James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









A Poem.




FINGAL in his voyage to Lochlin, whither he had been invited by Starno the father of Agandecca, touched at Berrathon, an iſland of Scandinavia, where he was kindly entertained by Larthmor, the petty king of the place, who was a vaſſal of the ſupreme kings of Lochlin. The hoſpitality of Larthmor gained him Fingal's friendſhip, which that hero manifeſted, after the impriſonment of Larthmor by his own ſon, by ſending Oſſian and Toſcar the father of Malvina, ſo often mentioned, to reſcue Larthmor, and to puniſh the unnatural behaviour of Uthal. Uthal was handſome and, by the ladies, much admired. Nina-thoma, the beautiful daughter of Torthóma, a neighbouring prince, fell in love and fled with him. He proved inconſtant: for another lady, whoſe name is not mentioned, gaining his affections, he confined Nina-thoma to a deſert iſland near the coaſt of Berrathon. She was relieved by Oſſian, who, in company with Toſcar, landing on Berrathon, defeated the forces of Uthal, and killed him in a ſingle combat. Nina-thoma, whoſe love not all the bad behaviour of Uthal could eraſe, hearing of his death, died of grief. In the meantime Larthmor is reſtored, and Oſſian and Toſcar return in triumph to Fingal.

The poem opens with an elegy on the death of Malvina the daughter of Toſcar, and cloſes with preſages of Oſſian's death.



BEND thy blue courſe, O ſtream! round the narrow plain of Lutha. 1) Let the green woods hang over it, from their hills: the ſun look on it at noon. The thiſtle is there on its rock, and ſhakes its beard to the wind. The flower hangs its heavy head, waving, at times, to the gale. “Why doſt thou awake me, O gale!” it ſeems to ſay, “I am covered with the drops of heaven! The time of my fading is near, the blaſt that ſhall ſcatter my leaves. To-morrow ſhall the traveller come; he that ſaw me in my beauty ſhall come. His eyes will ſearch the field, but they will not find me.” So ſhall they ſearch in vain, for the voice of Cona, after it has failed in the field. The hunter ſhall come forth in the morning, and the voice of my harp ſhall not be heard. “Where is the ſon of car-borne Fingal?” The tear will be on his cheek! Then come thou, O Malvina; with all thy muſic come! Lay Oſſian in the plain of Lutha: let his tomb riſe in the lovely field.

Malvina! where art thou, with thy ſongs, with the ſoft ſound of thy ſteps? Son 2) of Alpin, art thou near? where is the daughter of Toſcar? “I paſſed, O ſon of Fingal, by Tor-lutha's moſſy walls. The ſmoke of the hall was ceaſed. Silence was among the trees of the hill. The voice of the chaſe was over. I ſaw the daughters of the bow. I aſked about Malvina, but they anſwered not. They turned their faces away: thin darkneſs covered their beauty. They were like ſtars, on a rainy hill, by night, each looking faintly through her miſt”

Pleaſant 3) be thy reſt, O lovely beam! ſoon haſt thou ſet on our hills! The ſteps of thy departure were ſtately like the moon on the blue, trembling wave. But thou haſt left us in darkneſs, firſt of the maids of Lutha! We ſit, at the rock, and there is no voice; no light but the meteor of fire! Soon haſt thou ſet, O Malvina, daughter of generous Toſcar! But thou riſeſt like the beam of the eaſt, among the ſpirits of thy friends, where they ſit, in their ſtormy halls, the chambers of the thunder! A cloud hovers over Cona. Its blue curling ſides are high. The winds are beneath it, with their wings. Within it is the dwelling 4) of Fingal. There the hero ſits in darkneſs. His airy ſpear is in his hand. His ſhield, half-covered with clouds, is like the darkened moon; when one half ſtill remains in the wave, and the other looks ſickly on the field!

His friends ſit around the king, on miſt! They hear the ſongs of Ullin: he ſtrikes the half-viewleſs harp. He raiſes the feeble voice. The leſſer heroes, with a thouſand meteors, light the airy hall. Malvina riſes in the midſt; a bluſh is on her cheek. She beholds the unknown faces of her fathers. She turns aſide her humid eyes. “Art thou come ſo ſoon,” ſaid Fingal, “daughter of generous Toſcar? Sadneſs dwells in the halls of Lutha. My aged ſon 5) is ſad! I hear the breeze of Cona, that was wont to lift thy heavy locks. It comes to the hall, but thou art not there. Its voice is mournful among the arms of thy fathers! Go, with thy ruſtling wing, O breeze! ſigh on Malvina's tomb. It riſes yonder beneath the rock, at the blue ſtream of Lutha. The maids 6) are departed to their place. Thou alone, O breeze, mourneſt there!”

