James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









An Epic Poem.


Book V.




THE poet, after a ſhort addreſs to the harp of Cona, deſcribes the arrangement of both armies on either ſide of the river Lubar. Fingal gives the command to Fillan; but, at the ſame time, orders Gaul the ſon of Morni, who had been wounded in the hand in the preceding battle, to aſſiſt him with his counſel. The army of the Fir-bolg is commanded by Foldath. The general onſet is deſcribed. The great actions of Fillan. He kills Rothmar and Culmin. But when Fillan conquers in one wing, Foldath preſſes hard on the other. He wounds Dermid, the ſon of Duthno, and puts the whole wing to flight. Dermid deliberates with himſelf, and at laſt reſolves to put a ſtop to the progreſs of Foldath by engaging him in ſingle combat. When the two chiefs were approaching towards one another, Fillan came ſuddenly to the relief of Dermid, engaged Foldath and killed him. The behaviour of Malthos towards the fallen Foldath. Fillan puts the whole army of the Fir-bolg to flight. The book cloſes with an addreſs to Clatho, the mother of that hero.



THOU dweller between the ſhields, that hang on high, in Oſſian's hall! Deſcend from thy place, O harp, and let me hear thy voice! Son of Alpin, ſtrike the ſtring. Thou muſt awake the ſoul of the bard. The murmur of Lora's 1) ſtream has rolled the tale away. I ſtand in the cloud of years. Few are its openings toward the paſt; and when the viſion comes, it is but dim and dark. I hear thee, harp of Selma! my ſoul returns, like a breeze, which the ſun brings back to the vale, where dwelt the lazy miſt!

Lubar 2) is bright before me in the windings of its vale. On either ſide, on their hills, riſe the tall forms of the kings. Their people are poured around them, bending forward to their words: as if their fathers ſpoke deſcending from the winds. But they themſelves are like two rocks in the midſt; each with its dark head of pines, when they are ſeen in the deſert, above low-ſailing miſt. High on their face are ſtreams, which ſpread their foam on blaſts of wind!

Beneath the voice of Cathmor pours Erin, like the ſound of flame. Wide they come down to Lubar! Before them is the ſtride of Foldath. But Cathmor retires to his hill, beneath his bending oak. The tumbling of a ſtream is near the king. He lifts, at times, his gleaming ſpear. It is a flame to his people, in the midſt of war. Near him ſtands the daughter of Conmor, leaning on a rock. She did not rejoice at the ſtrife. Her ſoul delighted not in blood. A 3) valley ſpreads green behind the hill, with its three blue ſtreams. The ſun is there in ſilence. The dun mountain-roes come down. On theſe are turned the eyes of Sul-malla in her thoughtful mood.

Fingal beholds Cathmor, on high, the ſon of Borbar-duthul; he beholds the deep-rolling of Erin, on the darkened plain. He ſtrikes that warning boſs, which bids the people to obey, when he ſends his chiefs before them, to the field of renown. Wide riſe their ſpears to the ſun. Their echoing ſhields reply around. Fear, like a vapour, winds not among the hoſt: for he, the king, is near, the ſtrength of ſtreamy Selma. Gladneſs brightens the hero. We hear his words with joy.

“Like the coming forth of winds, is the ſound of Selma's ſons! They are mountain waters, determined in their courſe. Hence is Fingal renowned. Hence is his name in other lands. He was not a lonely beam in danger; for your ſteps were always near! But never was Fingal a dreadful form, in your preſence, darkened into wrath. My voice was no thunder to your ears. Mine eyes ſent forth no death. When the haughty appeared, I beheld them not. They were forgot at my feaſts. Like miſt they melted away. A young beam is before you! Few are his paths to war! They are few, but he is valiant. Defend my dark-haired ſon. Bring Fillan back with joy. Hereafter he may ſtand alone. His form is like his fathers. His ſoul is a flame of their fire. Son of car-borne Morni, move behind the youth. Let thy voice reach his ear, from the ſkirts of war. Not unobſerved rolls battle, before thee, breaker of the ſhields!”

