James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









A Poem.




FINGAL, on his return from Ireland, after he had expelled Swaran from that kingdom, made a feaſt to all his heroes; he forgot to invite Ma-ronnan and Aldo, two chiefs, who had not been along with him in his expedition. They reſented his neglect; and went over to Erragon, king of Sora, a country of Scandinavia, the declared enemy of Fingal. The valour of Aldo ſoon gained him a great reputation in Sora: and Lorma, the beautiful wife of Erragon, fell in love with him. He found means to eſcape with her and come to Fingal, who reſided then in Selma, on the weſtern coaſt. Erragon invaded Scotland, and was ſlain in battle by Gaul the ſon of Morni, after he had rejected terms of peace offered him by Fingal. In this war Aldo fell, in a ſingle combat, by the hands of his rival Erragon, and the unfortunate Lorma afterwards died of grief. M.



SON of the diſtant land, who dwelleſt in the ſecret cell! do I hear the ſound of thy grove? or is it thy voice of ſongs? The torrent was loud in my ear; but I heard a tuneful voice. Doſt thou praiſe the chiefs of thy land or the ſpirits 1) of the wind? But, lonely dweller of rocks! look thou on that heathy plain. Thou ſeeſt green tombs, with their rank, whiſtling graſs: with their ſtones of moſſy heads. Thou ſeeſt them, ſon of the rock, but Oſſian's eyes have failed.

A mountain-ſtream comes roaring down, and ſends its waters round a green hill. Four moſſy ſtones, in the midſt of withered graſs, rear their heads on the top. Two trees, which the ſtorms have bent, ſpread their whiſtling branches around. This is thy dwelling, Erragon 2); this thy narrow houſe: the ſound of thy ſhells has been long forgot in Sora. Thy ſhield is become dark in thy hall. Erragon, king of ſhips! chief of diſtant Sora! how haſt thou fallen on our mountains? How is the mighty low? Son of the ſecret cell! doſt thou delight in ſongs? Hear the battle of Lora. The ſound of its ſteel is long ſince paſt. So, thunder on the darkened hill roars and is no more. The ſun returns with his ſilent beams. The glittering rocks and green heads of the mountains ſmile.

The bay of Cona received our ſhips from Erin's rolling waves. Our white ſheets hung looſe to the maſts. The boiſterous winds roared behind the groves of Morven. The horn of the king is ſounded; the deer ſtart from their rocks. Our arrows flew in the woods. The feaſt of the hill is ſpread. Our joy was great on our rocks, for the fall of the terrible Swaran. Two heroes were forgot at our feaſt. The rage of their boſoms burned. They rolled their red eyes in ſecret. The ſigh burſts from their breaſts. They were ſeen to talk together, and to throw their ſpears on earth. They were two dark clouds in the midſt of our joy; like pillars of miſt on the ſettled ſea. They glitter to the ſun, but the mariners fear a ſtorm.

“Raiſe my white ſails,” ſaid Ma-ronnan, “raiſe them to the winds of the weſt. Let us ruſh, O Aldo! through the foam of the northern wave. We are forgot at the feaſt: but our arms have been red in blood. Let us leave the hills of Fingal, and ſerve the king of Sora. His countenance is fierce. War darkens around his ſpear. Let us be renowned, O Aldo, in the battles of other lands!”

They took their ſwords, their ſhields of thongs. They ruſhed to Lumar's reſounding bay. They came to Sora's haughty king, the chief of bounding ſteeds. Erragon had returned from the chaſe. His ſpear was red in blood. He bent his dark face to the ground; and whiſtled as he went. He took the ſtrangers to his feaſts: they fought and conquered in his wars.

Aldo returned with his fame towards Sora's lofty walls. From her tower looked the ſpouſe of Erragon, the humid, rolling eyes of Lorma. Her yellow hair flies on the wind of ocean. Her white breaſt heaves, like ſnow on heath when the gentle winds ariſe, and ſlowly move it in the light. She ſaw young Aldo, like the beam of Sora's ſetting ſun. Her ſoft heart ſighed. Tears filled her eyes. Her white arm ſupported her head. Three days ſhe ſat within the hall, and covered her grief with joy. On the fourth ſhe fled with the hero, along the troubled ſea. They came to Cona's moſſy towers, to Fingal, king of ſpears.

“Aldo of the heart of pride!” ſaid Fingal, riſing in wrath: “ſhall I defend thee from the rage of Sora's injured king? Who will now receive my people into their halls? Who will give the feaſt of ſtrangers, ſince Aldo of the little ſoul has diſhonoured my name in Sora? Go to thy hills, thou feeble hand! Go, hide thee in thy caves. Mournful is the battle we muſt fight with Sora's gloomy king. Spirit of the noble Trenmor! When will Fingal ceaſe to fight? I was born in the midſt of battles, 3) and my ſteps muſt move in blood to the tomb, but my hand did not injure the weak, my ſteel did not touch the feeble in arms. I behold thy tempeſts, O Morven! which will overturn my halls when my children are dead in battle, and none remains to dwell in Selma. Then will the feeble come, but they will not know my tomb. My renown is only in ſong. My deeds ſhall be as a dream to future times!”

