James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









An Epic Poem.


Book VII.




THIS book begins about the middle of the third night from the opening of the poem. The poet deſcribes a kind of miſt which roſe by night from the lake of Lego and was the uſual reſidence of the ſouls of the dead during the interval between their deceaſe and the funeral ſong. The appearance of the ghoſt of Fillan above the cave where his body lay. His voice comes to Fingal on the rock of Cormul. The king ſtrikes the ſhield of Trenmor, which was an infallible ſign of his appearing in arms himſelf. The extraordinary effect of the ſound of the ſhield. Sul-malla, ſtarting from ſleep, awakes Cathmor. Their affecting diſcourſe. She inſiſts with him to ſue for peace; he reſolves to continue the war. He directs her to retire to the neighbouring valley of Lona, which was the reſidence of an old Druid, until the battle of the next day ſhould be over. He awakes his army with the ſound of his ſhield. The ſhield deſcribed. Fonar the bard, at the deſire of Cathmor, relates the firſt ſettlement of the Firbolg in Ireland under their leader Larthon.Morning comes. Sul-malla retires to the valley of Lona. A lyric ſong concludes the book.



FROM the wood-ſkirted waters of Leno, aſcend, at times, grey-boſomed miſts; when the gates of the weſt are cloſed, on the ſun's eagle eye. Wide, over Lara's ſtream, is poured the vapour dark and deep: the moon, like a dim ſhield, is ſwimming through its folds. With this, clothe the ſpirits of old, their ſudden geſtures on the wind, when they ſtride, from blaſt to blaſt, along the duſky night. Often, blended with the gale, to ſome warrior's grave, 1) they roll the miſt, a grey dwelling to his ghoſt, until the ſongs ariſe.

A ſound came from the deſert; it was Conar, king of Inis-fail. He poured his miſt on the grave of Fillan, at blue-winding Lubar. Dark and mournful ſat the ghoſt, in his grey ridge of ſmoke. The blaſt, at times, rolled him together: but the form returned again. It returned with bending eyes, and dark winding of locks of miſt.

It was dark. The ſleeping hoſt were ſtill in the ſkirts of night. The flame decayed, on the hill of Fingal; the king lay lonely on his ſhield. His eyes were half-cloſed in ſleep: the voice of Fillan came. “Sleeps the huſband of Clatho? Dwells the father of the fallen in reſt? Am I forgot in the folds of darkneſs; lonely in the ſeaſon of night?”

“Why doſt thou mix,” ſaid the king, “with the dreams of thy father? Can I forget thee, my ſon, or thy path of fire in the field? Not ſuch come the deeds of the valiant on the ſoul of Fingal. They are not there a beam of lightning, which is ſeen, and is then no more. I remember thee, O Fillan! and my wrath begins to riſe.”

The king took his deathful ſpear, and ſtruck the deeply ſounding ſhield: his ſhield that hung high in night, the diſmal ſign of war. Ghoſts fled on every ſide, and rolled their gathered forms on the wind. Thrice from the winding vale aroſe the voice of deaths. The harps 2) of the bards, untouched, ſound mournful over the hill.

He ſtruck again the ſhield; battles roſe in the dreams of his hoſt The wide-tumbling ſtrife is gleaming over their ſouls. Blue-ſhielded kings deſcend to war. Backward-looking armies fly; and mighty deeds are half-hid in the bright gleams of ſteel.

But when the third ſound aroſe, deer ſtarted from the clefts of their rocks. The ſcreams of fowl are heard, in the deſert, as each flew, frighted on his blaſt. The ſons of Selma half-roſe, and half-aſſumed their ſpears. But ſilence rolled back on the hoſt: they knew the ſhield of the king. Sleep returned to their eyes; the field was dark and ſtill.

No ſleep was thine in darkneſs, blue-eyed daughter of Conmor! Sul-malla heard the dreadful ſhield, and roſe, amid the night Her ſteps are towards the king of Atha. “Can danger ſhake his daring ſoul!” In doubt, ſhe ſtands, with bending eyes. Heaven burns with all its ſtars.