The king ſtrode, at once, away to Cormul's lofty rock. Intermitting, darts the light, from his ſhield, as ſlow the king of heroes moves. Sidelong rolls his eye o'er the heath, as, forming, advance the lines. Graceful fly his half-grey locks round his kingly features, now lightened with dreadful joy. Wholly mighty is the chief! Behind him dark and ſlow I moved. Straight came forward the ſtrength of Gaul. His ſhield hung looſe on its thong. He ſpoke, in haſte, to Oſſian. “Bind, 4) ſon of Fingal, this ſhield! Bind it high to the ſide of Gaul. The foe may behold it, and think I lift the ſpear. If I ſhould fall, let my tomb be hid in the field; for fall I muſt without fame. Mine arm cannot lift the ſteel. Let not Evir-choma hear it, to bluſh between her locks. Fillan the mighty, behold us! Let us not forget the ſtrife. Why ſhould they come, from their hills, to aid our flying field?”

He ſtrode onward, with the ſound of his ſhield. My voice purſued him as he went “Can the ſon of Morni fall, without his fame in Erin? But the deeds of the mighty are forgot by themſelves. They ruſh careleſs over the fields of renown. Their words are never heard!” I rejoiced over the ſteps of the chief. I ſtrode to the rock of the king, where he ſat, in his wandering locks, amid the mountain-wind!

In two dark ridges bend the hoſts, toward each other, at Lubar. Here Foldath riſes a pillar of darkneſs: there brightens the youth of Fillan. Each, with his ſpear in the ſtream, ſent forth the voice of war. Gaul ſtruck the ſhield of Selma. At once they plunge in battle! Steel pours its gleam on ſteel: like the fall of ſtreams ſhone the field, when they mix their foam together, from two dark-browed rocks! Behold he comes, the ſon of fame! He lays the people low! Deaths ſit on blaſts around him! Warriors ſtrew thy paths, O Fillan!

Rothmar, 5) the ſhield of warriors, ſtood between two chinky rocks. Two oaks, which winds have bent from high, ſpread their branches on either ſide. He rolls his darkening eyes on Fillan, and, ſilent, ſhades his friends. Fingal ſaw the approaching fight. The hero's ſoul aroſe. But as the ſtone of Loda 6) falls, ſhook, at once, from rocking Druman-ard, when ſpirits heave the earth in their wrath: ſo fell blue-ſhielded Rothmar.

Near are the ſteps of Culmin. The youth came, burſting into tears. Wrathful he cut the wind, ere yet he mixed his ſtrokes with Fillan. He had firſt bent the bow with Rothmar, at the rock of his own blue ſtreams. There they had marked the place of the roe, as the ſunbeam flew over the fern. Why, ſon of Cul-allin! Why, Culmin, doſt thou ruſh on that beam 7) of light? It is a fire that conſumes. Son of Cul-allin, retire. Your fathers were not equal, in the glittering ſtrife of the field. The mother of Culmin remains in the hall. She looks forth on blue-rolling Strutha. A whirlwind riſes, on the ſtream, dark-eddying round the ghoſt of her ſon. His dogs 8) are howling in their place. His ſhield is bloody in the hall. “Art thou fallen, my fair-haired ſon, in Erin's diſmal war?”

As a roe, pierced in ſecret, lies panting, by her wooded ſtreams; the hunter ſurveys her feet of wind. He remembers her ſtately bounding before. So lay the ſon of Cul-allin beneath the eye of Fillan. His hair is rolled in a little ſtream. His blood wanders on his ſhield. Still his hand holds the ſword, that failed him in the midſt of danger. “Thou art fallen,” ſaid Fillan, “ere yet thy fame was heard. Thy father ſent thee to war. He expects to hear of thy deeds. He is grey, perhaps, at his ſtreams. His eyes are toward Moi-lena. But thou ſhalt not return with the ſpoil of the fallen foe.”

