James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









A Poem.




LATHMON, a Britiſh prince, taking advantage of Fingal's abſence on an expedition in Ireland, made a deſcent on Morven, and advanced within ſight of Selma, the royal reſidence. Fingal arrived in the meantime, and Lathmon retreated to a hill, where his army was ſurpriſed by night, and himſelf taken priſoner by Oſſian, and Gaul the ſon of Morni. The poem opens with the firſt appearance of Fingal on the coaſt of Morven, and ends, it may be ſuppoſed, about noon the next day.



SELMA, thy halls are ſilent. There is no ſound in the woods of Morven. The wave tumbles alone on the coaſt. The ſilent beam of the ſun is on the field. The daughters of Morven come forth, like the bow of the ſhower; they look towards green Erin for the white ſails of the king. He had promiſed to return, but the winds of the north aroſe!

Who pours from the eaſtern hill, like a ſtream of darkneſs? It is the hoſt of Lathmon. He has heard of the abſence of Fingal. He truſts in the wind of the north. His ſoul brightens with joy. Why doſt thou come, O Lathmon? The mighty are not in Selma. Why comeſt thou with thy forward ſpear? Will the daughters of Morven fight? But ſtop, O mighty ſtream, in thy courſe! Does not Lathmon behold theſe ſails? Why doſt thou vaniſh, Lathmon, like the miſt of the lake? But the ſqually ſtorm is behind thee; Fingal purſues thy ſteps!

The king of Morven had ſtarted from ſleep, as we rolled on the dark-blue wave. He ſtretched his hand to his ſpear, his heroes roſe around. We knew that he had ſeen his fathers, for they often deſcended to his dreams, when the ſword of the foe roſe over the land; and the battle darkened before us. “Whither haſt thou fled, O wind?” ſaid the king of Morven. “Doſt thou ruſtle in the chambers of the ſouth, purſueſt thou the ſhower in other lands? Why doſt thou not come to my ſails? to the blue face of my ſeas? The foe is in the land of Morven, and the king is abſent far. But let each bind on his mail, and each aſſume his ſhield. Stretch every ſpear over the wave; let every ſword be unſheathed. Lathmon 1) is before us with his hoſt: he that fled 2) from Fingal on the plains of Lona. But he returns, like a collected ſtream, and his roar is between our hills.”

Such were the words of Fingal. We ruſhed into Carmona's bay. Oſſian aſcended the hill. He thrice ſtruck his boſſy ſhield. The rock of Morven replied: the bounding roes came forth. The foe was troubled in my preſence: he collected his darkened hoſt. I ſtood, like a cloud on the hill, rejoicing in the arms of my youth.

Morni 3) ſat beneath a tree, at the roaring waters of Strumon 4): his locks of age are grey: he leans forward on his ſtaff; young Gaul is near the hero, hearing the battles of his father. Often did he riſe, in the fire of his ſoul, at the mighty deeds of Morni. The aged heard the ſound of Oſſian's ſhield: he knew the ſign of war. He ſtarted at once from his place. His grey hair parted on his back. He remembered the deeds of other years.

“My ſon,” he ſaid to fair-haired Gaul, “I hear the ſound of war. The king of Morven is returned, his ſignals are ſpread on the wind. Go to the halls of Strumon; bring his arms to Morni. Bring the ſhield of my father's latter years, for my arm begins to fail. Take thou thy armour, O Gaul! and ruſh to the firſt of thy battles. Let thine arm reach to the renown of thy fathers. Be thy courſe in the field, like the eagle's wing. Why ſhouldſt thou fear death, my ſon? the valiant fall with fame; their ſhields turn the dark ſtream of danger away; renown dwells on their aged hairs. Doſt thou not ſee, O Gaul! how the ſteps of my age are honoured? Morni moves forth, and the young meet him, with awe, and turn their eyes with ſilent joy, on his courſe. But I never fled from danger, my ſon! my ſword lightened through the darkneſs of war. The ſtranger melted before me: the mighty were blaſted in my preſence.”

Gaul brought the arms to Morni: the aged warrior is covered with ſteel. He took his ſpear in his hand, which was ſtained with the blood of the valiant. He came towards Fingal, his ſon attended his ſteps. The ſon of Comhal aroſe before him with joy, when he came in his locks of age.