Again the ſhield reſounds! She ruſhed. She ſtopped. Her voice half-roſe. It failed. She ſaw him, amidſt his arms, that gleamed to heaven's fire. She ſaw him dim in his locks, that roſe to nightly wind. Away, for fear, ſhe turned her ſteps. “Why ſhould the king of Erin awake? Thou art not a dream to his reſt, daughter of Inis-huna.”

More dreadful rings the ſhield. Sul-malla ſtarts. Her helmet falls. Loud echoes Lnbar's rock, as over it rolls the ſteel. Burſting from the dreams of night, Cathmor half-roſe, beneath his tree. He ſaw the form of the maid, above him, on the rock. A red ſtar, with twinkling beam, looked through her floating hair.

“Who comes through night to Cathmor, in the ſeaſon of his dreams? Bring'ſt thou aught of war? Who art thou, ſon of night! Stand'ſt thou before me, a form of the times of old? A voice from the fold of a cloud, to warn me of the danger of Erin?”

“Nor lonely ſcout am I, nor voice from folded cloud,” ſhe ſaid; “but I warn thee of the danger of Erin. Doſt thou hear that ſound? It is not the feeble king of Atha that rolls his ſounds on night.”

“Let the warrior roll his ſounds,” he replied; “to Cathmor they are the ſounds of harps. My joy is great, voice of night, and burns over all my thoughts. This is the muſic of kings, on lonely hills, by night; when they light their daring ſouls, the ſons of mighty deeds! The feeble dwell alone, in the valley of the breeze; where miſts lift their morning ſkirts, from the blue winding ſtreams.”

“Not feeble, king of men, were they, the fathers of my race. They dwelt in the folds of battle, in their diſtant lands. Yet delights not my ſoul in the ſigns of death! He, 3) who never yields, comes forth: O ſend the bard of peace!” Like a dropping rock, in the deſert, ſtood Cathmor in his tears. Her voice came, a breeze, on his ſoul, and waked the memory of her land; where ſhe dwelt by her peaceful ſtreams, before he came to the war of Conmor.

“Daughter of ſtrangers,” he ſaid — then trembling turned away — “long have I marked thee in my ſteel, young pine of Inis-huna. But my ſoul, I ſaid, is folded in a ſtorm. Why ſhould that beam ariſe, till my ſteps return in peace? Have I been pale in thy preſence, as thou bidſt me to fear the king? The time of danger, O maid, is the ſeaſon of my ſoul; for then it ſwells, a mighty ſtream, and rolls me on the foe.”

“Beneath the moſs-covered rock of Lona, near his own loud ſtream; grey in his locks of age, dwells Conmal, 4) king of harps. Above him is his echoing tree, and the dun bounding of roes. The noiſe of our ſtrife reaches his ear, as he bends in the thoughts of years. There let thy reſt be, Sul-malla, until our battle ceaſe. Until I return, in my arms, from the ſkirts of the evening miſt, that riſes, on Lona, round the dwelling of my love.”

A light fell on the ſoul of the maid; it roſe kindled before the king. She turned her face to Cathmor, from amidſt her waving locks. “Sooner ſhall the eagle of heaven be torn from the ſtream of his roaring wind, when he ſees the dun prey before him, the young ſons of the bounding roe, than thou, O Cathmor, be turned from the ſtrife of renown. Soon may I ſee thee, warrior, from the ſkirts of the evening miſt, when it is rolled around me, on Lona of ſtreams. While yet thou art diſtant far, ſtrike, Cathmor, ſtrike the ſhield, that joy may return to my darkened ſoul, as I lean on the moſſy rock. But if thou ſhouldeſt fall, I am in the land of ſtrangers; O ſend thy voice, from thy cloud, to the maid of Inis-huna!”

“Young branch of green-headed Lumon, why doſt thou ſhake in the ſtorm? Often has Cathmor returned, from darkly-rolling wars. The darts of death are but hail to me; they have often rattled along my ſhield. I have riſen brightened from battle, like a meteor from a ſtormy cloud. Return not, fair beam, from thy vale, when the roar of battle grows. Then might the foe eſcape, as from my fathers of old.