But who comes from the duſky weſt, ſupported on a cloud? A ſmile is on his grey, watery face. His locks of miſt fly on wind. He bends forward on his airy ſpear. It is thy father, Malvina! “Why ſhineſt thou, ſo ſoon, on our clouds,” he ſays, “O lovely light of Lutha! But thou wert ſad, my daughter. Thy friends had paſſed away. The ſons of little men 7) were in the hall. None remained of the heroes, but Oſſian king of ſpears!”

And doſt thou remember Oſſian, car-borne Toſcar, 8) ſon of Conloch? The battles of our youth were many. Our ſwords went together to the field. They ſaw us coming like two falling rocks. The ſons of the ſtranger fled. “There come the warriors of Cona!” they ſaid. “Their ſteps are in the paths of the flying!” Draw near, ſon of Alpin, to the ſong of the aged. The deeds of other times are in my ſoul. My memory beams on the days that are paſt: on the days of mighty Toſcar, when our path was in the deep. Draw near, ſon of Alpin, to the laſt ſound of the voice of Cona!

The king of Morven commanded. I raiſed my ſails to the wind. Toſcar chief of Lutha ſtood at my ſide, I roſe on the dark-blue wave. Our courſe was to ſea-ſurrounded Berrathon, 9) the iſle of many ſtorms. There dwelt, with his locks of age, the ſtately ſtrength of Larthmor; Larthmor, who ſpread the feaſt of ſhells to Fingal, when he went to Starno's halls, in the days of Agandecca. But when the chief was old, the pride of his ſon aroſe; the pride of fair-haired Uthal, the love of a thouſand maids. He bound the aged Larthmor, and dwelt in his ſounding halls!

Long pined the king in his cave, beſide his rolling ſea. Day did not come to his dwelling; nor the burning oak by night. But the wind of ocean was there, and the parting beam of the moon. The red ſtar looked on the king, when it trembled on the weſtern wave. Snitho came to Selma's hall: Snitho the friend of Larthmor's youth. He told of the king of Berrathon: the wrath of Fingal aroſe. Thrice he aſſumed the ſpear, reſolved to ſtretch his hand to Uthal. But the memory 10) of his deeds roſe before the king. He ſent his ſon and Toſcar. Our joy was great on the rolling ſea. We often half-unſheathed our ſwords. For never before had we fought alone, in battles of the ſpear.

Night came down on the ocean. The winds departed on their wings. Cold and pale is the moon. The red ſtars lift their heads on high. Our coaſt is ſlow along the coaſt of Berrathon. The white waves tumble on the rocks. “What voice is that,” ſaid Toſcar, “which comes between the ſounds of the waves? It is ſoft but mournful, like the voice of departed bards. But I behold a maid. 11) She ſits on the rock alone. Her head bends on her arm of ſnow. Her dark hair is in the wind. Hear, ſon of Fingal, her ſong, it is ſmooth as the gliding ſtream.” We came to the ſilent bay, and heard the maid of night.

“How long will ye roll around me, blue-tumbling waters of ocean? My dwelling was not always in caves, nor beneath the whiſtling tree. The feaſt was ſpread in Torthóma's hall. My father delighted in my voice. The youths beheld me in the ſteps of my lovelineſs. They bleſſed the dark-haired Nina-thoma. It was then thou didſt come, O Uthal! like the ſun of heaven! The ſouls of the virgins are thine, ſon of generous Larthmor! But why doſt thou leave me alone, in the midſt of roaring waters? Was my ſoul dark with thy death? Did my white hand lift the ſword? Why then haſt thou left me alone, king of Finthormo? 12)

The tear ſtarted from my eye, when I heard the voice of the maid. I ſtood before her in my arms. I ſpoke the words of peace! Lovely dweller of the cave! what ſigh is in thy breaſt? Shall Oſſian lift his ſword in thy preſence, the deſtruction of thy foes? Daughter of Torthóma, riſe. I have heard the words of thy grief. The race of Morven are around thee, who never injured the weak. Come to our dark-boſomed ſhip! thou brighter than that ſetting moon! Our courſe is to the rocky Berrathon, to the echoing walls of Finthormo.” She came in her beauty; ſhe came with all her lovely ſteps. Silent joy brightened in her face; as when the ſhadows fly from the field of ſpring; the blue ſtream is rolling in brightneſs, and the green buſh bends over its courſe!

