James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









An Epic Poem.


Book IV. 1)




THE action of the poem being ſuſpended by night, Oſſian takes that opportunity to relate his own actions at the lake of Lego, and his courtſhip of Everallin, who was the mother of Oſcar, and had died ſome time before the expedition of Fingal into Ireland. Her ghoſt appears to him, and tells him that Oſcar, who had been ſent, the beginning of the night, to obſerve the enemy, was engaged with an advanced party, and almoſt overpowered. Oſſian relieves his ſon, and an alarm is given to Fingal of the approach of Swaran. The king riſes, calls his army together, and, as he had promiſed the preceding night, devolves the command on Gaul, the ſon of Morni, while he himſelf, after charging his ſons to behave gallantly and defend his people, retires to a hill, from whence he could have a view of the battle. The battle joins; the poet relates Oſcar's great actions. But when Oſcar, in conjunction with his father, conquered in one wing, Gaul, who was attacked by Swaran in perſon, was on the point of retreating in the other. Fingal ſends Ullin his bard to encourage him with a war ſong, but notwithſtanding Swaran prevails; and Gaul and his army are obliged to give way. Fingal, deſcending from the hill, rallies them again; Swaran deſiſts from the purſuit, poſſeſſes himſelf of a riſing ground, reſtores the ranks, and waits the approach of Fingal. The king, having encouraged his men, gives the neceſſary orders, and renews the battle. Cuthullin, who, with his friend Connal, and Carril his bard, had retired to the cave of Tura, hearing the noiſe, came to the brow of the hill, which overlooked the field of battle, where he ſaw Fingal engaged with the enemy. He, being hindered by Connal from joining Fingal, who was himſelf upon the point of obtaining a complete victory, ſends Carril to congratulate that hero on his ſucceſs.



WHO comes with her ſongs from the hill, like the bow of the ſhowery Lena? It is the maid of the voice of love! The white-armed daughter of Toſcar! Often haſt thou heard my ſong; often given the tear of beauty. Doſt thou come to the wars of thy people? to hear the actions of Oſcar? When ſhall I ceaſe to mourn, by the ſtreams of reſounding Cona? My years have paſſed away in battle. My age is darkened with grief!

Daughter of the hand of ſnow! I was not ſo mournful and blind. I was not ſo dark and forlorn when Everallin loved me! Everallin with the dark-brown hair, the white-boſomed daughter of Branno: A thouſand heroes ſought the maid, ſhe refuſed her love to a thouſand. The ſons of the ſword were deſpiſed: for graceful in her eyes was Oſſian! I went, in ſuit of the maid, to Lego's ſable ſurge. Twelve of my people were there, the ſons of ſtreamy Morven! We came to Branno, friend of ſtrangers! Branno of the ſounding mail! “From whence,” he ſaid, “are the arms of ſteel? Not eaſy to win is the maid, who has denied the blue-eyed ſons of Erin! But bleſſed be thou, O ſon of Fingal! Happy is the maid that waits thee! Though twelve daughters of beauty were mine, thine were the choice, thou ſon of fame!”

He opened the hall of the maid, the dark-haired Everallin. Joy kindled in our manly breaſts. We bleſſed the maid of Branno. “Above us on the hill appeared the people of ſtately Cormac. Eight were the heroes of the chief. The heath flamed wide with their arms. There Colla; there Durra of wounds; there mighty Toſcar, and Tago; there Freſtal, the victorious, ſtood; Dairo of the happy deeds: Dala, the battle's bulwark in the narrow way! The ſword flamed in the hand of Cormac. Graceful was the look of the hero! Eight were the heroes of Oſſian. Ullin, ſtormy ſon of war. Mullo of the generous deeds. The noble, the graceful Scelacha. Oglan, and Cerdal the wrathful. Dumariccan's brows of death! And why ſhould Ogar be the laſt; ſo wide renowned on the hills of Ardven?”