“Chief of roaring Strumon!” ſaid the riſing ſoul of Fingal; “do I behold thee in arms, after thy ſtrength has failed? Often has Morni ſhone in fight, like the beam of the aſcending ſun; when he diſperſes the ſtorms of the hill, and brings peace to the glittering fields. But why didſt thou not reſt in thine age? Thy renown is in the ſong. The people behold thee, and bleſs the departure of mighty Morni. Why didſt thou not reſt in thine age? The foe will vaniſh before Fingal!”

“Son of Comhal,” replied the chief, “the ſtrength of Morni's arm has failed. I attempt to draw the ſword of my youth, but it remains in its place. I throw the ſpear, but it falls ſhort of the mark. I feel the weight of my ſhield. We decay like the graſs of the hill: our ſtrength returns no more. I have a ſon, O Fingal! his ſoul has delighted in Morni's deeds; but his ſword has not been lifted againſt a foe, neither has his fame begun. I come with him to war; to direct his arm in fight. His renown will be a light to my ſoul, in the dark hour of my departure. O that the name of Morni were forgot among the people!” that the heroes would only ſay, “Behold the father of Gaul!”

“King of Strumon,” Fingal replied, “Gaul ſhall lift the ſword in fight. But he ſhall lift it before Fingal; my arm ſhall defend his youth. But reſt thou in the halls of Selma; and hear of our renown. Bid the harp to be ſtrung, and the voice of the bard to ariſe, that thoſe who fall may rejoice in their fame; and the ſoul of Morni brighten with joy. Oſſian! thou haſt fought in battles: the blood of ſtrangers is on thy ſpear: thy courſe be with Gaul, in the ſtrife; but depart not from the ſide of Fingal! leſt the foe ſhould find you alone, and your fame fail in my preſence.”

“I ſaw 5) Gaul in his arms: my ſoul was mixed with his. The fire of the battle was in his eyes! he looked to the foe with joy. We ſpoke the words of friendſhip in ſecret; the lightning of our ſwords poured together; for we drew them behind the wood, and tried the ſtrength of our arms on the empty air.”

Night came down on Morven. Fingal ſat at the beam of the oak. 6) Morni ſat by his ſide with all his grey waving locks. Their words were of other times, of the mighty deeds of their fathers. Three bards, at times, touched the harp: Ullin was near with his ſong. He ſung of the mighty Comhal; but darkneſs 7) gathered on Morni's brow. He rolled his red eye on Ullin: at once ceaſed the ſong of the bard. Fingal obſerved the aged hero, and he mildly ſpoke. “Chief of Strumon, why that darkneſs? Let the days of other years be forgot. Our fathers contended in war; but we meet together, at the feaſt. Our ſwords are turned on the foe of our land; he melts before us on the field. Let the days of our fathers be forgot, hero of moſſy Strumon!”

“King of Morven,” replied the chief, “I remember thy father with joy. He was terrible in battle; the rage of the chief was deadly. My eyes were full of tears, when the king of heroes fell. The valiant fall, O Fingal! the feeble remain on the hills! How many heroes have paſſed away, in the days of Morni! Yet I did not ſhun the battle; neither did I fly from the ſtrife of the valiant. Now let the friends of Fingal reſt; for the night is around; that they may riſe, with ſtrength, to battle againſt car-borne Lathmon. I hear the ſound of his hoſt like thunder moving on the hills. Oſſian! and fair-haired Gaul! ye are young and ſwift in the race. Obſerve the foes of Fingal from that woody hill. But approach them not; your fathers are not near to ſhield you. Let not your fame fall at once. The valour of youth may fail!”

We heard the words of the chief with joy. We moved in the clang of our arms. Our ſteps are on the woody hill. Heaven burns with all its ſtars. The meteors of death fly over the field. The diſtant noiſe of the foe reached our ears. It was then Gaul ſpoke, in his valour: his hand half-unſheathed the ſword.

