James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









An Epic Poem.


Book III. 1)




CUTHULLIN, pleaſed with the ſtory of Carril, inſiſts with that bard for more of his ſongs. He relates the actions of Fingal in Lochlin, and death of Agandecca, the beautiful ſiſter of Swaran. He had ſcarce finiſhed when Calmar, the ſon of Matha, who had adviſed the firſt battle, came wounded from the field, and told them of Swaran's deſign to ſurpriſe the remains of the Iriſh army. He himſelf propoſes to withſtand ſingly the whole force of the enemy, in a narrow paſs, till the Iriſh ſhould make good their retreat. Cuthullin, touched with the gallant propoſal of Calmar, reſolves to accompany him, and orders Carril to carry off the few that remained of the Iriſh. Morning comes, Calmar dies of his wounds; and, the ſhips of the Caledonians appearing, Swaran gives over the purſuit of the Iriſh, and returns to oppoſe Fingal's landing. Cuthullin aſhamed, after his defeat, to appear before Fingal, retires to the cave of Tura (Carrickfergus). Fingal engages the enemy, puts them to flight; but the coming on of night makes the victory not deciſive. The king, who had obſerved the gallant behaviour of his grandſon Oſcar, gives him advices concerning his conduct in peace and war. He recommends to him to place the example of his fathers before his eyes as the beſt model for his conduct; which introduces the epiſode concerning Fainaſollis, the daughter of the king of Craca, whom Fingal had taken under his protection, in his youth. Fillan and Oſcar are diſpatched to obſerve the motions of the enemy by night; Gaul, the ſon of Morni, deſires the command of the army, in the next battle; which Fingal promiſes to give him. Some general reflections of the poet cloſe the third day.



PLEASANT are the words of the ſong,” ſaid Cuthullin! “lovely the tales of other times! They are like the calm dew of the morning on the hill of roes; when the ſun is faint on its ſides, and the lake is ſettled and blue in the vale. O Carril, raiſe again thy voice! let me hear the ſong of Selma: which was ſung in my halls of joy, when Fingal king of ſhields was there, and glowed at the deeds of his fathers.”

“Fingal! thou dweller of battle,” ſaid Carril, “early were thy deeds in arms. Lochlin was conſumed in thy wrath, when thy youth ſtrove with the beauty of maids. They ſmiled at the fair-blooming face of the hero; but death was in his hands. He was ſtrong as the waters of Lora. His followers were the roar of a thouſand ſtreams. They took the king of Lochlin in war; they reſtored him to his ſhips. His big heart ſwelled with pride; the death of the youth was dark in his ſoul. For none ever, but Fingal, had overcome the ſtrength of the mighty Starno. 2) He ſat in the hall of his ſhells in Lochlin's woody land. He called the grey-haired Snivan, that often ſung round the circle 3) of Loda: when the ſtone of power heard his voice, and battle turned in the field of the valiant!”

“Go, grey-haired Snivan,” Starno ſaid, “go to Ardven's ſea-ſurrounded rock. Tell to the king of Selma; he the faireſt among his thouſands, tell him I give him my daughter, the lovelieſt maid that ever heaved a breaſt of ſnow. Her arms are white as the foam of my waves. Her ſoul is generous and mild. Let him come with his braveſt heroes, to the daughter of the ſecret hall!” Snivan came to Selma's hall: Fair-haired Fingal attended his ſteps. His kindled ſoul flew to the maid, as he bounded on the waves of the north. “Welcome,” ſaid the dark-brown Starno, “welcome, king of rocky Morven: welcome his heroes of might, ſons of the diſtant iſle! Three days within my halls ſhall ye feaſt; three days purſue my boars; that your fame may reach the maid who dwells in the ſecret hall.”

Starno deſigned their death. He gave the feaſt of ſhells. Fingal, who doubted the foe, kept on his arms of ſteel. The ſons of death were afraid: They fled from the eyes of the king. The voice of ſprightly mirth aroſe. The trembling harps of joy were ſtrung. Bards ſung the battle of heroes: They ſung the heaving breaſt of love. Ullin, Fingal's bard, was there: the ſweet voice of reſounding Cona. He praiſed the daughter of Lochlin; and Morven's 4) high-deſcended chief. The daughter of Lochlin overheard. She left the hall of her ſecret ſigh! She came in all her beauty, like the moon from the cloud of the eaſt. Lovelineſs was around her as light. Her ſteps were the muſic of ſongs. She ſaw the youth and loved him. He was the ſtolen ſigh of her ſoul. Her blue eye rolled on him in ſecret: ſhe bleſt the chief of reſounding Morven.