Fillan pours the flight of Erin before him, over the reſounding heath. But, man on man, fell Morven before the dark-red rage of Foldath; for, far on the field, he poured the roar of half his tribes. Dermid ſtands before him in wrath. The ſons of Selma gathered around. But his ſhield is cleft by Foldath. His people fly over the heath.

Then ſaid the foe, in his pride, “They have fied. My fame begins! Go, Malthos, go bid Cathmor guard the dark-rolling of ocean; that Fingal may not eſcape from my ſword. He muſt lie on earth. Beſide ſome fen ſhall his tomb be ſeen. I ſhall riſe without a ſong. His ghoſt ſhall hover, in miſt, over the reedy pool.”

Malthos heard, with darkening doubt. He rolled his ſilent eyes. He knew the pride of Foldath. He looked up to Fingal on his hills; then darkly turning, in doubtful mood, he plunged his ſword in war.

In Clono's 9) narrow vale, where bend two trees above the ſtream, dark, in his grief, ſtood Duthno's ſilent ſon. The blood pours from the ſide of Dermid. His ſhield is broken near. His ſpear leans againſt a ſtone. Why, Dermid, why ſo ſad? “I hear the roar of battle. My people are alone. My ſteps are ſlow on the heath; and no ſhield is mine. Shall he then prevail? It is then after Dermid is ſlow! I will call thee forth, O Foldath! and meet thee yet in fight.”

He took his ſpear, with dreadful joy. The ſon of Morni came. “Stay, ſon of Duthno, ſtay thy ſpeed. Thy ſteps are marked with blood. No boſſy ſhield is thine. Why ſhouldſt thou fall unarmed?” “Son of Morni! give thou thy ſhield. It has often rolled back the war. I ſhall ſtop the chief in his courſe. Son of Morni! behold that ſtone! It lifts its grey head through graſs. There dwells a chief of the race of Dermid. Place me there in night.”

He ſlowly roſe againſt the hill. He ſaw the troubled field. The gleaming ridges of battle, diſjoined and broken round. As diſtant fires on heath by night, now ſeem as loſt in ſmoke: now rearing their red ſtreams on the hill, as blow or ceaſe the winds: ſo met the intermitting war the eye of broad-ſhielded Dermid. Through the hoſt are the ſtrides of Foldath, like ſome dark ſhip on wintry waves, when ſhe iſſues from between two iſles, to ſport on reſounding ocean.

Dermid, with rage, beholds his courſe. He ſtrives to ruſh along. But he fails amid his ſteps; and the big tear comes down. He ſounds his father's horn. He thrice ſtrikes his boſſy ſhield. He calls thrice the name of Foldath, from his roaring tribes. Foldath, with joy, beholds the chief. He lifts aloft his bloody ſpear. As a rock is marked with ſtreams, that fell troubled down its ſide in a ſtorm: ſo, ſtreaked with wandering blood, is the dark chief of Moma! The hoſt, on either ſide, withdraw from the contending of kings. They raiſe, at once, their gleaming points. Ruſhing comes Fillan of Selma. Three paces back Foldath withdraws, dazzled with that beam of light, which came, as iſſuing from a cloud, to ſave the wounded chief. Growing in his pride he ſtands. He calls forth all his ſteel.

As meet two broad-winged eagles, in their ſounding ſtrife, in winds: ſo ruſh the two chiefs, on Moi-lena, into gloomy fight. By turns are the ſteps of the kings 10) forward on their rocks above; for now the duſky war ſeems to deſcend on their ſwords. Cathmor feels the joy of warriors, on his moſſy hill: their joy in ſecret, when dangers riſe to match their ſouls. His eye is not turned on Lubar, but on Selma's dreadful king. He beholds him, on Mora, riſing in his arms.

Foldath 11) falls on his ſhield. The ſpear of Fillan pierced the king. Nor looks the youth on the fallen, but onward rolls the war. The hundred voices of death ariſe. “Stay, ſon of Fingal, ſtay thy ſpeed. Beholdeſt thou not that gleaming form, a dreadful ſign of death? Awaken not the king of Erin. Return, ſon of blue-eyed Clatho.”

