|Pages 399-413 of the 1856 Boston Edition|
Cairbar, the son of Borbar-duthal, lord of Atha in Connaught, the most potent chief of the race of Firbolg, having murdered, at Temora the royal palace, Cormac the son of Artho, the young king of Ireland, usurped the throne. Cormac was lineally descended from Conar the son of Trenmor, the great grandfather of Fingal, king of those Caledonians who inhabited the westerncoast of Scotland. Fingal resented the behavior of Cairbar, and resolved to pass over into Ireland, with an army, to re-establish the royal family on the Irish throne. Early intelligence of his designs coming to Cairbar, he assembled some of his tribes in Ulster, and at the same time ordered his brother Cathmor to follow him speedily with an army, from Temora. Such was the situation of affairs when the Caledonian invaders appeared on the coast of Ulster.
The poem opens in the morning. Cairbar is represented as retired from the rest of the army, when one of his scouts brought him news of the landing of Fingal. He assembles a council of his chiefs. Foldath the chief of Moma haughtily despises the enemy; and is reprimanded warmly by Malthos. Cairbar, after hearing their debate, orders a feast to be prepared, to which, by his bard Olla, he invites Oscar the son of Ossian; resolving to pick a quarrel with that hero, and so have some pretext for killing him. Oscar came to the feast;the quarrel happened; the followers of both fought, and Cairbar and Oscar fell by mutual wounds. The noise of the battle reached Fingal's army. The king came on, to the relief of Oscar, and the Irish fell back to the army of Cathmor, who was advanced to the banks of the river Lubar, on the heath of Moilena. Fingal, after mourning over his grandson, ordered Ullin the chief of his bards to carry his body to Morven, to be there interred. Night coming on, Althan, the son of Conachar, relates to the king the particulars of the murder of Cormac. Fillan, the son of Fingal, is sent to observe the motions of Cathmor by night, which concludes the action of the first day. The scene of this book is a plain, near the hill of Mora, which rose on the borders of the heath of Moilena, in Ulster.
The blue waves of Erin roll in light. The mountains are covered with day.
Trees shake their dusky heads in the breeze. Gray torrents pour their noisy
streams. Two green hills, with aged oaks, surround a narrow plain. The blue
course of a stream is there. On its banks stood Cairbar of Atha. His spear
supports the king: the red eye of his fear is sad. Cormac rises in his soul, with
all his ghastly wounds. The gray form of the youth appears in darkness. Blood
pours from his airy sides. Cairbar thrice threw his spear on earth. Thrice he
stroked his beard. His steps are short. He often stops. He tosses his sinewy
arms. He is like a cloud in the desert, varying its form to every blast. The
valleys are sad around, and fear, by turns, the shower! The king, at length,
resumed his soul. He took his pointed spear. He turned his eye to Moi-lena.
The scouts of blue ocean came. They came with steps of fear, and often looked
behind. Cairbar knew that the mighty were near! He called his gloomy chiefs.
The sounding steps of his warriors came. They drew, at once, their swords.
There Morlath stood with darkened face. Hidalla's long hair sighs in wind.
Red-haired Cormar bends on his spear, and rolls his side-long-looking eyes.
Wild is the look of Malthos from beneath two shaggy brows. Foldath stands,
like an oozy rock, that covers its dark sides with foam. His spear is like
Slimora's fir, that meets the wind of heaven. His shield is marked with the
strokes of battle. His red eye despises danger. These, and a thousand other
chiefs, surrounded the king of Erin, when the scout of ocean came, Mor-
annal, from streamy Moi-lena. His eyes hang forward from his face. His lips
are trembling, pale!
"Do the chiefs of Erin stand," he said, "silent as the grove of evening? Stand
they, like a silent wood, and Fingal on the coast? Fingal, who is terrible in
battle, the king of streamy Morven?" "Hast thou seen the warrior?" said
Cairbar, with a sigh. "Are his heroes many on the coast? Lifts he the spear of battle? Or comes
the king in peace?"