They told to Son-mor, 5) of Clunar, 6) who was ſlain by Cormac in fight. Three days darkened Son-mor, over his brother's fall. His ſpouſe beheld the ſilent king, and foreſaw his ſteps to war. She prepared the bow, in ſecret, to attend her blue-ſhielded hero. To her dwelt darkneſs at Atha, when he was not there. From their hundred ſtreams, by night, poured down the ſons of Alnecma. They had heard the ſhield of the king, and their rage aroſe. In clanging arms, they moved along, towards Ullin of the groves. Son-mor ſtruck his ſhield, at times, the leader of the war.

Far behind followed Sul-allin, 7) over the ſtreamy hills. She was a light on the mountain, when they croſſed the vale below. Her ſteps were ſtately on the vale, when they roſe on the moſſy hill. She feared to approach the king, who left her in echoing Atha. But when the roar of battle roſe; when hoſt was rolled on hoſt; when Son-mor burnt, like the fire of heaven in clouds, with her ſpreading hair came Sul-allin: for ſhe trembled for her king. He ſtopped the ruſhing ſtrife to ſave the love of heroes. The foe fled by night; Clunar ſlept without his blood; the blood which ought to be poured upon the warrior's tomb.

Nor roſe the rage of Son-mor, but his days were ſilent and dark. Sul-allin wandered, by her grey ſtreams, with her tearful eyes. Often did ſhe look on the hero when he was folded in his thoughts. But ſhe ſhrunk from his eyes, and turned her lone ſteps away. Battles roſe, like a tempeſt, and drove the miſt from his ſoul. He beheld, with joy, her ſteps in the hall, and the white riſing of her hands on the harp.”

In his arms 8) ſtrode the chief of Atha, to where his ſhield hung, high, in night; high on a moſſy bough, over Lubar's ſtreamy roar. Seven boſſes roſe on the ſhield, the ſeven voices of the king, which his warriors received, from the wind, and marked over all their tribes.

On each boſs is placed a ſtar of night; Can-mathon with beams unſhorn; Col-derna riſing from a cloud; Uloicho robed in miſt; and the ſoft beam of Cathlin glittering on a rock. Smiling, on its own blue wave, Reldurath half-ſinks its weſtern light. The red eye of Berthin looks, through a grove, on the hunter, as he returns, by night, with the ſpoils of the bounding roe. Wide, in the midſt, aroſe the cloudleſs beams of Tonthéna, that ſtar which looked, by night, on the courſe of the ſea-toſſed Larthon: Larthon, the firſt of Bolga's race, who travelled on the winds. 9) White-boſomed ſpread the ſails of the king, towards ſtreamy Inis-fail; dun night was rolled before him, with its ſkirts of miſt. Unconſtant blew the winds, and rolled him from wave to wave. Then roſe the fiery-haired Ton-thèna, and ſmiled from her parted cloud. Larthon 10) bleſſed the well-known beam, as it faint-gleamed on the deep.

Beneath the ſpear of Cathmor, roſe that voice which awakes the bards. They came, dark-winding, from every ſide; each with the ſound of his harp. Before them rejoiced the king, as the traveller in the day of the ſun when he hears, far-rolling around, the murmur of moſſy ſtreams; ſtreams that burſt, in the deſert, from the rock of roes.

“Why,” ſaid Fonar, “hear we the voice of the king, in the ſeaſon of his reſt? Were the dim forms of thy fathers bending in thy dreams? Perhaps they ſtand on that cloud, and wait for Fonar's ſong; often they come to the fields where their ſons are to lift the ſpear. Or ſhall our voice ariſe for him who lifts the ſpear no more; he that conſumed the field, from Moma of the groves?”

“Not forgot is that cloud in war, bard of other times. High ſhall his tomb riſe, on Moi-lena, the dwelling of renown. But, now, roll back my ſoul to the times of my fathers; to the years when firſt they roſe, on Inis-huna's waves. Nor alone pleaſant to Cathmor is the remembrance of wood-covered Lumon. Lumon of the ſtreams, the dwelling of white-boſomed maids.”