The third day, with all its beams, ſhone bright on the wood of boars. Forth moved the dark-browed Starno; and Fingal, king of ſhields. Half the day they ſpent in the chaſe; the ſpear of Selma was red in blood. It was then the daughter of Starno, with blue eyes rolling in tears; it was then ſhe came with her voice of love, and ſpoke to the king of Morven. “Fingal, high-deſcended chief, truſt not Starno's heart of pride. Within that wood he has placed his chiefs. Beware of the wood of death. But, remember, ſon of the iſle, remember Agandecca: ſave me from the wrath of my father, king of the windy Morven!”

The youth with unconcern went on; his heroes by his ſide. The ſons of death fell by his hand; and Gormal echoed around! Before the halls of Starno the ſons of the chaſe convened. The king's dark brows were like clouds. His eyes like meteors of night. “Bring hither,” he ſaid, “Agandecca to her lovely king of Morven! His hand is ſtained with the blood of my people; her words have not been in vain!” She came with the red eye of tears. She came with looſely flowing locks. Her white breaſt heaved with broken ſighs, like the foam of ſtreamy Lubar. Starno pierced her ſide with ſteel. She fell, like a wreath of ſnow, which ſlides from the rocks of Ronan; when the woods are ſtill, and echo deepens in the vale! Then Fingal eyed his valiant chiefs, his valiant chiefs took arms. The gloom of battle roared; Lochlin fled or died. Pale, in his bounding ſhip he cloſed the maid of the ſofteſt ſoul. Her tomb aſcends on Ardven; the ſea roars round her narrow dwelling.

“Bleſſed be her ſoul,” ſaid Cuthullin; “bleſſed be the mouth of the ſong! Strong was the youth of Fingal; ſtrong is his arm of age. Lochlin ſhall fall again before the king of echoing Morven. Shew thy face from a cloud, O moon! light his white ſails on the wave; and if any ſtrong ſpirit 5) of heaven ſits on that low-hung cloud, turn his dark ſhips from the rock, thou rider of the ſtorm!”

Such were the words of Cuthullin at the ſound of the mountain-ſtream; when Calmar aſcended the hill, the wounded ſon of Matha. From the field he came in his blood. He leaned on his bending ſpear. Feeble is the arm of battle; but ſtrong the ſoul of the hero! “Welcome! O ſon of Matha,” ſaid Connal, “welcome art thou to thy friends! Why burſts that broken ſigh, from the breaſt of him who never feared before? And never, Connal, will he fear, chief of the pointed ſteel! My ſoul brightens in danger: in the noiſe of arms. I am of the race of battle. My fathers never feared.”

“Cormar was the firſt of my race. He ſported through the ſtorms of waves. His black ſkiff bounded on ocean; he travelled on the wings of the wind. A ſpirit once embroiled the night. Seas ſwell, and rocks reſound. Winds drive along the clouds. The lightning flies on wings of fire. He feared, and came to land: then bluſhed that he feared at all. He ruſhed again among the waves, to find the ſon of the wind. Three youths guide the bounding bark; he ſtood with ſword unſheathed. When the low-hung vapour paſſed, he took it by the curling head. He ſearched its dark womb with his ſteel. The ſon of the wind forſook the air. The moon and ſtars returned! Such was the boldneſs of my race. Calmar is like his fathers. Danger flies from the lifted ſword. They beſt ſucceed who dare!”

“But now, ye ſons of green Erin, retire from Lena's bloody heath. Collect the ſad remnant of our friends, and join the ſword of Fingal. I heard the ſound of Lochlin's advancing arms! Calmar will remain and fight. My voice ſhall be ſuch, my friends, as if thouſands were behind me. But, ſon of Semo, remember me. Remember Calmar's lifeleſs corſe. When Fingal ſhall have waſted the field, place me by ſome ſtone of remembrance, that future times may hear my fame; that the mother of Calmar may rejoice in my renown.”

“No: ſon of Matha,” ſaid Cuthullin, “I will never leave thee here. My joy is in unequal fight: my ſoul increaſes in danger. Connal, and Carril of other times, carry off the ſad ſons of Erin. When the battle is over, ſearch for us in this narrow way. For near this oak we ſhall fall, in the ſtream of the battle of thouſands!” “O Fithil's ſon, with flying ſpeed ruſh over the heath of Lena. Tell to Fingal that Erin is fallen. Bid the king of Morven come. O let him come like the ſun in a ſtorm, to lighten, to reſtore the iſle!”