In peace he comes not, king of Erin. I have seen his forward spear. It is a meteor of
death. The blood of thousands is on its steel. He came first to the shore,
strong in the gray-hair of age. Full rose his sinewy limbs, as he strode in his might.
That sword is by his side, which gives no second wound. His shield is terrible,
like the bloody moon, ascending through a storm. Then came Ossian, king of songs.
Then Morni's son, the first of men. Connal leaps forward on his spear. Dermid
spreads his dark-brown locks. Fillan bends his bow, the young hunter of
streamy Moruth. But who is that before them, like the terrible course of a
stream! It is the son of Ossian, bright between his locks! His long hair falls on
his back. His dark brows are half-inclosed in steel. His sword hangs loose on
his side. His spear glitters as he moves. I fled from his terrible eyes, king of
"Then fly, thou feeble man," said Foldath's gloomy wrath. "Fly to the gray
streams of thy land, son of the little soul! Have not I seen that Oscar? I beheld
the chief in war. He is of the mighty in danger: but there are others who lift
the spear. Erin has many sons as brave, king of Temora of groves! Let Foldath
meet him in his strength. Let me stop this mighty stream. My spear is
covered with blood. My shield is like the wall of Tura!"
"Shall Foldath alone meet the foe?" replied the dark-browed Malthos? "Are
they not numerous on our coast, like the waters of many streams?
Are not these the chiefs, who vanquished Swaran, when the sons of green Erin fled?
Shall Foldath meet their bravest hero? Foldath of the heart of pride! take the
strength of the people! and let Malthos come. My sword is red with slaughter;
but who has heard my words!"
"Sons of green Erin," said Hidalla, "let not Fingal hear your words. The foe
might rejoice, and his arm be strong in the land. Ye are brave, O warriors! Ye
are tempests in war. Ye are, like storms, which meet the rocks without fear,
and overturn the woods. But let us move in our strength, slow as a gathered
cloud! Then shall the mighty tremble; the spear shall fall from the hand of
the valiant. We see the cloud of death, they will say, while shadows fly over
their face. Fingal will mourn in his age. He shall behold his flying fame. The
steps of his chiefs will cease in Morven. The moss of years shall grow in
Cairbar heard their words, in silence, like the cloud of a shower: it stands dark
on Cromla, till the lightning bursts its side. The valley gleams with heaven's
flame; the spirits of the storm rejoice. So stood the silent king of Temora; at
length his words broke forth. "Spread the feast on Moi-lena. Let my hundred
bards attend. Thou, red-haired Olla, take the harp of the king. Go to Oscar,
chief of swords. Bid Oscar to our joy. To-day we feast and hear the song; to-
morrow break the spears! Tell him that I have raised the tomb of Cathol; that
bards gave his friend to the winds. Tell him, that Cairbar has heard of his
fame at the stream of resounding Carun. Cathmor, my brother, is not here.
He is not here with his thousands, and our arms are weak. Cathmor is a foe
to strife at the feast! His soul is bright as that sun! But Cairbar must fight with
Oscar, chiefs of woody Temora! His words for Cathol were many; the wrath of
Cairbar burns! He shall fall on Moi-lena. My fame shall rise in blood."
Their faces brightened round with joy. They spread over Moi-lena. The feast
of shells is prepared. The songs of bards arise. The chiefs of Selma heard their
joy. We thought that mighty Cathmor came. Cathmor, the friend of
strangers! the brother of red-haired Cairbar. Their souls were not the same.
The light of heaven was in the bosom of Cathmor. His towers rose on the
banks of Atha: seven paths led to his halls. Seven chiefs stood on the paths,
and called the stranger to the feast! But Cathmor dwelt in the wood, to shun
the voice of praise!
Olla came with his songs. Oscar went to Cairbar's feast. Three hundred
warriors strode, along Moi-lena of the streams. The gray dogs bounded on the
heath: Their howling reached afar. Fingal saw the departing hero. The soul of
the king was sad. He dreaded Cairbar's gloomy thoughts, amidst the feast of
shells. My son raised high the spear of Cormac. An hundred bards met him
with songs. Cairbar concealed with smiles, the death that was dark in his soul.
