by James Macpherson
This book opens, we may suppose, about midnight, with a soliloquy of Ossian, who had retired from the rest of the army, to mourn for his son Oscar. Upon hearing the noise of Cathmor's army approaching, he went to find out his brother Fillan, who kept the watch on the hill of Mora, in the front of Fingal's army. In the conversation of the brothers, the episode of Conar, the son of Trenmor, who was the first king of Ireland, is introduced, which lays open the origin of the contests between the Gael and the Fir-bolg, the two nations who first possessed themselves of that island. Ossian kindles a fire on Mora: upon which Cathmor desisted from the design he had formed of surprising the army of the Caledonians. He calls a council of his chiefs: reprimands Foldath for advising a night attack, as the Irish were so much superior in number to the enemy. The bard Fonar introduces the story of Crothar, the ancestor of the king, which throws further light on the history of Ireland, and the original pretensions of the family of Atha to the throne of that kingdom. The Irish chiefs lie down to rest, and Cathmor himself undertakes the watch. In his circuit round the army he is met by Ossian. The interview of the two heroes is described. Cathmor obtains a promise from Ossian to order a funeral elegy to be sung over the grave of Cairbar: it being the opinion of the times, that the souls of the dead could not be happy till their elegies were sung by a bard. Morning comes. Cathmor and Ossian part; and the latter, casually meeting with Carril the son of Kinfena, sends that bard, with a funeral song, to the tomb of Cairbar.
FATHER of heroes! O Trenmor! High dweller of eddying winds! where the dark-red thunder marks the troubled clouds! Open thou thy stormy halls. Let the bards of old be near. Let them draw near with songs and their half viewless harps. No dweller of misty valley comes! No hunter unknown at his streams! It is the car-borne Oscar, from the field of war. Sudden is thy change, my son, from what thou wert on dark Moi-lena! The blast folds thee in its skirt, and rustles through the sky! Dost thou not behold thy father, at the stream of night? The chiefs of Morven sleep far distant. They have lost no son! But ye have lost a hero, chiefs of resounding Morven! Who could equal his strength, when battle rolled against his side, like the darkness of crowded waters? Why this cloud on Ossian's soul? It ought to burn in danger. Erin is near with her host. The king of Selma is alone. Alone thou shalt not be, my father, while I can lift the spear!
I rose in all my arms. I rose and listened to the wind. The shield of Fillan is not heard. I tremble for the son of Fingal. "Why should the foe come by night? Why should the dark-haired warrior fall?" Distant, sullen murmurs rise; like the noise of the lake of Lego, when its waters shrink, in the days of frost, and all its bursting ice resounds. The people of Lara look to heaven, and foresee the storm! My steps are forward on the heath. The spear of Oscar is in my hand? Red stars looked from high. I gleamed along the night.
I saw Fillan silent before me, bending forward from Mora's rock. He heard the shout of the foe. The joy of his soul arose. He heard my sounding tread, and turned his lifted spear. "Comest thou, son of night, in peace? Or dost thou meet my wrath? The foes of Fingal are mine. Speak, or fear my steel. I stand not, in vain, the shield of Morven's race." "Never mayest thou stand in vain, son of blue-eyed Clatho! Fingal begins to be alone. Darkness gathers on the last of his days. Yet he has two sons who ought to shine in war. Who ought to be two beams of light, near the steps of his departure."
"Son of Fingal," replied the youth, "it is not long since I raised the spear. Few are the marks of my sword in war. But Fillan's soul is fire! The chiefs of Bolga crowd around the shield of generous Cathmor. Their gathering is on the heath. Shall my steps approach their host? I yielded to Oscar alone in the strife of the race of Cona!"
"Fillan, thou shalt not approach their host; nor fall before thy fame is known. My name is heard in song; when needful, I advance. From the skirts of night I shall view them over all their gleaming tribes. Why, Fillan, didst thou speak of Oscar? Why awake my sigh! I must forget the warrior, till the storm is rolled away. Sadness ought not to dwell in danger, nor the tear in the eye of war. Our fathers forgot their fallen sons, till the noise of arms was past. Then sorrow returned to the tomb, and the song of bards arose. The memory of those who fell quickly followed the departure of war: when the tumult of battle is past, the soul in silence melts away for the dead.