The morning roſe with its beams. We came to Rothma's bay. A boar ruſhed from the wood: my ſpear pierced his ſide, and he fell. I rejoiced over the blood. 13) I foreſaw my growing fame. But now the ſound of Uthal's train came, from the high Finthormo. They ſpread over the heath to the chaſe of the boar. Himſelf comes ſlowly on, in the pride of his ſtrength. He lifts two pointed ſpears. On his ſide is the hero's ſword. Three youths carry his poliſhed bows. The bounding of five dogs is before him. His heroes move on, at a diſtance, admiring the ſteps of the king. Stately was the ſon of Larthmor! but his ſoul was dark! Dark as the troubled face of the moon, when it foretells the ſtorms!

We roſe on the heath before the king. He ſtopped in the midſt of his courſe. His heroes gathered around. A grey-haired bard advanced. “Whence are the ſons of the ſtrangers?” began the bard of ſong. “The children of the unhappy come to Berrathon; to the ſword of car-borne Uthal. He ſpreads no feaſt in his hall. The blood of ſtrangers is on his ſtreams. If from Selma's walls ye come, from the moſſy walls of Fingal, chooſe three youths to go to your king to tell of the fall of his people. Perhaps the hero may come and pour his blood on Uthal's ſword. So ſhall the fame of Finthormo ariſe, like the growing tree of the vale!”

“Never will it riſe, O bard,” I ſaid in the pride of my wrath. “He would ſhrink from the preſence of Fingal, whoſe eyes are the flames of death. The ſon of Comhal comes, and kings vaniſh before him. They are rolled together, like miſt, by the breath of his rage. Shall they tell to Fingal that his people fell? Yes! they may tell it, bard! but his people ſhall fall with fame!”

I ſtood in the darkneſs of my ſtrength. Toſcar drew his ſword at my ſide. The foe came on like a ſtream. The mingled ſound of death aroſe. Man took man; ſhield met ſhield; ſteel mixed its beams with ſteel. Darts hiſs through the air. Spears ring on mails. Swords on broken bucklers bound. As the noiſe of an aged grove beneath the roaring wind, when a thouſand ghoſts break the trees by night, ſuch was the din arms! But Uthal fell beneath my ſword. The ſons of Berrathon fled. It was then I ſaw him in his beauty, and the tear hung in my eye! “Thou art fallen, 14) young tree,” I ſaid, “with all thy beauty round thee. Thou art fallen on thy plains, and the field is bare. The winds come from the deſert! there is no ſound in thy leaves! Lovely art thou in death, ſon of car-borne Larthmor.”

Nina-thoma ſat on the ſhore. She heard the ſound of battle. She turned her red eyes on Lethmal, the grey-haired bard of Selma. He alone had remained on the coaſt, with the daughter of Torthóma. “Son of the times of old!” ſhe ſaid, “I hear the noiſe of death. Thy friends have met with Uthal, and the chief is low! O that I had remained on the rock, incloſed with the tumbling waves! Then would my ſoul be ſad; but his death would not reach my ear. Art thou fallen on thy heath, O ſon of high Finthormo! Thou didſt leave me on a rock, but my ſoul was full of thee. Son of high Finthormo! art thou fallen on thy heath?”

She roſe, pale in her tears. She ſaw the bloody ſhield of Uthal! She ſaw it in Oſſian's hand. Her ſteps were diſtracted on the heath. She flew. She found him. She fell. Her ſoul came forth in a ſigh. Her hair is ſpread on his face. My burſting tears deſcend. A tomb aroſe on the unhappy. My ſong of woe was heard. “Reſt, hapleſs children of youth! Reſt at the noiſe of that moſſy ſtream! The virgins will ſee your tomb, at the chaſe, and turn away their weeping eyes. Your fame will be in ſong. The voice of the harp will be heard in your praiſe. The daughters of Selma ſhall hear it! your renown ſhall be in other lands. Reſt, children of youth, at the noiſe of the moſſy ſtream!”

Two days we remained on the coaſt. The heroes of Berrathon convened. We brought Larthmor to his halls. The feaſt of ſhells is ſpread. The joy of the aged was great. He looked to the arms of his fathers, the arms which he left in his hall, when the pride of Uthal roſe. We were renowned before Larthmor. He bleſſed the chiefs of Morven. He knew not that his ſon was low, the ſtately ſtrength of Uthal! They had told that he had retired to the woods, with the tears of grief. They had told it, but he was ſilent in the tomb of Rothma's heath.