The feast is spread. The shells resound. Joy brightens the face of the host. But
it was like the parting beam of the sun, when he is to hide his red head in a
Cairbar rises in his arms. Darkness gathers on his brow. The hundred harps
cease at once. The clang of shields is heard. Far distant on the heath Olla raised
a song of woe. My son knew the sign of death; and rising, seized his spear.
"Oscar," said the dark-red Cairbar, "I behold the spear of Erin. The spear of
Temora glitters in thy hand, son of woody Morven! It was the pride of an hundred
kings. The death of heroes of old. Yield it, son of Ossian, yield it to car-borne Cairbar!"
"Shall I yield," Oscar replied, "the gift of Erin's injured king; the gift of fair-
haired Cormac, when Oscar scattered his foes? I came to Cormac's halls with
joy, when Swaran fled from Fingal. Gladness rose in the face of youth. He
gave the spear of Temora. Nor did he give it to the feeble: neither to the weak
in soul. The darkness of thy face is no storm to me; nor are thine eyes the
flame of death. Do I fear thy clanging shield? Tremble I at Olla's song? No:
Cairbar, frighten the feeble: Oscar is a rock!"
"Wilt thou not yield the spear?" replied the rising pride of Cairbar; "Are thy
words so mighty, because Fingal is near? Fingal with aged locks, from
Morven's hundred groves! He has fought with little men. But he must
vanish before Cairbar, like a thin pillar of mist before the winds of Atha!"
"Were he who fought with little men, near Atha's haughty chief: Atha's
chief would yield green Erin to avoid his rage! Speak not of the mighty, O
Cairbar! Turn thy sword on me. Our strength is equal: but Fingal is
renowned! the first of mortal men!"
Their people saw the darkening chiefs. Their crowding steps are heard
around. Their eyes roll in fire. A thousand swords are half-unsheathed. Red-
haired Olla raised the song of battle. The trembling joy of Oscar's soul arose:
the wonted joy of his soul, when Fingal's horn was heard. Dark as the
swelling wave of ocean before the rising winds, when it bends its head near
the coast, came on the host of Cairbar!
Daughter of Toscar! why that tear? He is not fallen yet. Many were the deaths
of his arm before my hero fell!
Behold they fall before my son, like groves in the
desert; when an angry ghost rushes through night, and takes their green
heads in his hand! Morlath falls. Maronnan dies. Conachar trembles in his
blood! Cairbar shrinks before Oscar's sword! He creeps in darkness behind a
stone. He lifts the spear in secret; he pierces my Oscar's side! He falls forward
on his shield: his knee sustains the chief. But still his spear is in his hand.
See, gloomy Cairbar falls! The steel pierced his forehead, and divided his red-
hair behind. He lay, like a shattered rock, which Cromla shakes from its
shaggy side, when the green-vallied Erin shakes its mountains, from sea to
But never more shall Oscar rise! He leans on his bossy shield. His spear is in
his terrible hand. Erin's sons stand distant and dark. Their shouts arise, like
crowded streams. Moi-lena echoes wide. Fingal heard the sound. He took the
spear of Selma. His steps are before us on the heath. He spoke the words of
woe. "I hear the noise of war. Young Oscar is alone. Rise, sons of Morven;
join the hero's sword!"
Ossian rushed along the heath. Fillan bounded over Moi-lena. Fingal strode
in his strength. The light of his shield is terrible. The sons of Erin saw it far
distant. They trembled in their souls. They knew that the wrath of the king
arose; and they foresaw their death. We first arrived. We fought. Erin's chiefs
withstood our rage. But when the king came, in the sound of his course, what
heart of steel could stand! Erin fled over Moi-lena. Death pursued their flight.
