James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









An Epic Poem.


Book VI.




THIS book opens with a ſpeech of Fingal, who ſees Cathmor deſcending to the aſſiſtance of his flying army. The king deſpatches Oſſian to the relief of Fillan. He himſelf retires behind the rock of Cormul, to avoid the ſight of the engagement between his ſon and Cathmor. Oſſian advances. The deſcent of Cathmor deſcribed. He rallies the army, renews the battle, and, before Oſſian could arrive, engages Fillan himſelf. Upon the approach of Oſſian the combat between the two heroes ceaſes. Oſſian and Cathmor prepare to fight, but night coming on prevents them. Oſſian returns to the place where Cathmor and Fillan fought. He finds Fillan mortally wounded and leaning againſt a rock. Their diſcourſe. Fillan dies; his body is laid by Oſſian in a neighbouring cave. The Caledonian army return to Fingal. He queſtions them about his ſon, and, underſtanding that he was killed, retires in ſilence to the rock of Cormul. Upon the retreat of the army of Fingal, the Firbolg advance. Cathmor finds Bran, one of the dogs of Fingal, lying on the ſhield of Fillan before the entrance of the cave where the body of that hero lay.His reflections thereupon. He returns in a melancholy mood to his army. Malthos endeavours to comfort him by the example of his father Borbar-duthul. Cathmor retires to reſt. The ſon of Sul-malla concludes the book, which ends about the middle of the third night from the opening of the poem.



CATHMOR riſes on his hill! Shall Fingal take the ſword of Luno? But what ſhould become of thy fame, ſon of white-boſomed Clatho? Turn not thine eyes from Fingal, fair daughter of Iniſtore. I ſhall not quench thy early beam. It ſhines along my ſoul. Riſe, wood-ſkirted Mora, 1) riſe between the war and me! Why ſhould Fingal behold the ſtrife, leſt his dark-haired warrior ſhould fall! Amidſt the ſong, O Carril, pour the ſound of the trembling harp! Here are the voices of rocks! and there the bright tumbling of waters. Father of Oſcar, lift the ſpear. Defend the young in arms. Conceal thy ſteps from Fillan. He muſt not know that I doubt his ſteel. No cloud of mine ſhall riſe, my ſon, upon thy ſoul of fire!”

He ſunk behind his rock, amid the ſound of Carril's ſong. Brightening, in my growing ſoul, I took the ſpear of Temora. 2) I ſaw, along Moi-lena, the wild tumbling of battle; the ſtrife of death, in gleaming rows, diſjoined and broken round. Fillan is a beam of fire. From wing to wing is his waſteful courſe. The ridges of war melt before him. They are rolled in ſmoke, from the fields!

Now is the coming forth of Cathmor, in the armour of kings! Dark waves the eagle's wing, above his helmet of fire. Unconcerned are his ſteps, as if they were to the chaſe of Erin. He raiſes, at times, his terrible voice. Erin, abaſhed, gathers round. Their ſouls return back, like a ſtream. They wonder at the ſteps of their fear. He roſe, like the beam of the morning, on a haunted heath: the traveller looks back, with bending eye, on the field of dreadful forms! Sudden from the rock of Moi-lena, are Sul-malla's trembling ſteps. An oak takes the ſpear from her hand. Half-bent ſhe looſes the lance. But then are her eyes on the king, from amid her wandering locks! No friendly ſtrife is before thee! No light contending of bows, as when the youth of Inis-huna 3) come forth beneath the eye of Conmor!

As the rock of Runo, which takes the paſſing clouds as they fly, ſeems growing, in gathered darkneſs, over the ſtreamy heath: ſo ſeems the chief of Atha taller, as gather his people around. As different blaſts fly over the ſea, each behind its dark blue wave: ſo Cathmor's words, on every ſide, pour his warriors forth. Nor ſilent on his hill is Fillan. He mixes his words with his echoing ſhield. An eagle he ſeemed, with ſounding wings, calling the wind to his rock, when he ſees the coming forth of the roes, on Lutha's 4) ruſhy field.

Now they bend forward in battle. Death's hundred voices ariſe. The kings, on either ſide, were like fires on the ſouls of the hoſts. Oſſian bounded along. High rocks and trees ruſh tall between the war and me. But I hear the noiſe of ſteel, between my clanging arms. Riſing, gleaming, on the hill, I behold the backward ſteps of hoſts: their backward ſteps, on either ſide, and wildly-looking eyes. The chiefs were met in dreadful fight! The two blue-ſhielded kings! Tall and dark, through gleams of ſteel, are ſeen the ſtriving heroes! I ruſh. My fears for Fillan fly, burning acroſs my ſoul.