“Son of Fingal!” he ſaid, “why burns the ſoul of Gaul? My heart beats high. My ſteps are diſordered; my hand trembles on my ſword. When I look towards the foe, my ſoul lightens before me. I ſee their ſleeping hoſt. Tremble thus the ſouls of the valiant in battles of the ſpear? How would the ſoul of Morni riſe if we ſhould ruſh on the foe! Our renown would grow in ſong. Our ſteps would be ſtately in the eyes of the brave.”

“Son of Morni,” I replied, “my ſoul delights in war. I delight to ſhine in battle alone, to give my name to the bards. But what if the foe ſhould prevail; can I behold the eyes of the king? They are terrible in his diſpleaſure, and like the flames of death. But I will not behold them in his wrath! Oſſian ſhall prevail or fall. But ſhall the fame of the vanquiſhed riſe? They paſs like a ſhade away. But the fame of Oſſian ſhall riſe! his deeds ſhall be like his father's! Let us ruſh in our arms; ſon of Morni, let us ruſh to fight. Gaul, if thou ſhouldſt return, go to Selma's lofty hall. Tell to Everallin that I fell with fame; carry this ſword to Branno's daughter. Let her give it to Oſcar, when the years of his youth ſhall ariſe.”

“Son of Fingal,” Gaul replied with a ſigh, “ſhall I return after Oſſian is low? what would my father ſay, what Fingal, the king of men? The feeble would turn their eyes and ſay, ›Behold Gaul, who left his friend in his blood!‹ Ye ſhall not behold me, ye feeble, but in the midſt of my renown! Oſſian, I have heard from my father the mighty deeds of heroes; their mighty deeds when alone; for the ſoul increaſes in danger.”

“Son of Morni,” I replied, and ſtrode before him on the heath, “our fathers ſhall praiſe our valour, when they mourn our fall. A beam of gladneſs ſhall riſe on their ſouls, when their eyes are full of tears. They will ſay, ›Our ſons have not fallen unknown: they ſpread death around them.‹ But why ſhould we think of the narrow houſe? The ſword defends the brave. But death purſues the flight of the feeble; their renown is never heard.”

We ruſhed forward through night: we came to the roar of a ſtream, which bent its blue courſe round the foe, through trees that echoed to its ſound. We came to the bank of the ſtream, and ſaw the ſleeping hoſt. Their fires were decayed on the plain; the lonely ſteps of their ſcouts were diſtant far. I ſtretched my ſpear before me to ſupport my ſteps over the ſtream. But Gaul took my hand, and ſpoke the words of the brave. “Shall the ſon of Fingal ruſh on the ſleeping foe? Shall he come like a blaſt by night, when it overturns the young trees in ſecret? Fingal did not thus receive his fame, nor dwells renown on the grey hairs of Morni, for actions like theſe. Strike, Oſſian, ſtrike the ſhield, and let their thouſands riſe! Let them meet Gaul in his firſt battle, that he may try the ſtrength of his arm.”

My ſoul rejoiced over the warrior: my burſting tears came down. “And the foe ſhall meet thee, Gaul!” I ſaid: “the fame of Morni's ſon ſhall ariſe.

But ruſh not too far, my hero: let the gleam of thy ſteel be near to Oſſian. Let our hands join in ſlaughter. Gaul! doſt thou not behold that rock? Its grey ſide dimly gleams to the ſtars. Should the foe prevail, let our back be towards the rock. Then ſhall they fear to approach our ſpears; for death is in our hands!”

I ſtruck thrice my echoing ſhield. The ſtarting foe aroſe. We ruſhed on in the ſound of our arms. Their crowded ſteps fly over the heath. They thought that the mighty Fingal was come. The ſtrength of their arms withered away. The ſound of their flight was like that of flame, when it ruſhes through the blaſted groves. It was then the ſpear of Gaul flew in its ſtrength; it was then his ſword aroſe. Cremor fell; and mighty Leth. Dunthormo ſtruggled in his blood. The ſteel ruſhed through Crotha's ſide, as bent, he roſe on his ſpear; the black ſtream poured from the wound, and hiſſed on the half-extinguiſhed oak. Cathmin ſaw the ſteps of the hero behind him, he aſcended a blaſted tree; but the ſpear pierced him from behind. Shrieking, panting, he fell. Moſs and withered branches purſue his fall, and ſtrew the blue arms of Gaul.