We saw Oscar on his shield. We saw the blood around. Silence darkened
every face. Each turned his back and wept. The king strove to hide his tears.
His gray beard whistled in the wind. He bends his head above the chief. His
words are mixed with sighs.
"Art thou fallen, O Oscar! in the midst of thy course? the heart of the aged beats
over thee! He sees thy coming wars! The wars which ought to come he sees!
They are cut off from thy fame! When shall joy dwell at Selma? When shall grief
depart from Morven? My sons fall by degrees: Fingal is the last of his race. My
fame begins to pass away. Mine age will be without friends. I shall sit a gray cloud
in my hall. I shall not hear the return of a son, in his sounding arms. Weep, ye heroes
of Morven! never more shall Oscar rise!"
And they did weep, O Fingal! Dear was the hero to their souls. He went out to
battle, and the foes vanished. He returned, in peace, amidst their joy. No
father mourned his son slain in youth: no brother his brother of love. They
fell, without tears; for the chief of the people is low! Bran is howling at his
feet: gloomy Luauth is sad, for he had often led them to the chase; to the
bounding roe of the desert!
When Oscar saw his friends around, his heaving breast arose. "The groans,"
he said, "of aged chiefs: The howling of my dogs: The sudden bursts of the
song of grief, have melted Oscar's soul. My soul, that never melted before. It
was like the steel of my sword. Ossian, carry me to my hills! Raise the stones
of my renown. Place the horn of a deer; place my sword by my side. The
torrent here after may raise the earth: the hunter may find the steel, and say,
"This has been Oscar's sword, the pride of other years!" Fallest thou, son of
my fame! Shall I never see thee, Oscar! When others hear of their sons, shall
I not hear of thee? The moss is on thy four gray stones. The mournful wind is
there. The battle shall be fought without thee. Thou shalt not pursue the
dark-brown hinds. When the warrior returns from battles, and tells of other
lands; "I have seen a tomb, "he will say, "by the roaring stream, the dark
dwelling of a chief. He fell by car-borne Oscar, the first of mortal men." I, perhaps, shall
hear his voice. A beam of joy will rise in my soul."
Night would have descended in sorrow, and morning returned in the
shadow of grief. Our chiefs would have stood, like cold dropping rocks on
Moi-lena, and have forgot the war; did not the king disperse his grief, and
raise his mighty voice. The chiefs, as new-waked from dreams, lift up their
"How long on Moi-lena shall we weep? How long pour in Erin our tears?
The mighty will not return. Oscar shall not rise in his strength. The valiant
must fall in their day, and be no more known on their hills. Where are our
fathers, O warriors! the chiefs of the times of old? They have set like stars that
have shone. We only hear the sound of their praise. But they were renowned
in their years; the terror of other times. Thus shall we pass away; in the day
our fall. Then let us be renowned when we may; and leave our fame behind
us, like the last beams of the sun, when he hides his red head in the west. The
traveler mourns his absence, thinking of the flame of his beams. Ullin, my
aged bard! take thou the ship of the king. Carry Oscar to Selma of harps. Let
the daughters of Morven weep. We must fight in Erin, for the race of fallen
Cormac. The days of my years begin to fail. I feel the weakness of my arm. My
fathers bend from their clouds, to receive their gray-haired son. But before I
go hence, one beam of fame shall rise. My days shall end, as my years begun,
in fame. My life shall be one stream of light to bards of other times!"
Ullin raised his white sails. The wind of the south came forth. He bounded
on the waves toward Selma. I remained in my grief, but my words were not
heard. The feast is spread on Moi-lena. An hundred heroes
reared the tomb of Cairbar. No song is raised over the chief. His soul had been
dark and bloody. The bards remembered the fall of Cormac! what could they
say in Cairbar's praise?
Night came rolling down. The light of an hundred oaks arose. Fingal sat
beneath a tree. Old Althan stood in the midst. He told the tale of fallen
Cormac. Althan, the son of Conachar, the friend of car-borne Cuthullin. He
dwelt with Cormac in windy Temora, when Semo's son fell at Lego's stream.