I come. Nor Cathmor flies; nor yet comes on; he ſidelong ſtalks along. An icy rock, cold, tall, he ſeems. I call forth all my ſteel. Silent awhile we ſtride, on either ſide of a ruſhing ſtream; then, ſudden turning, all at once, we raiſe our pointed ſpears! We raiſe our ſpears, but night comes down. It is dark and ſilent round; but where the diſtant ſteps of hoſts are ſounding over the heath!

I come to the place where Fillan fought. Nor voice, nor ſound is there. A broken helmet lies on earth, a buckler cleft in twain. Where, Fillan, where art thou, young chief of echoing Morven? He hears me leaning on a rock, which bends its grey head over the ſtream. He hears; but ſullen, dark, he ſtands. At length I ſaw the hero!

“Why ſtandeſt thou, robed in darkneſs, ſon of woody Selma? Bright is thy path, my brother, in this dark-brown field! Long has been thy ſtrife in battle! Now the horn of Fingal is heard. Aſcend to the cloud of thy father, to his hill of feaſts. In the evening miſt he ſits, and hears the ſound of Carril's harp. Carry joy to the aged, young breakers of the ſhields!”

“Can the vanquiſhed carry joy? Oſſian, no ſhield is mine. It lies broken on the field. The eagle-wing of my helmet is torn. It is when foes fly before them, that fathers delight in their ſons. But their ſighs burſt forth in ſecret, when their young warriors yield. No: Fillan ſhall not behold the king! Why ſhould the hero mourn?”

“Son of blue-eyed Clatho! O Fillan, awake not my ſoul! Wert thou not a burning fire before him? Shall he not rejoice? Such fame belongs not to Oſſian; yet is the king ſtill a ſun to me. He looks on my ſteps with joy. Shadows never riſe on his face. Aſcend, O Fillan, to Mora! His feaſt is ſpread in the folds of miſt.”

“Oſſian! give me that broken ſhield: theſe feathers that are rolled in the wind. Place them near to Fillan, that leſs of his fame may fall. Oſſian, I begin to fail. Lay me in that hollow rock. Raiſe no ſtone above, leſt one ſhould aſk about my fame. I am fallen in the firſt of my fields, fallen without renown. Let thy voice alone ſend joy to my flying ſoul. Why ſhould the bard know where dwells the loſt beam of Clatho!”

“Is thy ſpirit on the eddying winds, O Fillan, young breaker of ſhields? Joy purſue my hero, through his folded clouds. The forms of thy fathers, O Fillan, bend to receive their ſon. I behold the ſpreading of their fire on Mora: the blue-rolling of their miſty wreaths. Joy meet thee, my brother! But we are dark and ſad! I behold the foe round the aged. I behold the waſting away of his fame. Thou art left alone in the field, O grey-haired king of Selma!”

I laid him in the hollow rock, at the roar of the nightly ſtream. One red ſtar looked in on the hero. Winds lift, at times, his locks. I liſten. No ſound is heard. The warrior ſlept! As lightning on a cloud, a thought came ruſhing along my ſoul. My eyes roll in fire: my ſtride was in the clang of ſteel. “I will find thee, king of Erin! in the gathering of thy thouſands find thee. Why ſhould that cloud eſcape that quenched our early beam? Kindle your meteors on your hills, my fathers. Light my daring ſteps. I will conſume in wrath. 5) But ſhould not I return! The king is without a ſon, grey-haired among his foes! His arm is not as in the days of old. His fame grows dim in Erin. Let me not behold him, laid low in his latter field. But can I return to the king? Will he not aſk about his ſon? ›Thou oughteſt to defend young Fillan.‹ Oſſian will meet the foe? Green Erin, thy ſounding tread is pleaſant to my ear, I ruſh on thy ridgy hoſt, to ſhun the eyes of Fingal. I hear the voice of the king, on Mora's miſty top! He calls his two ſons! I come, my father, in my grief. I come like an eagle, which the flame of the night met in the deſert, and ſpoiled of half his wings!”