“Lumon 11) of the ſtreams, thou riſeſt on Fonar's ſoul! Thy ſun is on thy ſide, on the rocks of thy bending trees. The dun roe is ſeen from thy furze; the deer lifts his branchy head: for he ſees, at times, the hound, on the half-covered heath. Slow, on the vale, are the ſteps of maids; the white-armed daughters of the bow: they lift their blue eyes to the hill, from amidſt their wandering locks. Not there is the ſtride of Larthon, chief of Inis-huna. He mounts the wave on his own dark oak, in Cluba's ridgy bay. That oak which he cut from Lumon, to bound along the ſea. The maids turn their eyes away, leſt the king ſhould be lowly-laid; for never had they ſeen a ſhip, dark rider of the wave!

Now he dares to call the winds, and to mix with the miſt of ocean. Blue Inis-fail roſe, in ſmoke; but dark-ſkirted night came down. The ſons of Bolga feared. The fiery-haired Ton-thèna roſe. Culbin's bay received the ſhip, in the boſom of its echoing woods. There iſſued a ſtream from Duthuma's horrid cave; where ſpirits gleamed, at times, with their half-finiſhed forms.

Dreams deſcended on Larthon: he ſaw ſeven ſpirits of his fathers. He heard their half-formed words, and dimly beheld the times to come. He beheld the kings of Atha, the ſons of future days. They led their hoſts, along the field, like ridges of miſt, which winds pour, in autumn, over Atha of the groves.

Larthon in the hall of Samla, 12) raiſed the muſic of the harp. He went forth to the roes of Erin, to their wonted ſtreams. Nor did he forget green-headed Lumon; he often bounded over his ſeas, to where white-handed Flathal 13) looked from the hill of roes. Lumon of the foamy ſtreams, thou riſeſt on Fonar's ſoul!”

Morning pours from the eaſt. The miſty heads of the mountains riſe. Valleys ſhew, on every ſide, the grey winding of their ſtreams. His hoſt heard the ſhield of Cathmor: at once they roſe around; like a crowded ſea, when firſt it feels the wings of the wind. The waves know not whither to roll; they lift their troubled heads.

Sad and ſlow retired Sul-malla to Lona of the ſtreams. She went, and often turned; her blue eyes rolled in tears. But when ſhe came to the rock, darkly-covered Lona's vale, ſhe looked, from her burſting ſoul, on the king; and ſunk, at once, behind.

Son of Alpin, ſtrike the ſtring. Is there aught of joy in the harp? Pour it then on the ſoul of Oſſian: it is folded in miſt. I hear thee, O bard! in my night. But ceaſe the lightly trembling ſound. The joy of grief belongs to Oſſian, amidſt his dark-brown years.

Green thorn of the hill of ghoſts, that ſhakeſt thy head to nightly winds! I hear no ſound in thee; is there no ſpirit's windy ſkirt now ruſtling in thy leaves? Often are the ſteps of the dead, in the dark-eddying blaſts; when the moon, a dun ſhield, from the eaſt, is rolled along the ſky.

Ullin, Carril, and Ryno, voices of the days of old! Let me hear you, while yet it is dark, to pleaſe and awake my ſoul. I hear you not, ye ſons of ſong; in what hall of the clouds is your reſt? Do you touch the ſhadowy harp, robed with morning miſt, where the ruſtling ſun comes forth from his green-headed waves?





As the miſt which roſe from the lake of Leno occaſioned diſeaſes and death, the bards feigned that it was the reſidence of the ghoſts of the deceaſed during the interval between their death and the pronouncing of the funeral elegy over their tombs; for it was not allowable without that ceremony was performed for the ſpirits of the dead to mix with their anceſtors, in their airy halls. It was the buſineſs of the ſpirit of the neareſt relation to the deceaſed to take the miſt of Leno and pour it over the grave. We find here Conar, the ſon of Trenmor the firſt king of Ireland, performing this office for Fillan, as it was in the cauſe of the family of Conar that that hero was killed. 