His people gathered around Erragon, as the ſtorms round the ghoſts of night, when he calls them from the top of Morven, and prepares to pour them on the land of the ſtranger. He came to the ſhore of Cona. He ſent his bard to the king, to demand the combat of thouſands: or the land of many hills. Fingal ſat in his hall with the friends of his youth around him. The young heroes were at the chaſe, far diſtant in the deſert. The grey-haired chiefs talked of other times; of the actions of their youth; when the aged Nartmor 4) came, the chief of ſtreamy Lora.

“This is no time,” ſaid Nartmor, “to hear the ſongs of other years: Erragon frowns on the coaſt, and lifts ten thouſand ſwords. Gloomy is the king among his chiefs! he is like the darkened moon, amidſt the meteors of night; when they ſail along her ſkirts, and give the light that has failed o'er her orb.” “Come,” ſaid Fingal, “from thy hall, come, daughter of my love: come from thy hall, Boſmina, 5) maid of ſtreamy Morven! Nartmor, take the ſteeds of the ſtrangers. Attend the daughter of Fingal! Let her bid the king of Sora to our feaſt, to Selma's ſhaded wall. Offer him, O Boſmina! the peace of heroes, and the wealth of generous Aldo. Our youths are far diſtant. Age is on our trembling hands!”

She came to the hoſt of Erragon, like a beam of light to a cloud. In her right hand was ſeen a ſparkling ſhell. In her left an arrow of gold. The firſt, the joyful mark of peace. The latter, the ſign of war. Erragon brightened in her preſence, as a rock before the ſudden beams of the ſun, when they iſſue from a broken cloud, divided by the roaring wind.

“Son of the diſtant Sora,” began the mildly bluſhing maid, “come to the feaſt of Morven's king, to Selma's ſhaded walls. Take the peace of heroes, O warrior! Let the dark ſword reſt by thy ſide. Chooſeſt thou the wealth of kings? Then hear the words of generous Aldo. He gives to Erragon an hundred ſteeds, the children of the rein; an hundred maids from diſtant lands; an hundred hawks with fluttering wing, that fly acroſs the ſky. An hundred girdles 6) ſhall alſo be thine, to bind high-boſomed maids. The friends of the births of heroes. The cure of the ſons of toil. Ten ſhells ſtudded with gems ſhall ſhine in Sora's towers: the bright water trembles on their ſtars, and ſeems to be ſparkling wine. They gladdened once the kings of the world, 7) in the midſt of their echoing halls. Theſe, O hero! ſhall be thine! or thy white-boſomed ſpouſe. Lorma ſhall roll her bright eyes in thy halls; though Fingal loves the generous Aldo. Fingal! who never injured a hero, though his arm is ſtrong!”

“Soft voice of Cona!” replied the king, “tell him, he ſpreads his feaſt in vain. Let Fingal pour his ſpoils around me. Let him bend beneath my power. Let him give me the ſwords of his fathers; the ſhields of other times; that my children may behold them in my halls,” and ſay, “Theſe are the arms of Fingal.” “Never ſhall they behold them in thy hall!” ſaid the riſing pride of the maid. “They are in the hands of heroes, who never yielded in war. King of echoing Sora! the ſtorm is gathering on our hills. Doſt thou not foreſee the fall of thy people, ſon of the diſtant land?”

She came to Selma's ſilent halls. The king beheld her down-caſt eyes. He roſe from his place, in his ſtrength. He ſhook his aged locks. He took the ſounding mail of Trenmor, the dark-brown ſhield of his fathers. Darkneſs filled Selma's hall, when he ſtretched his hand to his ſpear: the ghoſts of thouſands were near, and foreſaw the death of the people. Terrible joy roſe in the face of the aged heroes. They ruſhed to meet the foe. Their thoughts are on the deeds of other years: and on the fame that riſes from death.

Now at Trathal's ancient tomb the dogs of the chaſe appeared. Fingal knew that his young heroes followed. He ſtopped in the midſt of his courſe. Oſcar appeared the firſt; then Morni's ſon, and Némi's race. Fercuth 8) ſhewed his gloomy form. Dermid ſpread his dark hair on wind. Oſſian came the laſt. I hummed the ſong of other times. My ſpear ſupported my ſteps over the little ſtreams. My thoughts were of mighty men. Fingal ſtruck his boſſy ſhield; and gave the diſmal ſign of war. A thouſand ſwords at once unſheathed, gleam on the waving heath. Three grey-haired ſons of ſong raiſe the tuneful, mournful voice. Deep and dark with ſounding ſteps, we ruſh, a gloomy ridge, along: like the ſhower of a ſtorm, when it pours on a narrow vale.

