by James Macpherson
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 neighboring 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 Fir-bolg 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 Lego ascend, at times, gray-bosomed mists; when the gates of the west are closed, on the sun's eagle eye. Wide, over Lara's stream, is poured the vapor dark and deep: the moon, like a dim shield, lay 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, they roll the mist a gray 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 gray 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 clothed 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 my 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 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 vales arose the voice of deaths. The harps 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 descended 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 frightened 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 stopt. 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 fails. Loud echoes Lubar'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 beams, 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 signs on night."
"Let the warrior roll his signs," 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! Lie, 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, (she trembling turned away,) "long have I marked thee in thy 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 bid'st 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; gray in his locks of age, dwells Clonmal 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 the 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 shouldst fall, I am in the land of strangers; O send thy voice from thy cloud, to the midst 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, of Clunar, 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 in 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, 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 stopt 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 gray stream. 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 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 the tribes.
On each boss is placed a star of night: Canmathon with beams unshorn; Col-derna rising from a cloud; U-leicho robed in mist; and the soft beam of Cathlin glittering on a rock. Smiling, on its own blue wave, Rel-durath 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, rose the cloudless beams of Ton-théna, 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. 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-théna, and smiled from her parted cloud. Larthon 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 him 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 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 its 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-théna 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 raised the hall of Semla, to 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 looked from the hill of roes. Lumon of the foamy streams, thou risest on Fonar's soul!"
Mourning pours from the east. The misty heads of the mountains rise. Valleys show, on every side, the gray winding of the 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, that 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?