Malthos 12) beholds Foldath low. He darkly ſtands above the chief. Hatred is rolled from his ſoul. He ſeems a rock in a deſert, on whoſe dark ſide is the trickling of waters; when the ſlow-ſailing miſt has left it, and all its trees are blaſted with winds. He ſpoke to the dying hero about the narrow houſe. “Whether ſhall thy gray ſtone riſe in Ullin, or in Moma'ſ 13) woody land? where the ſun looks, in ſecret, on the blue ſtreams of Dal-rutho? 14) There are the ſteps of thy daughter, blue-eyed Dardu-lena!”

“Remembereſt thou her,” ſaid Foldath, “becauſe no ſon is mine: no youth to roll the battle before him, in revenge of me? Malthos, I am revenged. I was not peaceful in the field. Raiſe the tombs of thoſe I have ſlain around my narrow houſe. Often ſhall I forſake the blaſt to rejoice above their graves, when I behold them ſpread around, with their long-whiſtling graſs.”

His ſoul ruſhed to the vale of Moma, to Dardu-lena's dreams, where ſhe ſlept, by Dal-rutho's ſtream, returning from the chaſe of the hinds. Her bow is near the maid unſtrung. The breezes fold her long hair on her breaſts. Clothed in the beauty of youth, the love of heroes lay. Dark-bending from the ſkirts of the wood, her wounded father ſeemed to come. He appeared at times, then hid himſelf in miſt. Burſting into tears ſhe roſe. She knew that the chief was low. To her came a beam from his ſoul, when folded in its ſtorms. Thou wert the laſt of his race, O blue-eyed Dardu-lena.

Wide ſpreading over echoing Lubar, the flight of Bolga is rolled along. Fillan hangs forward on their ſteps. He ſtrews, with dead, the heath. Fingal rejoices over his ſon. Blue-ſhielded Cathmor roſe. 15)

Son of Alpin, bring the harp. Give Fillan's praiſe to the wind. Raiſe high his praiſe, in mine ear, while yet he ſhines in war.

“Leave, blue-eyed Clatho, leave thy hall! Behold that early beam of thine! The hoſt is withered in its courſe. No further look, it is dark. Light-trembling from the harp, ſtrike, virgins, ſtrike the ſound. No hunter he deſcends from the dewy haunt of the bounding roe. He bends not his bow on the wind; nor ſends his gray arrow abroad.

Deep-folded in red war! See battle roll againſt his ſide. Striding amid the ridgy ſtrife, he pours the deaths of thouſands forth. Fillan is like a ſpirit of heaven, that deſcends from the ſkirt of winds. The troubled ocean feels his ſteps, as he ſtrides from wave to wave. His path kindles behind him. Iſlands ſhake their heads on the heaving ſeas! Leave, blue-eyed Clatho, leave thy hall!”





Lora is often mentioned. It was a ſmall and rapid ſtream in the neighbourhood of Selma. There is no veſtige of this name now remaining; though it appears from a very old ſong, which the tranſlator has ſeen, that one of the ſmall rivers on the north-weſt coaſt was called Lora ſome centuries ago. 


From ſeveral paſſages in the poem we may form a diſtinct idea of the ſcene of the action of Temora. At a ſmall diſtance from one another roſe the hills of Mora and Lora. – The firſt poſſeſſed by Fingal, the ſecond by the army of Cathmor. Through the intermediate plain ran the ſmall river Lubar; on the banks of which all the battles were fought excepting that between Cairbar and Oſcar, related in the firſt book. This laſt-mentioned engagement happened to the north of the hill of Mora, of which Fingal took poſſeſſion after the army of Cairbar fell back to that of Cathmor. At ſome diſtance, but within ſight of Mora, towards the weſt, Lubar iſſued from the mountain of Crommal. Behind the mountain of Crommal ran the ſmall ſtream of Lavath, on the banks of which Ferad-artho, the ſon of Cairbar, the only perſon remaining of the race of Conar, lived concealed in a cave during the uſurpation of Cairbar, the ſon of Borbar-duthul. 