Such were thy deeds, ſon of Morni, in the firſt of thy battles. Nor ſlept the ſword by thy ſide, thou laſt of Fingal's race! Oſſian ruſhed forward in his ſtrength; the people fell before him; as the graſs by the ſtaff of the boy, when he whiſtles along the field, and the greybeard of the thiſtle falls. But careleſs the youth moves on; his ſteps are towards the deſert. Grey morning roſe around us; the winding ſtreams are bright along the heath. The foe gathered on a hill; and the rage of Lathmon roſe. He bent the red eye of his wrath; he is ſilent in his riſing grief. He often ſtruck his boſſy ſhield; and his ſteps are unequal on the heath. I ſaw the diſtant darkneſs of the hero, and I ſpoke to Morni's ſon.

“Car-borne chief of Strumon, doſt thou behold the foe? they gather on the hill in their wrath. Let our ſtep be towards the king. 8) He ſhall riſe in his ſtrength, and the hoſt of Lathmon vaniſh. Our fame is around us, warrior, the eyes of the aged 9) will rejoice. But let us fly, ſon of Morni, Lathmon deſcends the hill.” “Then let our ſteps be ſlow,” replied the fair-haired Gaul, “leſt the foe ſay, with a ſmile, ›Behold the warriors of night. They are like ghoſts, terrible in darkneſs; they melt away before the beam of the eaſt.‹ Oſſian take the ſhield of Gormar who fell beneath thy ſpear. The aged heroes will rejoice beholding the deeds of their ſons.”

Such were our words on the plain, when Sulmath 10) came to car-borne Lathmon: Sulmath, chief of Dutha, at the dark-rolling ſtream of Duvranna. 11) “Why doſt thou not ruſh, ſon of Nuath, with a thouſand of thy heroes? Why doſt thou not deſcend with thy hoſt, before the warriors fly? Their blue arms are beaming to the riſing light, and their ſteps are before us on the heath!”

“Son of the feeble hand,” ſaith Lathmon, “ſhall my hoſt deſcend! They are but two, ſon of Dutha! ſhall a thouſand lift their ſteel! Nuath would mourn, in his hall, for the departure of his fame. His eyes would turn from Lathmon, when the tread of his feet approached. Go thou to the heroes, chief of Dutha! I behold the ſtately ſteps of Oſſian. His fame is worthy of my ſteel! let us contend in fight.”

The noble Sulmath came. I rejoiced in the words of the king. I raiſed the ſhield on my arm; Gaul placed in my hand the ſword of Morni. We returned to the murmuring ſtream; Lathmon came down in his ſtrength. His dark hoſt rolled, like clouds, behind him: but the ſon of Nuath was bright in his ſteel.

“Son of Fingal,” ſaid the hero, “thy fame has grown on our fall. How many lie there of my people by thy hand, thou king of men! Lift now thy ſpear againſt Lathmon; lay the ſon of Nuath low! Lay him low among his warriors, or thou thyſelf muſt fall! It ſhall never be told in my halls that my people fell in my preſence; that they fell in the preſence of Lathmon when his ſword reſted by his ſide: the blue eyes of Cutha would roll in tears; her ſteps be lonely in the vales of Dunlathmon!”

“Neither ſhall it be told,” I replied, “that the ſon of Fingal fled. Were his ſteps covered with darkneſs, yet would not Oſſian fly! his ſoul would meet him and ſay, ›Does the bard of Selma fear the foe?‹ No! he does not fear the foe. His joy is in the midſt of battle!”

Lathmon came on with his ſpear. He pierced the ſhield of Oſſian. I felt the cold ſteel by my ſide. I drew the ſword of Morni. I cut the ſpear in twain. The bright point fell glittering on earth. The ſon of Nuath burnt in his wrath. He lifted high his ſounding ſhield. His dark eyes rolled above it, as bending forward, it ſhone like a gate of braſs: but Oſſian's ſpear pierced the brightneſs of its boſſes, and ſunk in a tree that roſe behind. The ſhield hung on the quivering lance! but Lathmon ſtill advanced! Gaul foreſaw the fall of the chief. He ſtretched his buckler before my ſword; when it deſcended, in a ſtream of light, over the king of Dunlathmon.