Morning is grey on Cromla. The ſons of the ſea aſcend. Calmar ſtood forth to meet them in the pride of his kindling ſoul. But pale was the face of the chief. He leaned on his father's ſpear. That ſpear which he brought from Lara, when the ſoul of his mother was ſad; the ſoul of the lonely Alcletha, waning in the ſorrow of years. But ſlowly now the hero falls, like a tree on the plain. Dark Cuthullin ſtands alone like a rock in a ſandy vale. The ſea comes with its waves, and roars on its hardened ſides. Its head is covered with foam; the hills are echoing around.

Now from the grey miſt of the ocean, the white-ſailed ſhips of Fingal appear. High is the grove of their maſt, as they nod, by turns, on the rolling wave. Swaran ſaw them from the hill. He returned from the ſons of Erin. As ebbs the reſounding ſea, through the hundred iſles of Iniſtore; ſo loud, ſo vaſt, ſo immenſe returned the ſons of Lochlin againſt the king. But bending, weeping, ſad, and ſlow, and dragging his long ſpear behind, Cuthullin ſunk in Cromla's wood, and mourned his fallen friends. He feared the face of Fingal, who was wont to greet him from the fields of renown!

“How many lie there of my heroes! the chiefs of Erin's race! they that were cheerful in the hall when the ſound of the ſhells aroſe! No more ſhall I find their ſteps in the heath. No more ſhall I hear their voice in the chaſe. Pale, ſilent, low on bloody beds, are they who were my friends! O ſpirits of the lately dead, meet Cuthullin on his heath! Speak to him on the wind, when the ruſtling tree of Tura's cave reſounds. There, far remote, I ſhall lie unknown. No bard ſhall hear of me. No grey ſtone ſhall riſe to my renown. Mourn me with the dead, O Bragela! departed is my fame.” Such were the words of Cuthullin, when he ſunk in the woods of Cromla!

Fingal, tall in his ſhip, ſtretched his bright lance before him. Terrible was the gleam of the ſteel: it was like the green meteor of death, ſetting in the heath of Malmor, when the traveller is alone, and the broad moon is darkened in heaven.

“The battle is paſt,” ſaid the king. “I behold the blood of my friends. Sad is the heath of Lena! mournful the oaks of Cromla! The hunters have fallen in their ſtrength: the ſon of Semo is no more. Ryno and Fillan, my ſons, ſound the horn of Fingal. Aſcend that hill on the ſhore; call the children of the foe. Call them from the grave of Lamdarg, the chief of other times. Be your voice like that of your father, when he enters the battles of his ſtrength. I wait for the dark mighty man; I wait on Lena's ſhore for Swaran. Let him come with all his race; ſtrong in battle are the friends of the dead!”

Fair Ryno as lightning gleamed along. Dark Fillan ruſhed like the ſhade of autumn. On Lena's heath their voice is heard. The ſons of ocean heard the horn of Fingal. As the roaring eddy of ocean returning from the kingdom of ſnows; ſo ſtrong, ſo dark, ſo ſudden came down the ſons of Lochlin. The king in their front appears, in the diſmal pride of his arms! Wrath burns on his dark-brown face: his eyes roll in the fire of his valour. Fingal beheld the ſon of Starno: he remembered Agandecca. For Swaran with the tears of youth had mourned his white-boſomed ſiſter. He ſent Ullin of ſongs to bid him to the feaſt of ſhells; for pleaſant on Fingal's ſoul returned the memory of the firſt of his loves!

Ullin came with aged ſteps, and ſpoke to Starno's ſon. “O thou that dwelleſt afar, ſurrounded like a rock, with thy waves! come to the feaſt of the king, and paſs the day in reſt. To-morrow let us fight, O Swaran, and break the echoing ſhields.” “To-day,” ſaid Starno's wrathful ſon, “we break the echoing ſhields: to-morrow my feaſt ſhall be ſpread; but Fingal ſhall lie on earth.” “To-morrow let his feaſt be ſpread,” ſaid Fingal with a ſmile. “To-day, O my ſons! we ſhall break the echoing ſhields. Oſſian, ſtand thou near my arm. Gaul, lift thy terrible ſword. Fergus, bend thy crooked yew. Throw, Fillan, thy lance through heaven. Lift your ſhields like the darkened moon. Be your ſpears the meteors of death. Follow me in the path of my fame. Equal my deeds in battle.”