The tale of Althan was mournful. The tear was in his eye when he spoke.
"The setting sun was yellow on Dora. Gray evening began to descend.
Temora's woods shook with the blast of the inconstant wind. A cloud
gathered in the west. A red star looked from behind its edge. I stood in the
wood alone. I saw a ghost on the darkening air! His stride extended from hill
to hill. His shield was dim on his side. It was the son of Semo. I knew the
warrior's face. But he passed away in his blast; and all was dark around! My
soul was sad. I went to the hall of shells. A thousand lights arose. The
hundred bards had strung the harp. Cormac stood in the midst, like the
morning star, when it rejoices on the eastern hill, and its young beams are
bathed in showers. Bright and silent is its progress aloft, but the cloud, that
shall hide it, is near! The sword of Artho was in the hand of the king. He
looked with joy on its polished studs: thrice he attempted to draw it, and
thrice he failed; his yellow locks are spread on his shoulders: his cheeks of
youth are red. I mourned over the beam of youth, for he was soon to set!
"'Althan!' he said, with a smile, 'didst thou behold my father? Heavy is the
sword of the king; surely his arm was strong. O that I were like him in battle,
when the rage of his wrath arose! then would I have met, with Cuthullin, the
car-borne son of Cantela! But years may come on, O Althan! and my arm be
strong. Hast thou heard of Semo's son, the ruler of high Temora? He might
have returned with his fame. He promised to return to-night. My bards wait
him with songs. My feast is spread in the hall of kings.'
"I heard Cormac in silence. My tears began to flow. I hid them with my aged
locks. The king perceived my grief. "Son of Conachar! "he said, "is the son of
Semo low? Why bursts the sigh in secret! Why descends the tear? Comes the
car-borne Torlath? Comes the sound of red-haired Cairbar? They come! for I
behold thy grief. Mossy Tura's chief is low! Shall I not rush to battle? But I
cannot lift the spear! O had mine arm the strength of Cuthullin, soon would
Cairbar fly; the fame of my fathers would be renewed; and the deeds of other
"He took his bow. The tears flow down from both his sparkling eyes. Grief saddens
round. The bards bend forward from their hundred harps. The lone blast
touched their trembling strings. The sound is sad and low! A voice is heard
at a distance, as of one in grief. It was Carril, of other times, who came
from dark Slimora. He told of the fall of Cuthullin. He told of his mighty deeds.
The people were scattered round his tomb. Their arms lay on the ground. They
had forgot the war; for he, their sire, was seen no more!
"'But who,' said the soft-voiced Carril, 'who come like bounding roes? Their
stature is like young trees in the valley, growing in a shower! Soft and ruddy
are their cheeks! Fearless souls look forth from their eyes!
Who but the sons of Usnoth, chief of streamy Etha? The people rise on
every side, like the strength of an half-extinguished fire, when the winds
come sudden from the desert, on their rustling wings. Sudden glows the dark
brow of the hill; the passing mariner lags, on his winds. The sound of
Caithbat's shield was heard. The warriors saw Cuthullin in Nathos. So rolled
his sparkling eyes! his steps were such on heath! Battles are fought at Lego.
The sword of Nathos prevails. Soon shalt thou behold him in thy halls, king
of Temora of groves!"
"Soon may I behold the chief!" replied the blue-eyed king. "But my soul is sad
for Cuthullin. His voice was pleasant in mine ear. Often have we moved, on
Dora, to the chase of the dark-brown hinds. His bow was unerring on the
hills. He spoke of mighty men. He told of the deeds of my fathers. I felt my
rising joy. But sit thou at the feast, O Carril, I have often heard thy voice. Sing
in praise of Cuthullin. Sing of Nathos of Etha!
