The Songs of Selma

Original Text: 
James Macpherson, trans., The poems of Ossian (London: W. Strahan and T. Becket, 1773). PR 3544 .A1 Robarts Library. Revised from Fingal; an ancient epic poem, in six books ... (London: T. Becket and P. A. DeHoudt, 1762). D-10 1729 Fisher Rare Book Library
Address to the evening star. An apostrophe to Fingal and his times. Minona
sings before the king the song of the unfortunate Colma; and the bards exhibit
other specimens of their poetical talents; according to an annual custom
established by the monarchs of the ancient Caledonians.
2unshorn head from thy cloud: thy steps are stately on thy hill. What
3dost thou behold in the plain? The stormy winds are laid. The murmur
4of the torrent comes from afar. Roaring waves climb the distant rock.
5The flies of evening are on their feeble wings; the hum of their course is
6on the field. What dost thou behold, fair light? But thou dost smile
7and depart. The waves come with joy around thee: they bathe thy
8lovely hair. Farewell, thou silent beam! Let the light of Ossian's soul
10  And it does arise in its strength! I behold my departed friends.
12like a watry column of mist; his heroes are around: And see the bards
14the soft complaint of Minona! How are ye changed, my friends, since
15the days of Selma's feast? when we contended, like gales of spring, as they
16fly along the hill, and bend by turns the feebly-whistling grass.
17  Minona came forth in her beauty; with down-cast look and tearful
18eye. Her hair flew slowly on the blast, that rushed unfrequent from the
19hill. The souls of the heroes were sad when she raised the tuneful voice.
22Salgar promised to come: but the night descended around. Hear the
23voice of Colma, when she sat alone on the hill!
24  It is night; I am alone, forlorn on the hills of storms. The wind is
25heard in the mountain. The torrent pours down the rock. No hut re-
26ceives me from the rain; forlorn on the hill of winds!
27  Rise, moon! from behind thy clouds. Stars of the night arise! Lead
28me, some light, to the place, where my love rests from the chace alone! his
29bow near him, unstrung: his dogs panting around him. But here I must
30sit alone, by the rock of the mossy stream. The stream and the wind roar
31aloud. I hear not the voice of my love! Why delays my Salgar, why the
32chief of the hill, his promise? Here is the rock, and here the tree! here
33is the roaring stream! Thou didst promise with night to be here. Ah!
34whither is my Salgar gone? With thee I would fly, from my father; with
35thee, from my brother of pride. Our race have long been foes; we are not
36foes, O Salgar!
37  Cease a little while, O wind! stream, be thou silent a while! let my
38voice be heard around. Let my wanderer hear me! Salgar! it is Colma
39who calls. Here is the tree, and the rock. Salgar, my love! I am here.
40Why delayest thou thy coming? Lo! the calm moon comes forth. The
41flood is bright in the vale. The rocks are grey on the steep. I see him
42not on the brow. His dogs come not before him, with tidings of his near
43approach. Here I must sit alone!
44  Who lie on the heath beside me? Are they my love and my brother?
45Speak to me, O my friends! To Colma they give no reply. Speak to me:
46I am alone! My soul is tormented with fears! Ah! they are dead!
47Their swords are red from the fight. O my brother! my brother! why
48hast thou slain my Salgar? why, O Salgar! hast thou slain my brother?
49Dear were ye both to me! what shall I say in your praise? Thou wert
50fair on the hill among thousands! he was terrible in fight. Speak to me;
51hear my voice; hear me, sons of my love! They are silent; silent for ever!
52Cold, cold are their breasts of clay! Oh! from the rock on the hill; from
53the top of the windy steep, speak, ye ghosts of the dead! speak, I will not
54be afraid! Whither are ye gone to rest? In what cave of the hill shall I
55find the departed? No feeble voice is on the gale: no answer half-drowned
56in the storm!