As a hundred winds on Morven; as the ſtreams of a hundred hills; as clouds fly ſucceſſive over heaven; as the dark ocean aſſails the ſhore of the deſert: ſo roaring, ſo vaſt, ſo terrible, the armies mixed on Lena's echoing heath. The groan of the people ſpread over the hills: it was like the thunder of night, when the cloud burſts on Cona; and a thouſand ghoſts ſhriek at once on the hollow wind. Fingal ruſhed on in his ſtrength, terrible as the ſpirit of Trenmor; when, in a whirl-wind, he comes to Morven, to ſee the children of his pride. The oaks reſound on their mountains, and the rocks fall down before him. Dimly ſeen, as lightens the night, he ſtrides largely from hill to hill. Bloody was the hand of my father, when he whirled the gleam of his ſword. He remembers the battles of his youth. The field is waſted in his courſe.

Ryno went on like a pillar of fire. Dark is the brow of Gaul. Fergus ruſhed forward with feet of wind. Fillan like the miſt of the hill. Oſſian like a rock came down. I exulted in the ſtrength of the king. Many were the deaths of my arm! diſmal the gleam of my ſword! My locks were not then ſo grey; nor trembled my hands with age. My eyes were not cloſed in darkneſs; my feet failed not in the race!

Who can relate the deaths of the people? Who the deeds of mighty heroes? when Fingal, burning in his wrath, conſumed the ſons of Lochlin? groans ſwelled on groans from hill to hill, till night had covered all. Pale, ſtaring like a herd of deer, the ſons of Lochlin convene on Lena. We ſat and heard the ſprightly harp, at Lubar's gentle ſtream. Fingal himſelf was next to the foe. He liſtened to the tales of his bards. His godlike race were in the ſong, the chiefs of other times. Attentive, leaning on his ſhield, the king of Morven ſat. The wind whiſtled through his locks; his thoughts are of the days of other years. Near him, on his bending ſpear, my young, my valiant Oſcar ſtood. He admired the king of Morven: his deeds were ſwelling in his ſoul!

“Son of my ſon,” begun the king, “O Oſcar, pride of youth! I ſaw the ſhining of thy ſword. I gloried in my race. Purſue the fame of our fathers; be thou what they have been, when Trenmor lived, the firſt of men, and Trathal the father of heroes! They fought the battle in their youth. They are the ſong of bards. O Oſcar! bend the ſtrong in arm! but ſpare the feeble hand. Be thou a ſtream of many tides againſt the foes of thy people; but like the gale that moves the graſs, to thoſe who aſk thine aid. So Trenmor lived; ſuch Trathal was; and ſuch has Fingal been. My arm was the ſupport of the injured; the weak reſted behind the lightning of my ſteel.

Oſcar! I was young like thee, when lovely Fainaſóllis came: that ſunbeam! that mild light of love! the daughter of Craca's 6) king! I then returned from Cona's heath, and few were in my train. A white-ſailed boat appeared far off; we ſaw it like a miſt, that rode on ocean's wind. It ſoon approached. We ſaw the fair. Her white breaſt heaved with ſighs. The wind was in her looſe dark hair; her roſy cheek had tears. ›Daughter of beauty,‹ calm I ſaid, ›what ſigh is in thy breaſt? Can I, young as I am, defend thee, daughter of the ſea? my ſword is not unmatched in war, but dauntleſs is my heart.‹”

“To thee I fly,” with ſighs ſhe ſaid, “O prince of mighty men! To thee I fly, chief of the generous ſhells, ſupporter of the feeble hand! The king of Craca's echoing iſle owned me the ſun-beam of his race. Cromala's hills have heard the ſighs of love for unhappy Fainaſóllis! Sora's chief beheld me fair; he loved the daughter of Craca. His ſword is a beam of light upon the warrior's ſide. But dark is his brow, and tempeſts are in his ſoul. I ſhun him, on the roaring ſea, but Sora's chief purſues.”

“Reſt thou,” I ſaid, “behind my ſhield; reſt in peace, thou beam of light! The gloomy chief of Sora will fly, if Fingal's arm is like his ſoul. In ſome lone cave I might conceal thee, daughter of the ſea, but Fingal never flies. Where the danger threatens, I rejoice in the ſtorm of ſpears.” I ſaw the tears upon her cheek. I pitied Craca's fair. Now, like a dreadful wave afar, appeared the ſhip of ſtormy Borbar. His maſts high bended over the ſea behind their ſheets of ſnow. White roll the waters on either ſide. The ſtrength of ocean ſounds. “Come thou,” I ſaid, “from the roar of ocean, thou rider of the ſtorm! Partake the feaſt within my hall. It is the houſe of ſtrangers.”