Ogar met Dala the ſtrong, face to face, on the field of heroes. The battle of the chiefs was like wind on ocean's foamy waves. The dagger is remembered by Ogar; the weapon which he loved. Nine times he drowned it in Dala's ſide. The ſtormy battle turned. “Three times I broke on Cormac's ſhield: three times he broke his ſpear. But unhappy youth of love! I cut his head away. Five times I ſhook it by the lock. The friends of Cormac fled. Whoever would have told me, lovely maid, when then I ſtrove in battle; that blind, forſaken, and forlorn I now ſhould paſs the night; firm ought his mail to have been; unmatched his arm in war!”

On 2) Lena's gloomy heath, the voice of muſic died away. The unconſtant blaſt blew hard. The high oak ſhook its leaves around. Of Everallin were my thoughts, when in all the light of beauty ſhe came. Her blue eyes rolling in tears. She ſtood on a cloud before my ſight, and ſpoke with feeble voice. “Riſe, Oſſian, riſe, and ſave my ſon; ſave Oſcar, prince of men. Near the red oak of Lubar's ſtream, he fights with Lochlin's ſons.” She ſunk into her cloud again. I covered me with ſteel. My ſpear ſupported my ſteps; my rattling armour rung. I hummed, as I was wont in danger, the ſongs of heroes of old. Like diſtant thunder Lochlin heard. They fled; my ſon purſued.

I called him like a diſtant ſtream. Oſcar, return over Lena. “No further purſue the foe,” I ſaid, “though Oſſian is behind thee.” He came! and pleaſant to my ear was Oſcar's ſounding ſteel. “Why didſt thou ſtop my hand,” he ſaid, “till death had covered all? For dark and dreadful by the ſtream they met thy ſon and Fillan! They watched the terrors of the night. Our ſwords have conquered ſome. But as the winds of night pour the ocean over the white ſands of Mora, ſo dark advance the ſons of Lochlin, over Lena's ruſtling heath! The ghoſts of night ſhriek afar: I have ſeen the meteors of death. Let me awake the king of Morven, he that ſmiles in danger! He that is like the ſun of heaven, riſing in a ſtorm!”

Fingal had ſtarted from a dream, and leaned on Trenmor's ſhield; the dark-brown ſhield of his fathers; which they had lifted of old in war. The hero had ſeen, in his reſt, the mournful form of Agandecca. She came from the way of the ocean. She ſlowly, lonely, moved over Lena. Her face was pale like the miſt of Cromla. Dark were the tears of her cheek. She often raiſed her dim hand from her robe; her robe which was of the clouds of the deſert; ſhe raiſed her dim hand over Fingal, and turned away her ſilent eyes. “Why weeps the daughter of Starno?” ſaid Fingal with a ſigh; “why is thy face ſo pale, fair wanderer of the clouds?” She departed on the wind of Lena. She left him in the midſt of the night. She mourned the ſons of her people, that were to fall by the hand of Fingal.

The hero ſtarted from reſt. Still he beheld her in his ſoul. The ſound of Oſcar's ſteps approached. The king ſaw the grey ſhield on his ſide: For the faint beam of the morning came over the waters of Ullin. “What do the foes in their fear?” ſaid the riſing king of Morven; “or fly they through ocean's foam, or wait they the battle of ſteel? But why ſhould Fingal aſk? I hear their voice on the early wind! Fly over Lena's heath: O Oſcar, awake our friends!”

The king ſtood by the ſtone of Lubar. 3) Thrice he reared his terrible voice. The deer ſtarted from the fountains of Cromla. The rocks ſhook on all their hills. Like the noiſe of a hundred mountain-ſtreams, that burſt, and roar, and foam! like the clouds that gather to a tempeſt on the blue face of the ſky! ſo met the ſons of the deſert, round the terrible voice of Fingal. Pleaſant was the voice of the king of Morven to the warriors of his land. Often had he led them to battle; often returned with the ſpoils of the foe!