"Conar was the brother of Trathal, first of mortal men. His battles were on every coast. A thousand streams rolled down the blood of. his foes. His fame filled green Erin, like a pleasant gale. The nations gathered in Ullin, and they blessed the king; the king of the race of their fathers, from the land of Selma.
"The chiefs of the south were gathered, in the darkness of their pride. In the horrid cave of Moma they mixed their secret words. Thither often, they said, the spirits of their fathers came; showing their pale forms from the chinky rocks; reminding them of the honor of Bolga. 'Why should Conar reign,' they said, 'the son of resounding Morven?'
"They came forth, like the streams of the desert, with the roar of their hundred tribes. Cona was a rock before them: broken, they rolled on every side. But often they returned, and the sons of Selma fell. The king stood, among the tombs of his warriors. He darkly bent his mournful face. His soul was rolled into itself: and he had marked the place where he was to fall: when Trathal came, in his strength, his brother from cloudy Morven. Nor did he come alone. Colgar was at his side: Colgar the son of the king and of white-bosomed Solin-corma.
"As Trenmor, clothed with meteors, descends from the halls of thunder, pouring the dark storm before him over the troubled sea: so Colgar descended to battle, and wasted the echoing field. His father rejoiced over the hero: but an arrow came! His tomb was raised without a tear. The king was to revenge his son. He lightened forward in battle, till Bolga yielded at her streams!
"When peace returned to the land: when his blue waves bore the king to Morven: then he remembered his son, and poured the silent tear. Thrice did the bards, at the cave of Furmono, call the soul of Colgar. They called him to the hills of his land. He heard them in his mist. Trathal placed his sword in the cave, that the spirit of his son might rejoice."
"Colgar, son of Trathal," said Fillan, "thou wert renowned in youth! but the king hath not marked my sword, bright streaming on the field. I go forth with the crowd. I return without my fame. But the foe approaches, Ossian! I hear their murmur on the heath. The sound of their steps is like thunder, in the bosom of the ground, when the rocking hills shake their groves, and not a blast pours from the darkened sky!"
Ossian turned sudden on his spear. He raised the flame of an oak on high. I spread it large on Mora's wind. Cathmor stopt in his course. Gleaming he stood, like a rock, on whose sides are the wandering blasts; which seize its echoing streams, and clothe them with ice. So stood the friend of strangers! The winds lift his heavy locks. Thou art the tallest of the race of Erin, king of streamy Atha!
"First of bards" said Cathmor, "Fonar, call the chiefs of Erin. Call red-haired Cormar: dark-browed Malthos: the sidelong-looking gloom of Maronnan. Let the pride of Foldath appear. The red-rolling eye of Turlotho. Nor let Hidalla be forgot; his voice, in danger, is the sound of a shower, when it falls in the blasted vale, near Atha's falling stream. Pleasant is its sound on the plain, whilst broken thunder travels over the sky!"
They came in their clanging arms. They bent forward to his voice, as if a spirit of their fathers spoke from a cloud of night. Dreadful shone they to the light, like the fall of the stream of Bruno, when the meteor lights it, before the nightly stranger. Shuddering he stops in his journey, and looks up for the beam of the morn!
"Why delights Foldath," said the king, "to pour the blood of foes by night? Fails his arm in battle, in the beams of day? Few are the foes before us; why should we clothe us in shades? The valiant delight to shine in the battles of their land! Thy counsel was in vain, chief of Moma! The eyes of Morven do not sleep. They are watchful as eagles on their mossy rocks. Let each collect beneath his cloud the strength of his roaring tribe. To-morrow I move, in light, to meet the foes of Bolga! Mighty was he that is low, the race of Borbar-duthul!"
"Not unmarked," said Foldath, "were my steps be. fare thy race. In light, I met the foes of Cairbar. The warrior praised my deeds. But his stone was raised without a tear! No bard sung over Erin's king. Shall his foes rejoice along their mossy hills? No they must not rejoice! He was the friend of Foldath. Our words were mixed, in secret, in Moma's silent cave; whilst thou, a boy in the field, pursued'st the thistle's beard. With Moma's sons I shall rush abroad, and find the foe on his dusky hills. Fingal shall die without his song, the gray-haired king of Selma."