The king of Morven ſat on his hill. The ſun-beam of battle flew on the wind. The friends of his youth are near, with all their waving locks of age. Joy roſe in the hero's eyes when he beheld his ſons in war: when he ſaw us amidſt the lightning of ſwords, mindful of the deeds of our fathers. Erragon came on, in his ſtrength, like the roar of a winter ſtream. The battle falls around his ſteps: death dimly ſtalks along by his ſide.

“Who comes,” ſaid Fingal, “like the bounding roe! like the hart of echoing Cona? His ſhield glitters on his ſide. The clang of his armour is mournful. He meets with Erragon in the ſtrife! Behold the battle of the chiefs! It is like the contending of ghoſts in a gloomy ſtorm. But falleſt thou, ſon of the hill, and is thy white boſom ſtained with blood? Weep, unhappy Lorma, Aldo is no more!” The king took the ſpear of his ſtrength. He was ſad for the fall of Aldo. He bent his deathful eyes on the foe: but Gaul met the king of Sora. Who can relate the fight of the chiefs? The mighty ſtranger fell.

“Sons of Cona!” Fingal cried aloud, “ſtop the hand of death. Mighty was he that is low. Much is he mourned in Sora! The ſtranger will come towards his hall, and wonder why it is ſo ſilent. The king is fallen, O ſtranger. The joy of his houſe is ceaſed. Liſten to the ſound of his woods. Perhaps his ghoſt is murmuring there! But he is far diſtant on Morven, beneath the ſword of a foreign foe.” Such were the words of Fingal, when the bard raiſed the ſong of peace. We ſtopped our uplifted ſwords. We ſpared the feeble foe. We laid Erragon in a tomb. I raiſed the voice of grief. The clouds of night came rolling down. The ghoſt of Erragon appeared to ſome. His face was cloudy and dark; an half-formed ſigh is in his breaſt. “Bleſt be thy ſoul, O king of Sora! thine arm was terrible in war!”

Lorma ſat in Aldo's hall. She ſat at the light of a flaming oak. The night came down, but he did not return. The ſoul of Lorma is ſad. What detains thee, hunter of Cona? thou didſt promiſe to return. Has the deer been diſtant far? Do the dark winds ſigh, round thee, on the heath? I am in the land of ſtrangers: who is my friend but Aldo? Come from thy ſounding hills, O my beſt beloved!

Her eyes are turned toward the gate. She liſtens to the ruſtling blaſt. She thinks it is Aldo's tread. Joy riſes in her face. But ſorrow returns again, like a thin cloud on the moon. Wilt thou not return, my love? Let me behold the face of the hill. The moon is in the eaſt. Calm and bright is the breaſt of the lake! When ſhall I behold his dogs returning from the chaſe? When ſhall I hear his voice, loud and diſtant on the wind? Come from thy ſounding hills, hunter of woody Cona! His thin ghoſt appeared, on a rock, like a watery beam of feeble light: when the moon ruſhes ſudden from between two clouds, and the midnight ſhower is on the field. She followed the empty form over the heath. She knew that her hero fell. I heard her approaching cries on the wind, like the mournful voice of the breeze, when it ſighs on the graſs of the cave!

She came. She found her hero. Her voice was heard no more. Silent ſhe rolled her eyes. She was pale, and wildly ſad. Few were her days on Cona. She ſunk into the tomb. Fingal commanded his bards: they ſung over the death of Lorma. The daughters of Morven mourned her, for one day in the year, when the dark winds of autumn returned.

Son of the diſtant land! 9) Thou dwelleſt in the field of fame! O let thy ſong ariſe, at times, in praiſe of thoſe who fell. Let their thin ghoſts rejoice around thee; and the ſoul of Lorma come on a feeble beam, 10) when thou lieſt down to reſt, and the moon looks into thy cave. Then ſhalt thou ſee her lovely; but the tear is ſtill on her cheek!





Alluding to the religious hymns of the Culdees. 


Erragon, or Ferg-thonn, ſignifies the rage of the waves; probably a poetical name given him by Oſſian himſelf. 


Comhal, the father of Fingal, was ſlain in battle, againſt the tribe of Morni, the very day that Fingal was born; ſo that he may, with propriety, be ſaid to have been born in the midſt of battles. 


Neart-mór, great ſtrength. Lora, noiſy. 


Bos-mhina, ſoft and tender hand. She was the youngeſt of Fingal's children. 


Sanctified girdles, till very lately, were kept in many families in the north of Scotland; they were bound about women in labour, and were ſuppoſed to alleviate their pains, and to accelerate the birth. They were impreſſed with ſeveral myſtical figures, and the ceremony of binding them about the woman's waiſt was accompanied with words and geſtures which ſhewed the cuſtom to have come originally from the Druids. 


The Roman emperors. 


Fear-cuth, the ſame with Fergus, the man of the word, or a commander of an army. 


The poet addreſſes himſelf to the Culdee. 


Be thou on a moon-beam, O Morna, near the window of my reſt; when my thoughts are of peace; and the din of arms is paſt. – FINGAL. Book I.