It was to this valley Sul-malla retired during the laſt and deciſive battle between Fingal and Cathmor. It is deſcribed in the ſeventh book, where it is called the vale of Lona. 


It is neceſſary to remember that Gaul was wounded; which occaſions his requiring here the aſſiſtance of Oſſian to bind his ſhield on his ſide. 


Roth-mar, the ſound of the ſea before a ſtorm. Druman-ard, high ridge. Cul-min, ſoft-haired. Cul-allin, beautiful locks. Strutha, ſtreamy river. 


By the ſtone of Loda is meant a place of worſhip among the Scandinavians. The Caledonians, in their many expeditions to Orkney and Scandinavia, became acquainted with ſome of the rites of the religion which prevailed in thoſe countries, and the ancient poetry frequently alludes to them. There are ſome ruins and circular pales of ſtone remaining ſtill in Orkney and the iſlands of Shetland, which retain to this day the name of Loda or Loden. They ſeem to have differed materially in their conſtruction from thoſe Druidical monuments which remain in Britain and the weſtern iſles. The places of worſhip among the Scandinavians were originally rude and unadorned. In after ages, when they opened a communication with other nations, they adopted their manners, and built temples. That at Upſal, in Sweden, was amazingly rich and magnificent. Harquin of Norway built one near Drontheim, little inferior to the former; and it went always under the name of Loden. Mallet, Introduction à l'Hiſtoire de Dannemarc. 


The poet, metaphorically, calls Fillan a beam of light. Culmin, mentioned here, was the ſon of Clonmar, chief of Strutha, by the beautiful Cul-allin. She was ſo remarkable for the beauty of her perſon that ſhe is introduced frequently in the ſimiles and alluſions of ancient poetry. Mar Chulaluin Strutha nan ſian; Lovely as Cul-allin of Strutha of the ſtorms. 


Dogs were thought to be ſenſible of the death of their maſter, let it happen at ever ſo great a diſtance. It was alſo the opinion of the times that the arms which warriors left at home became bloody when they themſelves fell in battle. It was from theſe ſigns that Cul-allin is ſuppoſed to underſtand that her ſon is killed; in which ſhe is confirmed by the appearance of his ghoſt. Her ſudden and ſhort exclamation is more judicious in the poet than if ſhe had extended her complaints to a greater length. The attitude of the fallen youth, and Fillan's reflections over him, come forcibly back on the mind when we conſider that the ſuppoſed ſituation of the father of Culmin was ſo ſimilar to that of Fingal after the death of Fillan himſelf. 


This valley had its name from Clono ſon of Lethmal of Lora, one of the anceſtors of Dermid the ſon of Duthno. His hiſtory is thus related in an old poem: – In the days of Conar the ſon of Tremnor, the firſt king of Ireland, Clono paſſed over into that kingdom from Caledonia to aid Conar againſt the Firbolg. Being remarkable for the beauty of his perſon, he ſoon drew the attention of Sulmin, the young wife of an Iriſh chief. She diſcloſed her paſſion, which was not properly returned by the Caledonian. The lady ſickened, through diſappointment, and her love for Clono came to the ears of her huſband. Fired with jealouſy, he vowed revenge. Clono, to avoid his rage, departed from Temora, in order to paſs over into Scotland; and, being benighted in the valley mentioned here, he laid him down to ſleep. There Lethmal deſcended in the dreams of Clono, and told him that danger was near.

Ghoſt of Lethmal.

“Ariſe from thy bed of moſs; ſon of low-laid Lethmal, ariſe. The ſound of the coming of foes deſcends along the wind.”


“Whoſe voice is that, like many ſtreams, in the ſeaſon of my reſt?”

Ghoſt of Lethmal.

“Ariſe, thou dweller of the ſouls of the lovely; ſon of Lethmal, ariſe.”