On the fourth day we raiſed our ſails, to the roar of the northern wind. Larthmor came to the coaſt. His bards exalted the ſong. The joy of the king was great, he looked to Rothma's gloomy heath. He ſaw the tomb of his ſon. The memory of Uthal roſe. “Who of my heroes,” he ſaid, “lies there? he ſeems to have been of the kings of men. Was he renowned in my halls before the pride of Uthal roſe? Ye are ſilent, ſons of Berrathon! is the king of heroes low? My heart melts for thee, O Uthal! though thy hand was againſt thy father. O that I had remained in the cave! that my ſon had dwelt in Finthormo! I might have heard the tread of his feet! when he went to the chaſe of the boar. I might have heard his voice on the blaſt of my cave. Then would my ſoul be glad; but now darkneſs dwells in my halls.”

Such were my deeds; ſon of Alpin, when the arm of my youth was ſtrong. Such 15) the actions of Toſcar, the car-borne ſon of Conloch. But Toſcar is on his flying cloud. I am alone at Lutha. My voice is like the laſt ſound of the wind, when it forſakes the woods. But Oſſian ſhall not be long alone. He ſees the miſt that ſhall receive his ghoſt. He beholds the miſt that ſhall form his robe, when he appears on his hills. The ſons of feeble men ſhall behold me, and admire the ſtature of the chiefs of old. They ſhall creep to their caves. They ſhall look to the ſky with fear: for my ſteps ſhall be in the clouds. Darkneſs ſhall roll on my ſide.

Lead, ſon of Alpin, lead the aged to his woods. The winds begin to riſe. The dark wave of the lake reſounds. Bends there not a tree from Mora with its branches bare? It bends, ſon of Alpin, in the ruſtling blaſt. My harp hangs on a blaſted branch. The ſound of its ſtrings is mournful. Does the wind touch thee, O harp, or is it ſome paſſing ghoſt? It is the hand of Malvina! Bring me the harp, ſon of Alpin. Another ſong ſhall riſe. My ſoul ſhall depart in the ſound. My fathers ſhall hear it in their airy hall. Their dim faces ſhall hang, with joy, from their clouds; and their hands receive their ſon. The aged oak bends over the ſtream. It ſighs with all its moſs. The withered fern whiſtles near, and mixes, as it waves, with Oſſian's hair.

“Strike the harp, and raiſe the ſong: be near, with all your wings, ye winds. Bear the mournful ſound away to Fingal's airy hall. Bear it to Fingal's hall, that he may hear the voice of his ſon. The voice of him that praiſed the mighty!

The blaſt of the north opens thy gates, O king! I behold thee ſitting on miſt, dimly gleaming in all thine arms. Thy form now is not the terror of the valiant. It is like a watery cloud, when we ſee the ſtars behind it, with their weeping eyes. Thy ſhield is the aged moon: thy ſword a vapour half-kindled with fire. Dim and feeble is the chief, who travelled in brightneſs before! But thy ſteps 16) are on the winds of the deſert. The ſtorms are darkening in thy hand. Thou takeſt the ſun in thy wrath, and hideſt him in thy clouds. The ſons of little men are afraid. A thouſand ſhowers deſcend. But, when thou comeſt forth in thy mildneſs, the gale of the morning is near thy courſe. The ſun laughs in his blue fields. The grey ſtream winds in its vale. The buſhes ſhake their green heads in the wind. The roes bound towards the deſert”

“There is a murmur in the heath! the ſtormy winds abate! I hear the voice of Fingal. Long has it been abſent from mine ear! ›Come, Oſſian, come away,‹ he ſay. Fingal has received his fame. We paſſed away, like flames that had ſhone for a ſeaſon. Our departure was in renown. Though the plains of our battles are dark and ſilent, our fame is in the four grey ſtones. The voice of Oſſian has been heard. The harp has been ſtrung in Selma. ›Come, Oſſian, come away,‹ he ſays, ›come, fly with thy fathers on clouds.‹ I come, I come, thou king of men! The life of Oſſian fails. I begin to vaniſh on Cona. My ſteps are not ſeen in Selma. Beſide the ſtone of Mora I ſhall fall aſleep. The winds whiſtling in my grey hair, ſhall not awaken me. Depart on thy wings, O wind! thou canſt not diſturb the reſt of the bard. The night is long, but his eyes are heavy. Depart, thou ruſtling blaſt.”

“But why art thou ſad, ſon of Fingal? Why grows the cloud of thy ſoul? The chiefs of other times are departed. They have gone, without their fame. The ſons of future years ſhall paſs away. Another race ſhall ariſe. The people are like the waves of ocean: like the leaves of woody Morven, they paſs away in the ruſtling blaſt, and other leaves lift their green heads on high.”

Did thy beauty laſt, O Ryno? 17) Stood the ſtrength of car-borne Oſcar? Fingal himſelf departed. The halls of his fathers forgot his ſteps. Shall thou then remain, thou aged bard! when the mighty have failed? But my fame ſhall remain, and grow like the oak of Morven, which lifts its broad head to the ſtorm, and rejoices in the courſe of the wind!