"Day rose on Temora, with all the beams of the east. Crathin came to the hall,
the son of old Gellama. "I behold," he said, "a cloud in the desert, king of
Erin! a cloud it seemed at first, but now a crowd of men! One strides before
them in his strength. His red hair flies in the wind. His shield glitters to the
beam of the east. His spear is in his hand." "Call him to the feast of Temora,"
replied the brightening king. "My hall is the house of strangers, son of
generous Gellama! It is perhaps the chief of Etha, coming in all his renown.
Hail, mighty stranger! art thou of the friends of Cormac? But Carril, he is
dark, and unlovely. He draws his sword. Is that the son of Usnoth, bard of the
times of old?"
"'It is not the son of Usnoth!" said Carril. "It is Cairbar thy foe.' 'Why comest
thou in thy arms to Temora? chief of the gloomy brow. Let not thy sword rise
against Cormac! Whither dost thou turn thy speed?" He passed on in
darkness. He seized the hand of the king. Cormac foresaw his death;
the rage of his eyes arose. "Retire, thou chief of Atha! Nathos comes with war.
Thou art bold in Cormac's hall, for his arm is weak." The sword entered
the side of the king. He fell in the halls of his fathers. His fair hair is in the dust.
His blood is smoking round.
Art thou fallen in thy halls!" said Carril. "O son of noble Artho. The shield of
Cuthullin was not near. Nor the spear of thy father. Mournful are the
mountains of Erin, for the chief of the people is low! Blest be thy soul, O
Cormac! Thou art darkened in thy youth."
His words came to the ear of Cairbar. He closed us in the midst of darkness.
He feared to stretch his sword to the bards, though his soul was dark. Long we
pined alone! At length the noble Cathmor came. He heard our voice from the
cave. He turned the eye of his wrath on Cairbar.
"'Brother of Cathmor," he said, "how long wilt thou pain my soul? Thy heart
is a rock. Thy thoughts are dark and bloody! But thou art the brother of
Cathmor; and Cathmor shall shine in thy war. But my soul is not like thine:
thou feeble hand in fight! The light of my bosom is stained with thy deeds.
Bards will not sing of my renown: They may say, "Cathmor was brave; but he
fought for gloomy Cairbar. "They will pass over my tomb in silence. My fame
shall not be heard. Cairbar! loose the bards. They are the sons of future times.
Their voice shall be heard in other years; after the kings of Temora have
failed." We came for that the words of the chief. We saw him in his strength.
He was like thy youth, O Fingal, when thou first didst lift the spear. His face
was like the plain of the sun, when it is bright. No darkness traveled over his brow.
But he came with his thousands to aid the red-haired Cairbar. Now he comes
to revenge his death, O king of woody Morven!"
"Let Cathmor come," replied the king. "I love a foe so great. His soul is bright.
His arm is strong. His battles are full of fame. But the little soul is a vapour
that hovers round the marshy lake. It never rises on the green hill lest the
winds should meet it there. Its dwelling is in the cave, it sends forth the dart
of death! Our young heroes, O warriors, are like the renown of our fathers.
They fight in youth. They fall. Their names are in song. Fingal is amid his
darkening years. He must not fall, as an aged oak, across a secret stream. Near
it are the steps of the hunter, as it lies beneath the wind. "How has that tree
fallen?" he says, and, whistling, strides along. Raise the song of joy, ye bards
of Morven. Let our souls forget the past. The red stars look on us from clouds,
and silently descend. Soon shall the gray beam of the morning rise, and shew
us the foes of Cormac. Fillan! my son, take thou the spear of the king. Go to
Mora's dark-brown side. Let thine eyes travel over the heath. Observe the
foes of Fingal: Observe the course of generous Cathmor. I hear a distant
sound, like falling rocks in the desert. But strike thou thy shield, at times, that
they may not come through night, and the fame of Morven cease. I begin to
be alone, my son. I dread the fall of my renown!"
The voice of bards arose. The king leaned on the shield of Trenmor. Sleep
descended on his eyes. His future battles arose in his dreams. The host are
sleeping around. Dark-haired Fillan observes the foe. His steps are on a
distant hill. We hear, at times, his clanging shield.