" Dost thou think, thou feeble man," replied Cathmor, half enraged: "Dost thou think Fingal can fail, without his fame, in Erin? Could the bards be silent at the tomb of Selma's king; the song would burst in secret! the spirit of the king would rejoice! It is when thou shalt fall, that the bard shall forget the song. Thou art dark, chief of Moma, though thine arm is a tempest in war. Do I forget the king of Erin, in his narrow house? My soul is not lost to Cairbar, the brother of my love! I marked the bright beams of joy which travelled over his cloudy mind, when I returned, with fame, to Atha of the streams."
Tall they removed, beneath the words of the king. Each to his own dark tribe; where, humming, they rolled on the heath, faint-glittering to the stars: like waves in a rocky bay, before the nightly wind. Beneath an oak lay the chief of Atha. His shield, a dusky round, hung high. Near him, against a rock, leaned the fair stranger of Inis-huna: that beam of light, with wandering locks, from Lumon of the roes. At a distance rose the voice of Fonar, with the deeds of the days of old. The song fails, at times, in Lubar's growing roar.
"Crothar," began the bard, first dwelt at Atha's mossy stream! A thousand oaks, from the mountains, formed his echoing hail. The gathering of the people
was there, around the feast of the blue-eyed king. But who, among his chiefs, was like the stately Crothar? Warriors kindled in his presence. The young sigh of the virgins rose. In Alnecma was the warrior honored: the first of the race of Bolga.
"He pursued the chase in Ullin: on the moss-covered top of Drumardo. From the wood looked the daughter of Cathmin, the blue-rolling eye of Con-láma. Her sigh rose in secret. She bent her head, amidst her wandering locks. The moon looked in, at night, and saw the white tossing of her arms; for she thought of the mighty Crothar in the season of dreams.
"Three days feasted Crothar with Cathmin. On the fourth they awaked the hinds. Con-láma moved to the chase, with all her lovely steps. She met Crothar in the narrow path. The bow fell at once from her hand. She turned her face away, and half hid it with her locks. The love of Crothar rose. He brought the white-bosomed maid to Atha. Bards raised the song in her presence. Joy dwelt round the daughter of Cathmin.
"The pride of Turloch rose, a youth who loved the white-handed Con-láma. He came, with battle, to Alnecma; to Atha of the roes. Cormul went forth to the strife, the brother of car-borne Crothar. He went forth, but he fell. The sigh of his people rose. Silent and tall across the stream, came the darkening strength of Crothar: he rolled the foe from Alnecma. He returned midst the joy of Con-láma.
"Battle on battle comes. Blood is poured on blood. The tombs of the valiant rise. Erin's clouds arc hung round with ghosts. The chiefs of the South gathered round the echoing shield of Crothar. He came, with death to the paths of the foe. The virgins wept, by the streams of Ullin. They looked the mist of the hill: no hunter descended from its folds. Silence darkened in the land. Blasts sighed lonely on grassy tombs.
"Descending like the eagle of heaven, with all his rustling winds, when he forsakes the blast with joy, the son of Trenmor came; Conar, arm of death, from Morven of the groves, lie poured his might along green Erin. Death dimly strode behind his sword. The sons of Bolga fled from his course, as from a stream, that, bursting from the stormy desert, rolls the fields together, with all their echoing woods Crothar met him in battle: but Alnecma's warriors fled. The king of Atha slowly retired, in the grief of his soul. He afterward shone in the south; but dim as the sun of autumn, when he visits, in his robes of mist, Lara of dark streams. 'The withered grass is covered with dew; the field, though bright, is sad."
"Why wakes the bard before me," said Cathmor, "the memory of those who fled? Has some ghost, from his dusky cloud, bent forward to thine ear; to frighten Cathmor from the field, with the tales of old? Dwellers of the skirts of night, your voice is but a blast to me; which takes the gray thistle's head, and strews its beard on streams. Within my bosom is a voice. Others hear it not. His soul forbids the king of Erin to shrink back from war."
Abashed, the bard sinks back on night; retired, lie bends above a stream. His thoughts are on the days of Atha, when Cathmor heard his song with joy. His tears came rolling down. The winds are in his beard. Erin sleeps around. No sleep comes down on Cathmor's eyes. Dark, in his soul, he saw the spirit of low-laid Cairbar. He saw him, without his song, rolled in a blast of night. He rose. His steps were round the host. He struck, at times, his echoing shield. The sound reached Ossian's ear on Mora's mossy brow.
