daughter of Suran-dronlo. The cataſtrophe is ſo unnatural, and the circumſtances of it ſo ridiculouſly pompous, that for the ſake of the inventors I ſhall conceal them.

The wildly beautiful appearance of Runo-forlo made a deep impreſſion on a chief ſome ages ago, who was himſelf no contemptible poet. The ſtory is romantic but not incredible, if we make allowances for the lively imagination of a man of genius. Our chief, ſailing in a ſtorm along one of the iſlands of Orkney, ſaw a woman in a boat near the ſhore whom he thought, as he expreſſes it himſelf, as beautiful as a ſudden ray of the ſun on the dark heaving deep. The verſes of Oſſian, on the attitude of Runo-forlo, which was ſo ſimilar to that of the woman in the boat, wrought ſo much on his fancy that he fell deſperately in love. The winds, however, drove him from the coaſt, and after a few days he arrived at his reſidence in Scotland. There his paſſion increaſed to ſuch a degree that two of his friends, fearing the conſequence, ſailed to the Orkneys to carry to him the object of his deſire. Upon inquiry, they ſoon found the nymph, and carried her to the enamoured chief; but mark his ſurpriſe when, inſtead of a ray of the ſun, he ſaw a ſkinny fiſherwoman more than middle-aged appearing before him. Tradition here ends the ſtory, but it may be eaſily ſuppoſed that the paſſion of the chief ſoon ſubſided.