Lathmon beheld the ſon of Morni. The tear ſtarted from his eye. He threw the ſword of his fathers on earth, and ſpoke the words of the brave. “Why ſhould Lathmon fight againſt the firſt of men? Your ſouls are beams from heaven; your ſwords the flames of death. Who can equal the renown of the heroes, whoſe deeds are ſo great in youth! O that ye were in the halls of Nuäth, in the green dwelling of Lathmon! Then would my father ſay that his ſon did not yield to the weak. But who comes, a mighty ſtream, along the echoing heath? The little hills are troubled before him; a thouſand ghoſts are on the beams of his ſteel; the ghoſts of thoſe who are to fall 12) by the arm of the king of reſounding Morven. Happy art thou, O Fingal! thy ſons ſhall fight thy wars. They go forth before thee; they return with the ſteps of their renown!”

Fingal came, in his mildneſs, rejoicing in ſecret over the deeds of his ſon. Morni's face brightened with gladneſs; his aged eyes looked faintly through tears of joy. We came to the halls of Selma. We ſat around the feaſt of ſhells. The maids of ſongs came into our preſence, and the mildly bluſhing Everallin! Her hair ſpreads on her neck of ſnow, her eye rolls in ſecret on Oſſian. She touched the harp of muſic; we bleſſed the daughter of Branno.

Fingal roſe in his place, and ſpoke to Lathmon, king of ſpears. The ſword of Trenmor ſhook by his ſide, as high he raiſed his mighty arm. “Son of Nuäth,” he ſaid, “why doſt thou ſearch for fame in Morven? We are not of the race of the feeble; our ſwords gleam not over the weak. When did we rouſe thee, O Lathmon! with the ſound of war? Fingal does not delight in battle, though his arm is ſtrong! My renown grows on the fall of the haughty. The light of my ſteel pours on the proud in arms. The battle comes, and the tombs of the valiant riſe; the tombs of my people riſe, O my fathers! I at laſt muſt remain alone! But I will remain renowned; the departure of my ſoul ſhall be a ſtream of light. Lathmon! retire to thy place! Turn thy battles to other lands! The race of Morven are renowned; their foes are the ſons of the unhappy!”





It is ſaid, by tradition, that it was the intelligence of Lathmon's invaſion that occaſioned Fingal's return from Ireland; though Oſſian, more poetically, aſcribes the cauſe of Fingal's knowledge to his dream. 


He alludes to a battle wherein Fingal had defeated Lathmon. 


Morni was chief of a numerous tribe, in the days of Fingal, and his father Comhal. The laſt-mentioned hero was killed in battle againſt Morni's tribe; but the valour and conduct of Fingal reduced them, at laſt, to obedience. We find the two heroes perfectly reconciled in this poem. 


Stru'-moné, ſtream of the hill. Here the proper name of a rivulet in the neighbourhood of Selma. 


Oſſian ſpeaks. The contraſt between the old and young heroes is ſtrongly marked. The circumſtance of the latter's drawing their ſwords is well imagined, and agrees with the impatience of young ſoldiers, juſt entered upon action. 


Moſs, fir, and oak are yet burned by many of the natives of the north of Ireland. – This poor entertainment in his native Morven but ill accords with the high-ſounding titles of the tranſlator – “ſmooth pillars, etc., in the Hall of Fingal!” 


Ullin had choſen ill the ſubject of his ſong. The darkneſs which gathered on Morni's brow, did not proceed from any diſlike he had to Comhal's name, though they were foes, but from his fear that the ſong would awaken Fingal to a remembrance of the feuds which had ſubſiſted of old between the families. Fingal's ſpeech on this occaſion abounds with generoſity and good ſenſe. 




Fingal and Morni. 


Suil-mhath, a man of good eye-ſight. 


Dubh-bhranna, dark mountain-ſtream. A river in Scotland, which falls into the ſea at Banff, ſtill retains the name of Duvran. If that is meant in this paſſage, Lathmon muſt have been a prince of the Pictiſh nation, or thoſe Caledonians who inhabited of old the eaſtern coaſt of Scotland. 


It was thought, in Oſſian's time, that each perſon had his attending ſpirit. The traditions concerning this opinion are dark and unſatisfactory.