“Come to battle,” ſaid the king, “ye children of echoing Selma! Come to the death of thouſands. Comhal's ſon will ſee the fight. My ſword ſhall wave on the hill the defence of my people in war. But never may you need it, warriors: while the ſon of Morni fights, the chief of mighty men! He ſhall lead my battle; that his fame will riſe in ſong! O ye ghoſts of heroes dead! ye riders of the ſtorm of Cromla! receive my falling people with joy, and bear them to your hills. And may the blaſt of Lena carry them over my ſeas, that they may come to my ſilent dreams, and delight my ſoul in reſt! Fillan and Oſcar, of the dark-brown hair! fair Ryno, with the pointed ſteel! advance with valour to the fight. Behold the ſon of Morni! Let your ſwords be like his in ſtrife: behold the deeds of his hands. Protect the friends of your father. Remember the chiefs of old. My children, I will ſee you yet, though here you ſhould fall in Erin. Soon ſhall our cold, pale ghoſts meet in a cloud on Cona's eddying winds!”

Now like a dark and ſtormy cloud, edged round with the red lightning of heaven; flying weſtward from the morning's beam, the king of Selma removed. Terrible is the light of his armour; two ſpears are in his hand. His grey hair falls on the wind. He often looks back on the war. Three bards attend the ſon of fame, to bear his words to the chiefs. High on Cromla's ſide he ſat, waving the lightning of his ſword, and as he waved we moved.

Joy riſes in Oſcar's face. His cheek is red. His eye ſheds tears. The ſword is a beam of fire in his hand. He came, and ſmiling, ſpoke to Oſſian. “O ruler of the fight of ſteel! my father, hear thy ſon! Retire with Morven's mighty chief. Give me the fame of Oſſian. If here I fall: O chief, remember that breaſt of ſnow, the lonely ſunbeam of my love, the white-handed daughter of Toſcar! For, with red cheek from the rock, bending over the ſtream, her ſoft hair flies about her boſom, as ſhe pours the ſigh for Oſcar. Tell her I am on my hills, a lightly-bounding ſon of the wind; tell her, that in a cloud, I may meet the lovely maid of Toſcar.” “Raiſe, Oſcar, rather raiſe my tomb. I will not yield the war to thee. The firſt and bloodieſt in the ſtrife, my arm ſhall teach thee how to fight. But, remember, my ſon, to place this ſword, this bow, the horn of my deer, within that dark and narrow houſe, whoſe mark is one grey ſtone! Oſcar, I have no love to leave to the care of my ſon. Everallin is no more, the lovely daughter of Branno!”

Such were our words, when Gaul's loud voice came growing on the wind. He waved on high the ſword of his father. We ruſhed to death and wounds. As waves, white-bubbling over the deep, come ſwelling, roaring on; as rocks of ooze meet roaring waves; ſo foes attacked and fought. Man met with man, and ſteel with ſteel. Shields ſound, and warriors fall. As a hundred hammers on the red ſon of the furnace, ſo roſe, ſo rung their ſwords!

Gaul ruſhed on, like a whirlwind in Ardven. The deſtruction of heroes is on his ſword. Swaran was like the fire of the deſert in the echoing heath of Gormal! How can I give to the ſong the death of many ſpears? My ſword roſe high, and flamed in the ſtrife of blood. Oſcar, terrible wert thou, my beſt, my greateſt ſon! I rejoiced in my ſecret ſoul, when his ſword flamed over the ſlain. They fled amain through Lena's heath. We purſued and ſlew. As ſtones that bound from rock to rock; as axes in echoing woods; as thunder rolls from hill to hill, in diſmal broken peals; ſo blow ſucceeded to blow, and death to death, from the hands of Oſcar and Oſſian.

But Swaran cloſed round Morni's ſon, as the ſtrength of the tide of Iniſtore. The king half-roſe from his hill at the ſight. He half-aſſumed the ſpear. “Go, Ullin, go, my aged bard,” begun the king of Morven. “Remind the mighty Gaul of war. Remind him of his fathers. Support the yielding fight with ſong; for ſong enlivens war.” Tall Ullin went, with ſtep of age, and ſpoke to the king of ſwords. “Son 4) of the chief of generous ſteeds! high-bounding king of ſpears. Strong arm in every perilous toil. Hard heart that never yields. Chief of the pointed arms of death. Cut down the foe; let no white ſail bound round dark Iniſtore. Be thine arm like thunder, thine eyes like fire, thy heart of ſolid rock. Whirl round thy ſword as a meteor at night; lift thy ſhield like the flame of death. Son of the chief of generous ſteeds, cut down the foe. Deſtroy!” The hero's heart beat high. But Swaran came with battle. He cleft the ſhield of Gaul in twain. The ſons of Selma fled.