57  I sit in my grief! I wait for morning in my tears! Rear the tomb, ye
58friends of the dead. Close it not till Colma come. My life flies away
59like a dream: why should I stay behind? Here shall I rest with my
60friends, by the stream of the sounding rock. When night comes on the
61hill; when the loud winds arise; my ghost shall stand in the blast, and
62mourn the death of my friends. The hunter shall hear from his booth.
63He shall fear but love my voice! For sweet shall my voice be for my
64friends: pleasant were her friends to Colma!
66Our tears descended for Colma, and our souls were sad! Ullin came with
67his harp; he gave the song of Alpin. The voice of Alpin was pleasant:
68the soul of Ryno was a beam of fire! But they had rested in the narrow
69house: their voice had ceased in Selma. Ullin had returned, one day,
70from the chace, before the heroes fell. He heard their strife on the hill;
72mortal men! His soul was like the soul of Fingal; his sword like the
75Morar. She retired from the song of Ullin, like the moon in the west,
76when she foresees the shower, and hides her fair head in a cloud. I
77touched the harp, with Ullin; the song of mourning rose!


1] In 1760 Macpherson had published Fragments of Ancient Poetry Collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and Translated from the Gaelic or Erse Language. His later works, chief of which were the epics Fingal and Temora, were produced, as he said, with the assistance of several gentlemen in the Highlands. Declared by him and his supporters to be translations of ancient poems by Ossian or Oisin, a third-century Gaelic bard, the authenticity of these productions was challenged by some (including Dr. Samuel Johnson) who believed that they had been originally composed by Macpherson himself in English prose and that the Whole story of the translation was a fraud. Neither the theory of authentic translation or complete forgery seems tenable; Macpherson undoubtedly forged the ancient manuscripts he was called upon to produce, but be knew Gaelic, and as fragments of his poems were, it is alleged, traditionally current in the Highlands before he was born, it is believed most probable that he edited actual Gaelic poems and inserted passages of his own. Macpherson's note to the present poem runs in part as follows: "This poem fixes the antiquity of a custom, which is well known to have prevailed afterwards, in the north of Scotland, and in Ireland. The bards, at an annual feast, provided by the king or chief, repeated their poems, and such of them as were thought by him, worthy of being preserved, were carefully taught to their children, in order to have them transmitted to posterity. It was one of those occasions that afforded the subject of the present poem to Ossian ...." Selma was the capital or palace of Fingal; Fingal is the name given by Macpherson to Finn or Fionn, the father of Ossian and the hero of the Ossianic cycle of poems, appointed by his king to be head of the Fenians, a body of warriors whose exploits are celebrated in a great number of tales. Minona is the name of a female singer. Back to Line
11] Lora. The name of some body of water, frequently mentioned in the Ossian poems. Back to Line
13] Ullin. The chief bard and harper among the followers of Fingal.
Ryno. One of Fingal's sons, celebrated for his swiftness.
Alpin. Another bard of Fingal's: "Alpin is from the same root with Albion, or rather Albin, the ancient name of Britain; Alp, high Inland, or country. The present name of our island has its origin in the Celtic tongue; so that those who derived it from any other, betrayed their ignorance of the ancient language of our country. Breac't in, variegated island, so called from the face of the country, from the natives painting themselves, or from their party-coloured cloaths.' (Macpherson's note). Back to Line
20] Salgar. "Sealg-'er, a hunter." (Macpherson). Back to Line
21] Colma. "Culmath, a woman with fine hair." (Macpherson). Back to Line
65] Torman. "The son of Carthul, lord of I-mora, one of the western isles." (Macpherson). Back to Line
71] Morar. "Mór-ér, great man." (Macpherson). Back to Line
73] Oscar. A son of Ossian. Back to Line
74] carborne. "Car-borne is a title of honour bestowed, by Ossian, indiscriminately on every hero; as every chief, in his time, kept a chariot or litter by way of state." (Macpherson). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.765; RPO 1996-2000.