James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









A Poem.




CUTHULLIN, after the arms of Fingal had expelled Swaran from Ireland, continued to manage the affairs of that kingdom as the guardian of Cormac, the young king. In the third year of Cuthullin's adminiſtration, Torlath, the ſon of Cantéla, rebelled in Connaught; and advanced to Temora to dethrone Cormac. Cuthullin marched againſt him, came up with him at the lake of Lego, and totally defeated his forces. Torlath fell in battle by Cuthullin's hand; but as he too eagerly preſſed on the enemy, he was mortally wounded. The affairs of Cormac, though, for ſome time, ſupported by Nathos, as mentioned in the following poem, fell into confuſion at the death of Cuthullin. Cormac himſelf was ſlain by the rebel Cairbar; and the re-eſtabliſhment of the royal family of Ireland by Fingal, furniſhes the ſubject of the epic poem of Temora.



IS the wind on the ſhield of Fingal? Or is the voice of paſt times in my hall? Sing on, ſweet voice! for thou art pleaſant. Thou carrieſt away my night with joy. Sing on, O Bragela, daughter of car-borne Sorglan!”

“It is the white wave of the rock, and not Cuthullin's ſails. Often do the miſts deceive me for the ſhip of my love! when they riſe round ſome ghoſt, and ſpread their grey ſkirts on the wind. Why doſt thou delay thy coming, ſon of the generous Semo? Four times has autumn returned with its winds, and raiſed the ſeas of Togorma, 1) ſince thou haſt been in the roar of battles, and Bragela diſtant far! Hills of the iſle of miſt! when will ye anſwer to his hounds? But ye are dark in your clouds. Sad Bragela calls in vain. Night comes rolling down. The face of ocean fails. The heath-cock's head is beneath his wing. The hind ſleeps, with the hart of the deſert. They ſhall riſe with morning's light, and feed by the moſſy ſtream. But my tears return with the ſun. My ſighs come on with the night. When wilt thou come in thine arms, O chief of Erin's wars?”

“Pleaſant is thy voice in Oſſian's ear, daughter of car-borne Sorglan! But retire to the hall of ſhells; to the beam of the burning oak. Attend to the murmur of the ſea: it rolls at Dunſcaith's walls: let ſleep deſcend on thy blue eyes. Let the hero ariſe in thy dreams!”

Cuthullin ſits at Lego's lake, at the dark rolling of waters. Night is around the hero. His thouſands ſpread on the heath. A hundred oaks burn in the midſt. The feaſt of ſhells is ſmoking wide. Carril ſtrikes the harp beneath a tree. His grey locks glitter in the beam. The ruſtling blaſt of night is near, and lifts his aged hair. His ſong is of the blue Togorma, and of its chief, Cuthullin's friend! “Why art thou abſent, Connal, in the day of the gloomy ſtorm? The chiefs of the ſouth have convened, againſt the car-borne Cormac. The winds detain thy ſails. Thy blue waters roll around thee. But Cormac is not alone. The ſon of Semo fights his wars! Semo's ſon his battles fights! the terror of the ſtranger! He that is like the vapour of death, ſlowly borne by ſultry winds. The ſun reddens in his preſence: the people fall around.”

Such was the ſong of Carril, when a ſon of the foe appeared. He threw down his pointleſs ſpear. He ſpoke the words of Torlath, Torlath, chief of heroes, at Lego's ſable ſurge! He that led his thouſands to battle, againſt car-borne Cormac, Cormac who was diſtant far, in Temora's 2) echoing halls: he learned to bend the bow of his fathers; and to lift the ſpear. Nor long didſt thou lift the ſpear, mildly-ſhining beam of youth! death ſtands dim behind thee, like the darkened half of the moon behind its growing light! Cuthullin roſe before the bard, 3) that came from generous Torlath. He offered him the ſhell of joy. He honoured the ſon of ſongs. “Sweet voice on Lego!” he ſaid, “what are the words of Torlath? Comes he to our feaſt or battle, the car-borne ſon of Cantéla?” 4)

“He comes to thy battle,” replied the bard, “to the ſounding ſtrife of ſpears. When morning is grey on Lego, Torlath will fight on the plain. Wilt thou meet him in thine arms, king of the iſle of miſt? Terrible is the ſpear of Torlath! it is a meteor of night. He lifts it, and the people fall! death ſits in the lightning of his ſword!” “Do I fear,” replied Cuthullin, “the ſpear of car-borne Torlath? He is brave as a thouſand heroes: but my ſoul delights in war! The ſword reſts not by the ſide of Cuthullin, bard of the times of old! Morning ſhall meet me on the plain, and gleam on the blue arms of Semo's ſon. But ſit thou on the heath, O bard! and let us hear thy voice. Partake of the joyful ſhell: and hear the ſongs of Temora!”