Diſtant, round the king, on Mora, the broken ridges of Morven are rolled. They turned their eyes: each darkly bends, on his own aſhen ſpear. Silent ſtood the king in the midſt. Thought on thought rolled over his ſoul. As waves on a ſecret mountain-lake, each with its back of foam. He looked; no ſon appeared, with his long-beaming ſpear. The ſighs roſe, crowding, from my ſoul; but he concealed his grief. At length I ſtood beneath an oak. No voice of mine was heard. What could I ſay to Fingal in his hour of woe? His words roſe, at length, in the midſt: the people ſhrank backwards as he ſpoke.

“Where is the ſon of Selma, he who led in war? I behold not his ſteps, among my people, returning from the field. Fell the young bounding roe, who was ſo ſtately on my hills? He fell; for ye are ſilent. The ſhield of war is cleft in twain. Let his armour be near to Fingal; and the ſword of dark-brown Luno. I am waked on my hills; with mourning I deſcend to war.”

High on Cormul's rock, 6) an oak is flaming to the wind. The grey ſkirts of miſt are rolled around; thither ſtrode the king in his wrath. Diſtant from the hoſt he always lay, when battle burnt withm his ſoul. On two ſpears hung his ſhield on high; the gleaming ſign of death; that ſhield, which he was wont to ſtrike, by night, before he ruſhed to war. It was then his warriors knew, when the king was to lead in ſtrife; for never was this buckler heard, till the wrath of Fingal aroſe. Unequal were his ſteps on high, as he ſhone in the beam of the oak; he was dreadful as the form of the ſpirits of night, when he clothes, on hills, his wild geſtures with miſt; and, iſſuing forth, on the troubled ocean, mounts the car of winds.

Nor ſettled, from the ſtorm, is Erin's ſea of war! they glitter, beneath the moon, and, low-humming, ſtill roll on the field. Alone are the ſteps of Cathmor, before them on the heath; he hangs forward, with all his arms, on Morven's flying hoſt. Now had he come to the moſſy cave, where Fillan lay in night. One tree was bent above the ſtream, which glittered over the rock. There ſhone to the moon the broken ſhield of Clatho's ſon; and near it, on graſs, lay hairy-footed Bran. 7) He had miſſed the chief on Mora, and ſearched him along the wind. He thought that the blue-eyed hunter ſlept; he lay upon his ſhield. No blaſt came over the heath, unknown to bounding Bran.

Cathmor ſaw the white-breaſted dog; he ſaw the broken ſhield. Darkneſs is blown back on his ſoul; he remembers the falling away of the people. They come, a ſtream; are rolled away; another race ſucceeds. “But ſome mark the fields, as they paſs, with their own mighty names. The heath, through dark-brown years, is theirs; ſome blue ſtream winds to their fame. Of theſe be the chief of Atha, when he lays him down on earth. Often may the voice of future times meet Cathmor in the air: when he ſtrides from wind to wind, or folds himſelf in the wing of a ſtorm.”

Green Erin gathered round the king, to hear the voice of his power. Their joyful faces bend, unequal, forward, in the light of the oak. They who were terrible, were removed: Lubar 8) winds again in their hoſt. Cathmor was that beam from heaven which ſhone when his people were dark. He was honoured in the midſt. Their ſouls roſe with ardour around. The king alone no gladneſs ſhewed; no ſtranger he to war!

“Why is the king ſo ſad?” ſaid Malthos eagle-eyed. “Remains there a foe at Lubar? Lives there among them who can lift the ſpear? Not ſo peaceful was thy father, Borbar-duthul, 9) king of ſpears. His rage was a fire that always burned; his joy over fallen foes was great. Three days feaſted the grey-haired hero, when he heard that Calmar fell; Calmar, who aided the race of Ullin, from Lara of the ſtreams. Often did he feel, with his hands, the ſteel which, they ſaid, had pierced his foe. He felt it with his hands, for Borbar-duthul's eyes had failed. Yet was the king a ſun to his friends; a gale to lift their branches round. Joy was around him in his halls: he loved the ſons of Bolga. His name remains in Atha, like the awful memory of ghoſts, whoſe preſence was terrible, but they blew the ſtorm away. Now let the voices 10) of Erin raiſe the ſoul of the king; he that ſhone when war was dark, and laid the mighty low. Fonar, from that grey-browed rock, pour the tale of other times: pour it on wide-ſkirted Erin, as it ſettles round.”

“To me,” ſaid Cathmor, “no ſong ſhall riſe; nor Fonar ſit on the rock of Lubar. The mighty there are laid low. Diſturb not their ruſhing ghoſts. Far, Malthos, far remove the ſound of Erin's ſong. I rejoice not over the foe, when he ceaſes to lift the ſpear. With morning we pour our ſtrength abroad. Fingal is wakened on his echoing hill.”