Fingal at once aroſe in arms. Thrice he reared his dreadful voice. Cromla anſwered around. The ſons of the deſert ſtood ſtill. They bent their bluſhing faces to earth, aſhamed at the preſence of the king. He came, like a cloud of rain in the day of the ſun, when ſlow it rolls on the hills, and fields expect the ſhower. Silence attends its ſlow progreſs aloft; but the tempeſt is ſoon to ariſe. Swaran beheld the terrible king of Morven. He ſtopped in the midſt of his courſe. Dark he leaned on his ſpear, rolling his red eyes around. Silent and tall, he ſeemed as an oak on the banks of Lubar, which had his branches blaſted of old by the lightning of heaven. It bends over the ſtream: the grey moſs whiſtles in the wind: ſo ſtood the king. Then ſlowly he retired to the riſing heath of Lena. His thouſands pour around the hero. Darkneſs gathers on the hill!

Fingal, like a beam from heaven, ſhone in the midſt of his people. His heroes gather around him. He ſends forth the voice of his power. “Raiſe my ſtandards on high; ſpread them on Lena's wind, like the flames of an hundred hills! Let them ſound on the winds of Erin and remind us of the fight. Ye ſons of the roaring ſtreams, that pour from a thouſand hills, be near the king of Morven! attend to the words of his power! Gaul, ſtrongeſt arm of death! O Oſcar, of the future fights! Connal, ſon of the blue ſhields of Sora! Dermid of the dark-brown hair! 5) Oſſian, king of many ſongs, be near your father's arm!” We reared the ſun-beam 6) of battle; the ſtandard of the king! Each hero exulted with joy, as, waving, it flew on the wind. It was ſtudded with gold above, as the blue wide ſhell of the nightly ſky. Each hero had his ſtandard too; and each his gloomy men!

“Behold,” ſaid the king of generous ſhells, “how Lochlin divides on Lena! They ſtand like broken clouds on a hill; or an half-conſumed grove of oaks; when we ſee the ſky through its branches, and the meteor paſſing behind! Let every chief among the friends of Fingal take a dark troop of thoſe that frown ſo high: Nor let a ſon of the echoing groves bound on the waves of Iniſtore!”

“Mine,” ſaid Gaul, “be the ſeven chiefs, that came from Lano's lake.” “Let Iniſtore's dark king,” ſaid Oſcar, “come to the ſword of Oſſian's ſon.” “To mine the king of Iniſcon,” ſaid Connal, “heart of ſteel!” “Or Mudan's chief or I,” ſaid brown-haired Dermid, “ſhall ſleep on clay-cold earth.” My choice though now ſo weak and dark, was Terman's battling king; I promiſed with my hand to win the hero's dark-brown ſhield. “Bleſt and victorious be my chiefs,” ſaid Fingal of the mildeſt look. “Swaran, king of roaring waves, thou art the choice of Fingal!”

Now, like an hundred different winds, that pour through many vales; divided, dark the ſons of Selma advanced. Cromla echoed around! “How can I relate the deaths, when we cloſed in the ſtrife of arms! O daughter of Toſcar! bloody were our hands! The gloomy ranks of Lochlin fell, like the banks of the roaring Cona! Our arms were victorious on Lena: each chief fulfilled his promiſe! Beſide the murmur of Branno thou didſt often ſit, O maid! thy white boſom roſe frequent, like the down of the ſwan when ſlow ſhe ſwims on the lake, and ſidelong winds blow on her ruffled wing. Thou haſt ſeen the ſun retire, red and ſlow behind his cloud: night gathering round on the mountain, while the unfrequent blaſt roared in the narrow vales. At length the rain beats hard: thunder rolls in peals. Lightning glances on the rocks! Spirits ride on beams of fire! The ſtrength of the mountain-ſtreams comes roaring down the hills. Such was the noiſe of battle, maid of the arms of ſnow! Why, daughter of Toſcar, why that tear? The maids of Lochlin have cauſe to weep! The people of their country fell. Bloody were the blue ſwords of the race of my heroes! But I am ſad, forlorn, and blind: no more the companion of heroes! Give, lovely maid, to me thy tears. I have ſeen the tombs of all my friends!”