The maid ſtood trembling by my ſide. He drew the bow. She fell. “Unerring is thy hand,” I ſaid, “but feeble was the foe!” We fought, nor weak the ſtrife of death! He ſunk beneath my ſword. We laid them in two tombs of ſtone; the hapleſs lovers of youth! Such have I been in my youth, O Oſcar! be thou like the age of Fingal. Never ſearch thou for battle; nor ſhun it when it comes.

“Fillan and Oſcar of the dark-brown hair! ye, that are ſwift in the race! fly over the heath in my preſence. View the ſons of Lochlin. Far off I hear the noiſe of their feet, like diſtant ſounds in woods.

Go, that they may not fly from my ſword, along the waves of the north. For many chiefs of Erin's race lie here on the dark bed of death. The children of war are low; the ſons of echoing Cromla.”

The heroes flew like two dark clouds: two dark clouds that are the chariots of ghoſts; when air's dark children come forth to frighten hapleſs men. It was then that Gaul, 7) the ſon of Morni, ſtood like a rock in night. His ſpear is glittering to the ſtars; his voice like many ſtreams.

“Son of battle,” cried the chief, “O Fingal, king of ſhells! let the bards of many ſongs ſoothe Erin's friends to reſt. Fingal, ſheath thou thy ſword of death; and let thy people fight. We wither away without our fame; our king is the only breaker of ſhields! When morning riſes on our hills, behold, at a diſtance, our deeds. Let Lochlin feel the ſword of Morni's ſon; that bards may ſing of me. Such was the cuſtom, heretofore, of Fingal's noble race. Such was thine own, thou king of ſwords, in battles of the ſpear.”

“O ſon of Morni,” Fingal replied, “I glory in thy fame. Fight; but my ſpear ſhall be near, to aid thee in the midſt of danger. Raiſe, raiſe the voice, ye ſons of ſong! and lull me into reſt. Here will Fingal lie, amidſt the wind of night. And if thou, Agandecca, art near, among the children of thy land; if thou ſitteſt on a blaſt of wind, among the high-ſhrouded maſts of Lochlin; come to my dreams, 8) my fair one. Shew thy bright face to my ſoul.”

Many a voice and many a harp, in tuneful ſounds aroſe. Of Fingal's noble deeds they ſung; of Fingal's noble race. And ſometimes, on the lovely ſound, was heard the name of Oſſian. I often fought, and often won, in battles of the ſpear. But blind, and tearful, and forlorn, I walk with little men! O Fingal, with thy race of war I now behold thee not! The wild roes feed on the green tomb of the mighty king of Morven! Bleſt be thy ſoul, thou king of ſwords, thou moſt renowned on the hills of Cona!





The ſecond night, ſince the opening of the poem, continues; and Cuthullin, Connal, and Carril, ſtill ſit in the place deſcribed in the preceding book. The ſtory of Agandecca is introduced here with propriety, as great uſe is made of it in the courſe of the poem, and as it, in ſome meaſure, brings about the cataſtrophe. 


Starno was the father of Swaran as well as Agandecca. His fierce and cruel character is well marked in other poems concerning the times. 


This paſſage moſt certainly alludes to the religion of Lochlin, and the ſtone of power, here mentioned, is the image of one of the deities of Scandinavia. 


All the north-weſt coaſt of Scotland probably went of old under the name of Morven, which ſignifies a ridge of very high hills. 


This is the only paſſage in the poem that has the appearance of religion. But Cuthullin's apoſtrophe to this ſpirit is accompanied with a doubt, ſo that it is not eaſy to determine whether the hero meant a ſuperior being, or the ghoſts of deceaſed warriors, who were ſuppoſed in thoſe times to rule the ſtorms, and to tranſport themſelves in a guſt of wind from one country to another. 


What the Craca here mentioned was, is not, at this diſtance of time, eaſy to determine. The moſt probable opinion is, that it was one of the Shetland iſles. There is a ſtory concerning a daughter of the king of Craca in the ſixth book. 


Gaul, the ſon of Morni, was chief of a tribe that diſputed long the pre-eminence with Fingal himſelf. They were reduced at laſt to obedience, and Gaul, from an enemy, turned Fingal's beſt friend and greateſt hero. His character is ſomething like that of Ajax in the Iliad; a hero of more ſtrength than conduct in battle. He was very fond of military fame, and here he demands the next battle to himſelf. The poet, by an artifice, removes Fingal, that his return may be the more magnificent. 


The poet prepares us for the dream of Fingal in the next book.