Like waves blown back by ſudden winds, Erin retired, at the voice of the king. Deep-rolled into the field of night, they ſpread their humming tribes. Beneath his own tree, at intervals, each bard 11) ſat down with his harp. They raiſed the ſong, and touched the ſtring: each to the chief he loved. Before a burning oak Sul-malla touched, at times, the harp. She touched the harp, and heard, between, the breezes in her hair. In darkneſs near, lay the king of Atha, beneath an aged tree. The beam of the oak was turned from him; he ſaw the maid, but was not ſeen. His ſoul poured forth, in ſecret, when he beheld her tearful eye. “But battle is before thee, ſon of Borbar-duthul.”

Amidſt the harp, at intervals, ſhe liſtened whether the warrior ſlept. Her ſoul was up; ſhe longed, in ſecret, to pour her own ſad ſong. The field is ſilent. On their wings the blaſts of night retire. The bards had ceaſed; and meteors came, red-winding with their ghoſts. The ſky grew dark: the forms of the dead were blended with the clouds. But heedleſs bends the daughter of Conmor, over the decaying flame. Thou wert alone in her ſoul, car-borne chief of Atha. She raiſed the voice of the ſong, and touched the harp between.

“Clun-galo 12) came; ſhe miſſed the maid. Where art thou, beam of light? Hunters, from the moſſy rock, ſaw ye the blue-eyed fair? Are her ſteps on graſſy Lumon; near the bed of roes? Ah, me! I behold her bow in the hall. Where art thou, beam of light?”

“Ceaſe, 13) love of Conmor, ceaſe; I hear thee not on the ridgy heath. My eye is turned to the king, whoſe path is terrible in war. He for whom my ſoul is up in the ſeaſon of my reſt Deep-boſomed in war he ſtands, he beholds me not from his cloud. Why, ſun of Sul-malla, doſt thou not look forth? I dwell in darkneſs here; wide over me flies the ſhadowy miſt. Filled with dew are my locks: look thou from thy cloud, O ſun of Sul-malla's ſoul!”





Fingal ſpeaks. 


The ſpear of Temora was that which Oſcar had received in a preſent from Cormac, the ſon of Artho, king of Ireland. It was of it that Cairbar made the pretext for quarrelling with Oſcar at the feaſt in the firſt book. 


Clu-ba, winding bay; an arm of the ſea in Inis-huna, or the weſtern coaſt of South Britain. It was in this bay that Cathmor was wind-bound when Sul-malla came, in the diſguiſe of a young warrior, to accompany him in his voyage to Ireland. Conmor the father of Sul-malla, as is inſinuated at the cloſe of the fourth book, was dead before the departure of his daughter. 


Lutha was the name of a valley in Morven. There dwelt Toſcar the ſon of Conloch, the father of Malvina, who, upon that account, is often called the maid of Lutha. Lutha ſignifies ſwift ſtream. 


Here the ſentence is deſignedly left unfiniſhed. The ſenſe is that he was reſolved, like a deſtroying fire, to conſume Cathmor, who had killed his brother. In the midſt of this reſolution, the ſituation of Fingal ſuggeſts itſelf to him in a very ſtrong light. He reſolves to return to aſſiſt the king in proſecuting the war. But then his ſhame for not defending his brother recurs to him. He is determined again to go and find out Cathmor. We may conſider him as in the act of advancing towards the enemy when the horn of Fingal ſounded on Mora and called back his people to his preſence. This ſoliloquy is natural; the reſolutions which ſo ſuddenly follow one another are expreſſive of a mind extremely agitated with ſorrow and conſcious ſhame; yet the behaviour of Oſſian, in his execution of the commands of Fingal, is ſo irreprehenſible that it is not eaſy to determine where he failed in his duty. The truth is that when men fail in deſigns which they ardently wiſh to accompliſh, they naturally blame themſelves as the chief cauſe of their diſappointment. 