Lutha, ſwift ſtream. 


His father was one of Fingal's principal bards, and he had a poetical genius. 


Oſſian ſpeaks. He calls Malvina a beam of light, and continues the metaphor throughout the paragraph. 


The deſcription of this ideal palace of Fingal is agreeable to the notions of thoſe times concerning the ſtate of the deceaſed, who were ſuppoſed to purſue after death the pleaſures and employments of their former life. The ſituation of the Celtic heroes in their ſeparate ſtate, if not entirely happy, is more agreeable than the notions of the ancient Greeks concerning their departed heroes. 


Oſſian, who had a great friendſhip for Malvina, both on account of her love for his ſon Oſcar, and her attention to himſelf. 


That is, the young virgins who ſung the funeral elegy over her tomb. 


Tradition is entirely ſilent concerning what paſſed in the north immediately after the death of Fingal and all his heroes; by which it would ſeem that the actions of their ſucceſſors were not to be compared to thoſe of the renowned Fingalians. 


Toſcar was the ſon of that Conloch who was alſo father to the lady whoſe unfortunate death is related in the laſt epiſode of the ſecond book of Fingal. 


Berrathon, a promontory in the midſt of waves. 


The meaning is that Fingal remembered his own great actions, and conſequently would not ſully them by engaging in a petty war againſt Uthal, who was ſo far his inferior in valour and power.< 


Nina-thoma, the daughter of Torthóma, who had been confined to a deſert iſland by her lover Uthal. 


Finthormo, the palace of Uthal. 


Oſſian might have thought that his killing a boar on his firſt landing in Berrathon was a good omen of his future ſucceſs in that iſland. The preſent Highlanders look with a degree of ſuperſtition upon the ſucceſs of their firſt action after they have engaged in any deſperate undertaking. 


To mourn over the fall of their enemies was a practice univerſal among the Celtic heroes. This is more agreeable to humanity than the ſhameful inſulting of the dead ſo common in Homer, and after him ſervilely copied by all his imitators (the humane Virgil not excepted) who have been more ſucceſſful in borrowing the imperfections of that great poet than in their imitations of his beauties. 


Oſſian ſpeaks. 


This deſcription of the power of Fingal over the winds and ſtorms, and the image of his taking the ſun and hiding him in the clouds, do not correſpond with the preceding paragraph, where he is repreſented as a feeble ghoſt, and no more the TERROR OF THE VALIANT; but it agrees with the notion of the times concerning the ſouls of the deceaſed, who, it was ſuppoſed, had the command of the winds and ſtorms but took no concern in the affairs of men. 


Ryno the ſon of Fingal, who was killed in Ireland in the war againſt Swaran, was remarkable for the beauty of his perſon, his ſwiftneſs, and great exploits. Minvâne the daughter of Morni, and ſiſter to Gaul, was in love with Ryno. Her lamentation over her lover follows:

She, bluſhing ſad from Morven's rocks, bends over the darkly-rolling ſea. She ſees the youth in all their arms. Where, Ryno, where art thou?

Our dark looks told that he was low! That pale the hero flew on clouds! That in the graſs of Morven's hills his feeble voice was heard in wind!

And is the ſon of Fingal fallen on Ullin's moſſy plains? Strong was the arm that vanquiſhed him! Ah me! I am alone!

Alone I ſhall not be, ye winds! that lift my dark-brown hair. My ſighs ſhall not long mix with your ſtream; for I muſt ſleep with Ryno.

I ſee thee not, with beauty's ſteps, returning from the chaſe. The night is round Minvâne's love. Dark ſilence dwells with Ryno.

Where are thy dogs, and where thy bow? Thy ſhield that was ſo ſtrong? Thy ſword like heaven's deſcending fire? The bloody ſpear of Ryno!

I ſee them mixed in thy deep ſhip; I ſee them ſtained with blood. No arms are in thy narrow hall, O darkly-dwelling Ryno!

When will the morning come, and ſay, “Ariſe, thou king of ſpears ariſe, the hunters are abroad. The hinds are near thee, Ryno!”

Away, thou fair-haired morning, away! the ſlumbering king hears thee not! The hinds bound over his narrow tomb; for death dwells round young Ryno.

But I will tread ſoftly, my king! and ſteal to the bed of thy repoſe. Minvâne will lie in ſilence, nor diſturb the ſlumbering Ryno.

The maids ſhall ſeek me: but they ſhall not find me: they ſhall follow my departure with ſongs. But I ſhall not hear you; O maids! I ſleep with fair-haired Ryno.