“This is no time,” replied the bard, “to hear the ſong of joy: when the mighty are to meet in battle, like the ſtrength of the waves of Lego. Why art thou ſo dark, Slimora! 5) with all thy ſilent woods? No ſtar trembles on thy top. No moon-beam on thy ſide. But the meteors of death are there: the grey watery forms of ghoſts. Why art thou dark, Slimora! with thy ſilent woods?” He retired, in the ſound of his ſong. Carril joined his voice. The muſic was like the memory of joys that are paſt, pleaſant and mournful to the ſoul. The ghoſts of departed bards heard on Slimora's ſide. Soft ſounds ſpread along the wood. The ſilent valleys of night rejoice. So, when he ſits in the ſilence of the day, in the valley of his breeze, the humming of the mountain bee comes to Oſſian's ear: the gale drowns it in its courſe; but the pleaſant ſound returns again. Slant looks the ſun on the field! gradual grows the ſhade of the hill!

“Raiſe,” ſaid Cuthullin, to his hundred bards, “the ſong of the noble Fingal: that ſong which he hears at night, when the dreams of his reſt deſcend: when the bards ſtrike the diſtant harp, and the faint light gleams on Selma's walls. Or let the grief of Lara riſe: the ſighs of the mother of Calmar, 6) when he was ſought, in vain, on his hills; when ſhe beheld his bow in the hall. Carril, place the ſhield of Caithbat on that branch. Let the ſpear of Cuthullin be near; that the ſound of my battle may riſe, with the grey beam of the eaſt.” The hero leaned on his father's ſhield: the ſong of Lara roſe! The hundred bards were diſtant far: Carril alone is near the chief. The words of the ſong were his: the ſound of his harp was mournful.

“Alclétha 7) with the aged locks! mother of car-borne Calmar! why doſt thou look toward the deſert to behold the return of thy ſon? Theſe are not his heroes, dark on the heath: nor is that the voice of Calmar. It is but the diſtant grove, Alclétha! but the roar of the mountain wind!” “Who 8)bounds over Lara's ſtream, ſiſter of the noble Calmar? Does not Alclétha behold his ſpear? But her eyes are dim! Is it not the ſon of Matha, daughter of my love?”

“It is but an aged oak, Alclétha!” replied the lovely weeping Alona. 9) “It is but an oak, Alclétha, bent over Lara's ſtream. But who comes along the plain? ſorrow is in his ſpeed. He lifts high the ſpear of Calmar. Alclétha, it is covered with blood!” “But it is covered with the blood of foes, 10) ſiſter of car-borne Calmar! His ſpear never returned unſtained with blood: nor his bow from the ſtrife of the mighty. The battle is conſumed in his preſence: he is a flame of death, Alona! Youth 11) of the mournful ſpeed! where is the ſon of Alclétha? Does he return with his fame, in the midſt of his echoing ſhields? Thou art dark and ſilent! Calmar is then no more! Tell me not, warrior, how he fell. I muſt not hear of his wound! Why doſt thou look towards the deſert, mother of low-laid Calmar?”

Such was the ſong of Carril, when Cuthullin lay on his ſhield. The bards reſted on their harps. Sleep fell ſoftly around. The ſon of Semo was awake alone. His ſoul was fixed on war. The burning oaks began to decay. Faint red light is ſpread around. A feeble voice is heard. The ghoſt of Calmar came! He ſtalked dimly along the beam. Dark is the wound in his ſide. His hair is diſordered and looſe. Joy ſits pale on his face. He ſeems to invite Cuthullin to his cave.