"Fillan," I said, "the foes advance. I hear the shield of war. Stand thou in the narrow path. Ossian shall mark their course. if over my fall the host should pour; then be thy buckler heard. Awake the king on his heath, lest his fame should fly away." I strode in all my rattling arms; wide bounding over a stream that darkly winded in the field, before the king of Atha. Green Atha's king with lifted spear, came forward on my course. Now would we have mixed in horrid, fray, like two contending ghosts, that bending forward from two clouds, send forth the roaring winds; did not Ossian behold, on high, the helmet of Erin's kings. The eagle's wing spread above it, rustling in the breeze. A red star looked through the plumes. I stopt the lifted spear.
"The helmet of kings is before me! Who art thou, son of night? Shall Ossian's spear be renowned, when thou art lowly laid?" At once he dropt the gleaming lance. Growing before me seemed the form. He stretched his hand in night. He spoke the words of kings.
"Friend of the spirits of heroes, do I meet thee thus in shades? I have wished for thy stately steps in Atha, in the days of joy. Why should my spear now arise?' The sun must behold us, Ossian, when we bend, gleaming in the strife. Future warriors shall mark the place, and shuddering think of other years. They shall mark it, like the haunt of ghosts, pleasant and dreadful to the soul ."
"Shall it then be forgot," I said, "where we meet in peace? Is the remembrance of battles always pleasant to the soul? Do not we behold, with joy, the place where our fathers feasted? But our eyes are full of tears, on the fields of their war. This stone shall rise with all its moss and speak to other years. 'Here Cathmor and Ossian met; the warriors met in peace!' When thou, O stone, shalt fail: when Lubar's stream shall roll away; then shall the traveller come and bend here, perhaps, in rest. When the darkened moon is rolled over his head, our shadowy forms may come, and, mixing with his dreams, remind him of his place. But why turnest thou so dark away; son of Borbar-duthul?"
"Not forgot, son of Fingal, shall we ascend these winds. Our deeds are streams of light, before the eyes of bards. But darkness is rolled on Atha: the king is low without his song; still there was a beam towards Cathmor, from his stormy soul; like the moon in a cloud, amidst the dark-red course of thunder."
"Son of Erin," I replied, "my wrath dwells not in his earth. My hatred flies on eagle wings, from the foe that is low. He shall hear the song of bards. Cairbar shall rejoice on his winds."
Cathmor's swelling soul arose. He took the dagger from his side, and placed it gleaming in my hand. He placed it in my hand, with sighs, and silent strode away. Mine eyes followed his departure. He dimly gleamed, like the form of a ghost, which meets a traveller by night, on the dark-skirted heath. His words are dark, like songs of old: with morning strides the unfinished shade away!
Who comes from Luba's vale? from the skirts of the morning mist? The drops of heaven are on his head. His steps are in the paths of the sad. It is Carril of other times. He comes from Tura's silent cave. I behold it dark in the rock, through the thin folds of mist. There, perhaps, Cuthullin sits, on the blast which bends its trees. Pleasant is the song of the morning from the bard of Erin.
"The waves crowd away," said Carril." They crowd away for fear. They hear the sound of thy coming forth, O sun! Terrible is thy beauty, son of heaven, when death is descending on thy locks: when thou rollest thy vapors before thee, over the blasted host. But pleasant is thy beam to the hunter, sitting by the rock in a storm, when thou showest thyself from the parted cloud, and brightenest his dewy locks he looks down on the streamy vale, and beholds the de. scent of roes! How long shalt thou rise on war, and roll, a bloody shield, through heaven? I see the death of heroes, dark wandering over thy face!"
"Why wander the words of Carril?" I said. "Does the son of heaven mourn? lie is unstained in his course, ever rejoicing in his fire. Roll on, thou careless light. Thou too, perhaps, must fall. Thy darkening hour may seize thee, struggling as thou rollest through thy sky. But pleasant is the voice of the bard: pleasant to Ossian's soul! It is like the shower of the morning, when it comes through the rustling vale, on which the sun looks through mist, just rising from his rocks. But this is no time, O bard! to sit down, at the strife of song. Fingal is in arms on the vale. Thou seest the flaming shield of the king. His face darkens between his locks. He beholds the wide rolling of Erin. Does not Carril behold that tomb, beside the roaring stream? Three stones lift their gray heads, beneath a bending oak. A king is lowly laid! Give thou his soul to the wind. He is the brother of Cathmor! Open his airy hall! Let thy song be a stream of joy to Cairbar's darkened ghost!"