It was then, by Fingal's hand, a hero fell, to his grief! Grey-haired he rolled in the duſt. He lifted his faint eyes to the king: “And is it by me thou haſt fallen,” ſaid the ſon of Comhal, “thou friend of Agandecca! I have ſeen thy tears for the maid of my love in the halls of the bloody Starno! Thou haſt been the foe of the foes of my love, and haſt thou fallen by my hand? Raiſe, Ullin, raiſe the grave of Mathon; and give his name to Agandecca's ſong. Dear to my ſoul haſt thou been, thou darkly-dwelling maid of Ardven!”

Cuthullin, from the cave of Cromla, heard the noiſe of the troubled war. He called to Connal chief of ſwords; to Carril of other times. The grey-haired heroes heard his voice. They took their pointed ſpears. They came, and ſaw the tide of battle, like ocean's crowded waves: when the dark wind blows from the deep, and rolls the billows through the ſandy vale! Cuthullin kindled at the ſight. Darkneſs gathered on his brow. His hand is on the ſword of his fathers: his red-rolling eyes on the foe. He thrice attempted to ruſh to battle. He thrice was ſtopt by Connal. “Chief of the iſle of miſt,” he ſaid, “Fingal ſubdues the foe. Seek not a part of the fame of the king; he himſelf is like the ſtorm!”

“Then, Carril, go,” replied the chief, “go, greet the king of Morven. When Lochlin falls away like a ſtream after rain: when the noiſe of the battle is paſt. Then be thy voice ſweet in his ear to praiſe the king of Selma! Give him the ſword of Câthba. 7) Cuthullin is not worthy to lift the arms of his fathers! Come, O ye ghoſts of the lonely Cromla! ye ſouls of chiefs that are no more! be near the ſteps of Cuthullin; talk to him in the cave of his grief. Never more ſhall I be renowned, among the mighty in the land. I am a beam that has ſhone; a miſt that has fled away: when the blaſt of the morning came, and brightened the ſhaggy ſide of the hill: Connal! talk of arms no more: departed is my fame. My ſighs ſhall be on Cromla's wind; till my footſteps ceaſe to be ſeen. And thou, white-boſomed Bragela, mourn over the fall of my fame: vanquiſhed, I will never return to thee, thou ſunbeam of my ſoul!”





Fingal being aſleep, and the action ſuſpended by night, the poet introduces the ſtory of his courtſhip of Everallin, the daughter of Branno. The epiſode is neceſſary to clear up ſeveral paſſages that follow in the poem; at the ſame time that it naturally brings on the action of the book, which may be ſuppoſed to begin about the middle of the third night from the opening of the poem. This book, as many of Oſſian's other compoſitions, is addreſſed to the beautiful Malvina, the daughter of Toſcar. She appears to have been in love with Oſcar, and to have affected the company of the father after the death of the ſon. 


The poet returns to his ſubject. If one could fix the time of the year in which the action of the poem happened, from the ſcene deſcribed here, I ſhould be tempted to place it in autumn. The trees ſhed their leaves, and the winds are variable, both which circumſtances agree with that ſeaſon of the year. 


The many large monumental ſtones in the neighbourhood of Lubar, and on the heath of Lena, are further proofs of the authenticity of Oſſian. 


The cuſtom of encouraging men in battle with extempore rhymes has been carried down almoſt to our own times. Several of theſe war ſongs are extant, but the moſt of them are only a group of epithets, without either beauty or harmony, utterly deſtitute of poetical merit. 


Diarmuid O'Duibhue, the beau chevalier of the Fingalians, the lover of Grainne. 


Fingal's ſtandard was diſtinguiſhed by the name of ſunbeam; probably on account of its bright colour, and its being ſtudded with gold. To begin a battle is expreſſed, in old compoſition, by lifting of the ſun-beam.