“Son of the cloudy night!” ſaid the riſing chief of Erin. “Why doſt thou bend thy dark eyes on me, ghoſt of the noble Calmar? Wouldſt thou frighten me, O Matha's ſon! from the battles of Cormac? Thy hand was not feeble in war: neither was thy voice for peace. How art thou changed, chief of Lara! if thou now doſt adviſe to fly! But, Calmar, I never fled. I never feared the ghoſts of night. Small is their knowledge, weak their hands; their dwelling is in the wind. But my ſoul grows in danger, and rejoices in the noiſe of ſteel. Retire thou to thy cave. Thou art not Calmar's ghoſt. He delighted in battle. His arm was like the thunder of heaven!” He retired in his blaſt with joy for he had heard the voice of his praiſe.

The faint beam of the morning roſe. The ſound of Caithbat's buckler ſpread. Green Erin's warriors convened, like the roar of many ſtreams. The horn of war is heard over Lego. The mighty Torlath came. “Why doſt thou come with thy thouſands, Cuthullin?” ſaid the chief on Lego. “I know the ſtrength of thy arm. Thy ſoul is an unextinguiſhed fire. Why fight we not on the plain, and let our hoſts behold our deeds? Let them behold us like roaring waves, that tumble round a rock: the mariners haſten away, and look on their ſtrife with fear.”

“Thou riſeſt, like the ſun, on my ſoul,” replied the ſon of Semo. “Thine arm is mighty, O Torlath! and worthy of my wrath. Retire, ye men of Ullin, to Slimora's ſhady ſide. Behold the chief of Erin, in the day of his fame. Carril! tell to mighty Connal, if Cuthullin muſt fall, tell him I accuſed the winds, which roar on Togorma's waves. Newer was he abſent in battle, when the ſtrife of my fame aroſe. Let his ſword be before Cormac, like the beam of heaven. Let his counſel ſound in Temora, in the day of danger.”

He ruſhed, in the ſound of his arms, like the terrible ſpirit of Loda, 12) when he comes, in the roar of a thouſand ſtorms, and ſcatters battles from his eyes. He ſits on a cloud over Lochlin's ſeas. His mighty hand is on his ſword. Winds lift his flaming locks! The waning moon half lights his dreadful face. His features blended in darkneſs ariſe to view. So terrible was Cuthullin in the day of his fame. Torlath fell by his hand. His heroes mourned. They gather round the chief, like the clouds of the deſert. A thouſand ſwords roſe at once; a thouſand arrows flew; but the ſon of Semo ſtood like a rock in the midſt of a roaring ſea. They fell around. He ſtrode in blood. Dark Slimora echoed wide. The ſons of Ullin 13) came. The battle ſpread over Lego. The chief of Erin overcame. He returned over the field with his fame. But pale he returned! The joy of his face was dark. He rolled his eyes in ſilence. The ſword hung, unſheathed, in his hand. His ſpear bent at every ſtep.

“Carril,” ſaid the chief in ſecret, “the ſtrength of Cuthullin fails. My days are with the years that are paſt. No morning of mine ſhall ariſe. They ſhall ſeek me at Temora, but I ſhall not be found. Cormac will weep in his hall, and ſay, ›Where is Erin's chief?‹ But my name is renowned! my fame in the ſong of bards. The youth will ſay in ſecret, ›O let me die as Cuthullin died! Renown clothed him like a robe. The light of his fame is great.‹ Draw the arrow from my ſide. Lay Cuthullin beneath that oak. Place the ſhield of Câthba near, that they may behold me amidſt the arms of my fathers!”

“And is the ſon of Semo fallen?” ſaid Carril with a ſigh. “Mournful are Tura's walls. Sorrow dwells at Dunſcaith. Thy ſpouſe is left alone in her youth. The ſon 14) of thy love is alone! He ſhall come to Bragela, and aſk her why ſhe weeps? He ſhall lift his eyes to the wall, and ſee his father's ſword. ›Whoſe ſword is that?‹ he will ſay. The ſoul of his mother is ſad. Who is that, like the hart of the deſert, in the murmur of his courſe? His eyes looked wildly round in ſearch of his friend. Connal, ſon of Colgar, where haſt thou been, when the mighty fell? Did the ſeas of Togorma roll around thee? Was the wind of the ſouth in thy ſails? The mighty have fallen in battle, and thou waſt not there. Let none tell it in Selma, nor in Morven's woody land. Fingal will be ſad, and the ſons of the deſert mourn!”