“How dreary is the night! The moon is darkened in the ſky; red are the paths of ghoſts along its ſullen face! Green-ſkirted meteors ſet around. Dull is the roaring of ſtreams, from the valley of dim forms. I hear thee, ſpirit of my father, on the eddying courſe of the wind. I hear thee; but thou bendeſt not, forward, thy tall form, from the ſkirts of night.”

As Clono prepared to depart, the huſband of Sulmin came up, with his numerous attendants. Clono defended himſelf, but, after a gallant reſiſtance, he was overpowered and ſlain. He was buried in the place where he was killed, and the valley was called after his name. Dermid, in his requeſt to Gaul the ſon of Morni, which immediately follows this paragraph, alludes to the tomb of Clono, and his own connection with that unfortunate chief. 


Fingal and Cathmor. 


The fall of Foldath, if we may believe tradition, was predicted to him before he had left his own country to join Cairbar in his deſigns on the Iriſh throne. He went to the cave of Moma to inquire of the ſpirits of his fathers concerning the ſucceſs of the enterpriſe of Cairbar. The reſponſes of oracles are always attended with obſcurity and liable to a double meaning: Foldath therefore put a favourable interpretation on the prediction, and purſued his adopted plan of aggrandiſing himſelf with the family of Atha.

Foldath, addreſſing the ſpirits of his fathers:

“Dark, I ſtand in your preſence; fathers of Foldath, hear. Shall my ſteps paſs over Atha, to Ullin of the roes?”

The anſwer.

“Thy ſteps ſhall paſs over Atha, to the green dwelling of kings. There ſhall thy ſtature ariſe, over the fallen, like a pillar of thunderclouds. There, terrible in darkneſs, ſhalt thou ſtand, till the reflected beam, or Clon-cath of Moruth come; Moruth of many ſtreams, that roars in diſtant lands.”

Cloncath, or reflected beam, ſay my traditional authors, was the name of the ſword of Fillan; ſo that it was in the latent ſignification of the word Cloncath that the deception lay. My principal reaſon for introducing this note is that this tradition ſerves to ſhow that the religion of the Fir-bolg differed from that of the Caledonians, as we never find the latter enquiring of the ſpirits of their deceaſed anceſtors. 


The characters of Foldath and Malthos are ſuſtained. They were both dark and ſurly, but each in a different way. Foldath was impetuous and cruel: Malthos ſtubborn and incredulous. Their attachment to the family of Atha was equal; their bravery in battle the ſame. Foldath was vain and oſtentatious: Malthos unindulgent but generous. His behaviour here towards his enemy Foldath ſhews that a good heart often lies concealed under a gloomy and ſullen character. 


The characters of Foldath and Malthos are ſuſtained. They were both dark and ſurly, but each in a different way. Foldath was impetuous and cruel: Malthos ſtubborn and incredulous. Their attachment to the family of Atha was equal; their bravery in battle the ſame. Foldath was vain and oſtentatious: Malthos unindulgent but generous. His behaviour here towards his enemy Foldath ſhews that a good heart often lies concealed under a gloomy and ſullen character. 


Dal-rhuäth, parched or ſandy field. The etymology of Dardu-lena is uncertain. The daughter of Foldath was probably ſo called from a place in Ulſter, where her father had defeated part of the adherents of Artho, king of Ireland.Dardu-lena, the dark wood of Moi-lena. As Foldath was proud and oſtentatious, it would appear that he tranſferred the name of a place where he himſelf had been victorious to his daughter. 


The ſuſpenſe in which the mind of the reader is left here conveys the idea of Fillan's danger more forcibly home than any deſcription that could be introduced. There is a ſort of eloquence in ſilence with propriety. A minute detail of the circumſtances of an important ſcene is generally cold and inſipid. The human mind, free and fond of thinking for itſelf, is diſguſted to find everything done by the poet. It is, therefore, his buſineſs only to mark the moſt ſtriking outlines, and to allow the imaginations of his readers to finiſh the figure for themſelves.

The book ends in the afternoon of the third day from the opening of the poem.