|Pages 413-424 of the 1856 Boston Edition|
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 Cael and Firbolg, 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 army 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 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 fields of war. Sudden is thy
change, my son, from what thou wert on dark Moilena! 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 fail?" Distant, silent 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 mayst 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
that heath. Shall my steps approach their host? I yielded to Oscar alone,
in the strife of the race, on 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; shewing their pale forms from the chinky
rocks: reminding them of the honour 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. Conar 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
"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 a
narrow 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 the 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 of blasts; which seize its
echoing streams and clothe them over 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 side-long-looking gloom of Maronan. Let
the pride of Foldath appear. The red-rolling eye of Turlutho. 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-
"Not unmarked," said Foldath. "were my steps before 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, pursuedst the "thistle's beard. With Moma's sons I
shall rush abroad, and find the foe on his dusky hills. Fingal shall lie without
his song, the gray-haired king of Selma."
"Dost thou think, thou feeble man," replied Cathmor, half enraged: " Dost
thou think Fingal can fall, 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 traveled 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 hall. 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-lama,
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-lama moved to the chase, with all her lovely steps. She met Cro-
thar in the narrow path. The love fell at once from her hand. She turned her
face away, and half hid it with her locks. The 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-lama.
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-lama.
"Battle on battle comes. Blood is poured on blood. The tombs of the valiant
rise. Erin's clouds are 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 [into]
the midst 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. He 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, he 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 aid 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'a 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 tile 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
"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 fall: when Lubar's stream shall roll away; then shall the traveler
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-
"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
"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 traveler 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
"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 descent 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?
He 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.