This rock of Cormul is often mentioned in the preceding part of the poem. It was on it Fingal and Oſſian ſtood to view the battle. The cuſtom of retiring from the army on the night prior to their engaging in battle was univerſal among the kings of the Caledonians. Trenmor, the moſt renowned of the anceſtors of Fingal, is mentioned as the firſt who inſtituted this cuſtom. Succeeding bards attributed it to a hero of a latter period. In an old poem, which begins with Mac-Arcath na ceud frôl, this cuſtom of retiring from the army before an engagement is numbered among the wiſe inſtitutions of Fergus, the ſon of Arc or Arcath, the firſt king of Scots. I ſhall here tranſlate the paſſage; in ſome other note I may probably give all that remains of the poem. Fergus of the hundred ſtreams, ſon of Arcath who fought of old: thou didſt firſt retire at night: when the foe rolled before thee in echoing fields. Nor bending in reſt is the king: he gathers battles in his ſoul. Fly, ſon of the ſtranger! with morn he ſhall ruſh abroad. When, or by whom, this poem was written is uncertain. 


I remember to have met with an old poem wherein a ſtory of this ſort is very happily introduced. In one of the invaſions of the Danes, Ullin-clundu, a conſiderable chief on the weſtern coaſt of Scotland, was killed in a rencounter with a flying party of the enemy, who had landed at no great diſtance from the place of his reſidence. The few followers who attended him were alſo ſlain. The young wife of Ullin-clundu, who had not heard of his fall, fearing the worſt on account of his long delay, alarmed the reſt of his tribe, who went in ſearch of him along the ſhore. They did not find him; and the beautiful widow became diſconſolate. At length he was diſcovered by means of his dog, who ſat on a rock beſide the body for ſome days. The ſtanza concerning the dog, whoſe name was Du-chos, or Blackfoot, is deſcriptive.

“Dark-ſided Duchos! feet of wind! cold is thy ſeat on rocks. He (the dog) ſees the roe: his ears are high; and half he bounds away. He looks around; but Ullin ſleeps; he droops again his head. The winds come paſt; dark Duchos thinks that Ullin's voice is there. But ſtill he beholds him ſilent, laid amidſt the waving heath. Dark-ſided Duchos, his voice no more ſhall ſend thee over the heath!” 


In order to illuſtrate this paſſage, it is proper to lay before the reader the ſcene of the two preceding battles. Between the hills of Mora and Lora lay the plain of Moi-lena, through which ran the river Lubar. The firſt battle, wherein Gaul the ſon of Morni commanded on the Caledonian ſide, was fought on the banks of Lubar. As there was little advantage obtained on either ſide, the armies after the battle retained their former poſitions.

In the ſecond battle, wherein Fillan commanded, the Iriſh after the fall of Foldath were driven up the hill of Lora; but, upon the coming of Cathmor to their aid, they regained their former ſituation, and drove back the Caledonians in their turn: ſo that Lubar winded again in their hoſt. 


Borbar-duthul, the father of Cathmor, was the brother of that Colc-ulla who is ſaid, in the beginning of the fourth book, to have rebelled againſt Cormac king of Ireland. Borbar-duthul ſeems to have retained all the prejudice of his family againſt the ſucceſſion of the poſterity of Conar on the Iriſh throne. From this ſhort epiſode we learn ſome facts which tend to throw light on the hiſtory of the times. It appears that when Swaran invaded Ireland he was only oppoſed by the Gaël, who poſſeſſed Ulſter and the north of that iſland. Calmar, the ſon of Matha, whoſe gallant behaviour and death are related in the third book of Fingal, was the only chief of the race of the Firbolg that joined the Gaël or Iriſh Caledonians during the invaſion of Swaran. The indecent joy which Borbar-duthul expreſſed upon the death of Calmar is well ſuited with that ſpirit of revenge which ſubſiſted univerſally in every country where the feudal ſyſtem was eſtabliſhed. It would appear that ſome perſon had carried to Borbar-duthul that weapon with which, it was pretended, Calmar had been killed. 


The voices of Erin, a poetical expreſſion for the bards of Ireland. 


Not only the kings but every petty chief had anciently their bards attending them in the field; and thoſe bards, in proportion to the power of the chiefs who retained them, had a number of inferior bards in their train. Upon ſolemn occaſions all the bards in the army would join in one chorus; either when they celebrated their victories or lamented the death of a perſon worthy and renowned ſlain in the war. The words were of the compoſition of the arch-bard retained by the king himſelf, who generally attained to that high office on account of his ſuperior genius for poetry. 


Clun-galo, the wife of Conmor king of Inis-huna, and the mother of Sul-malla. She is here repreſented as miſſing her daughter after ſhe had fled with Cathmor. 


Sul-malla replies to the ſuppoſed queſtions of her mother. Towards the middle of this paragraph ſhe calls Cathmor the ſun of her ſoul, and continues the metaphor throughout. This book ends, we may ſuppoſe, about the middle of the third night from the opening of the poem.