It was the opinion of ancient times that, on the night preceding the death of a perſon worthy and renowned, the harps of thoſe bards who were retained by his family emitted melancholy ſounds. This was attributed to the light touch of ghoſts, who were ſuppoſed to have a fore-knowledge of events. The ſame opinion prevailed long in the north, and the particular ſound was called the warning voice of the dead. The voice of death mentioned in the preceding ſentence was of a different kind. Each perſon was ſuppoſed to have an attendant ſpirit who aſſumed his form and voice on the night preceding his death, and appeared to ſome in the attitude in which the perſon was to die. The VOICES OF DEATH were the foreboding ſhrieks of theſe ſpirits. 


Fingal is ſaid to have never been overcome in battle. From this proceeded that title of honour which is always beſtowed on him in tradition, Fiön gal na buai', FINGAL, OF VICTORIES. In a poem juſt now in my hands, which celebrates ſome of the great actions of Arthur, the famous Britiſh hero, that appellation is often beſtowed on him. The poem, from the phraſeology, appears to be ancient; and is perhaps, though that is not mentioned, a tranſlation from the Welſh language. 


Clan-mal, crooked eye-brow. From the retired life of this perſon it is inſinuated that he was of the order of the Druids; which ſuppoſition is not at all invalidated by the appellation of king of harps here beſtowed on him; for all agree that the bards were of the number of the Druids, originally. 


Son-mor, tall, handſome man. He was the father of Borbar-duthul, chief of Atha, and grandfather to Cathmor himſelf. 


Cluan-er, man of the field. This chief was killed in battle by Cormac Mac-Conar, king of Ireland, the father of Ros-crána, the firſt wife of Fingal. The ſtory is alluded to in ſome ancient poems. 


Suil-alluin, beautiful, the wife of Sun-mor. 


To avoid multiplying notes I ſhall give here the ſignification of the names of the ſtars engraved on the ſhield. Cean-mathon, head of the bear. Col-derna, ſlant and ſharp beam. Ul-oicho, ruler of night. Cath-lin, beam of fhe wave. Reul-durath, ſtar of the twilight. Berthin, fire of the hill. Ton-thena, meteor of the waves. Theſe etymologies, excepting that of cean-mathon, are pretty exact. Of it I am not ſo certain; for it is not very probable that the Firbolg had diſtinguiſhed a conſtellation ſo very early as the days of Larthon, by the name of the bear. 


To travel on the winds, a poetical expreſſion for ſailing. 


Larthon is compounded of Lear, ſea, and thon, wave. This name was given to the chief of the firſt colony of the Firbolg who ſettled in Ireland on account of his knowledge in navigation. A part of an old poem is ſtill extant concerning this hero. It abounds with thoſe romantic fables of giants and magicians which diſtinguiſhed the compoſitions of the leſs ancient bards. The deſcriptions contained in it are ingenious, and proportionable to the magnitude of the perſons introduced; but, being unnatural, they are inſipid and tedious. Had the bard kept within the bounds of probability, his genius was far from being contemptible. The exordium of his poem is not deſtitute of merit; but it is the only part of it that I think worthy of being preſented to the reader.

“Who firſt ſent the black ſhip, through ocean, like a whale through the burſting of foam? Look, from thy darkneſs on Cronath, Oſſian of the harps of old! Send thy light on the blue-rolling waters, that I may behold the king. I ſee him dark in his own ſhell of oak! ſea-toſſed Lathorn, thy ſoul is ſtrong. It is careleſs as the wind of thy ſails; as the wave that rolls by thy ſide. But the ſilent green iſle is before thee, with its ſons, who are tall as woody Lumon; Lumon which ſends from its top a thouſand ſtreams, white-wandering down its ſides.”

It may perhaps be for the credit of this bard to tranſlate no more of this poem, for the continuation of his deſcription of the Iriſh giants betrays his want of judgment. 


Lumon was a hill in Inis-huna near the reſidence of Sul-malla. This epiſode has an immediate connection with what is ſaid of Larthon in the deſcription of Cathmor's ſhield. 


Samla, apparitions; ſo called from the viſion of Larthon concerning his poſterity. 


Flathal, heavenly, exquiſitely beautiful. She was the wife of Larthon.