By the dark rolling waves of Lego they raiſed the hero's tomb. Luath, 15) at a diſtance, lies. The ſong of bards roſe over the dead.

“Bleſt 16) be thy ſoul, ſon of Semo! Thou wert mighty in battle. Thy ſtrength was like the ſtrength of a ſtream: thy ſpeed like the eagle's wing. Thy path in battle was terrible: the ſteps of death were behind thy ſword. Bleſt be thy ſoul, ſon of Semo, car-borne chief of Dunſcaith! Thou haſt not fallen by the ſword of the mighty, neither was thy blood on the ſpear of the brave. The arrow came, like the ſting of death in a blaſt: nor did the feeble hand, which drew the bow, perceive it. Peace to thy ſoul, in thy cave, chief of the iſle of miſt!”

“The mighty are diſperſed at Temora: there is none in Cormac's hall. The king mourns in his youth. He does not behold thy return. The ſound of thy ſhield is ceaſed: his foes are gathering round. Soft be thy reſt in thy cave, chief of Erin's wars! Bragela will not hope for thy return, or ſee thy ſails in ocean's foam. Her ſteps are not on the ſhore: nor her ear open to the voice of thy rowers. She ſits in the hall of ſhells. She ſees the arms of him that is no more. Thine eyes are full of tears, daughter of car-borne Sorglan! Bleſt be thy ſoul in death, O chief of ſhady Tura!”





Togorma – i.e. the iſland of blue waves – one of the Hebrides, was ſubject to Connal, the ſon of Caithbat, Cuthullin's friend. He is ſometimes called the ſon of Colgar, from one of that name who was the founder of the family. Connal, a few days before the news of Torlath's revolt came to Temora, had ſailed to Togorma, his native iſle; where he was detained by contrary winds during the war in which Cuthullin was killed. 


The royal palace of the Iriſh kings; Teamhrath, according to ſome of the bards. 


The bards were the heralds of ancient times; and their perſons were ſacred on account of their office. In later times they abuſed that privilege; and as their perſons were inviolable, they ſatiriſed and lampooned ſo freely thoſe who were not liked by their patrons, that they became a public nuiſance. Screened under the character of heralds, they groſſly abuſed the enemy when he would not accept the terms they offered. 


Cean-teola', head of a family. 


Slia'mor, a great hill. 


Calmar, the ſon of Matha. His death is related at large in the third book of Fingal. He was the only ſon of Matha; and the family was extinct in him. The ſeat of the family was on the banks of the river Lara, in the neighbourhood of Lego, and probably near the place where Cuthullin lay; which circumſtance ſuggeſted to him the lamentation of Alclétha over her ſon. 


Ald-cla'tha, decaying beauty; probably a poetical name given to the mother of Calmar by the bard himſelf. 


Alclétha ſpeaks. Calmar had promiſed to return by a certain day, and his mother and ſiſter Alona are repreſented as looking, with impatience, towards that quarter where they expected Calmar ſhould firſt make his appearance. 


Alùine, exquiſitely beautiful. 


Alclétha ſpeaks. 


She addreſſes herſelf to Larnir, Calmar's friend, who had returned with the news of his death. 


Loda, in the third book of Fingal, is mentioned as a place of worſhip in Scandinavia: by the ſpirit of Loda, the poet probably means Odin, the great deity of the northern nations. He is deſcribed here with all his terrors. 




Conloch, who was afterwards very famous for his great exploits in Ireland. He was ſo remarkable for his dexterity in handling the javelin, that when a good markſman is deſcribed, it has paſſed into a proverb, in the north of Scotland, He is unerring as the arm of Conloch. 


It was of old the cuſtom to bury the favourite dog near the maſter. This was not peculiar to the ancient Scots, for we find it practiſed by many other nations in their ages of heroiſm. There is a ſtone ſhewn ſtill at Dunſcaith, in the Iſle of Skye, to which Cuthullin commonly bound his dog Luath. The ſtone goes by his name to this day. 


This is the ſong of the bards over Cuthullin's tomb. Every ſtanza cloſes with ſome remarkable title of the hero, which was always the cuſtom in funeral elegies.