Page images
PDF

a shepherd,” says Homer, “beholds from the rock a cloud borne along the sea by the western wind; black as pitch it appears from afar sailing over the ocean, and carrying the dreadful storm. He shrinks at the sight, and drives his flock into the cave : such, under the Ajaces, moved on the dark, the thickened phalanx to the war.”*—“They came,” says Ossian, “over the desert like stormy clouds, when the winds roll them over the heath; their edges are tinged with lightning; and the echoing groves foresee the storm.” The edges of the clouds tinged with lightning, is a sublime idea: but the shepherd and his flock render Homer's simile more picturesque. This is frequently the dif. ference between the two poets. Ossian gives no more than the main image, strong and full: Homer adds circumstances and appendages, which amuse the fancy by enlivening the scenery. Homer compares the regular appearance of an army, to “clouds that are settled on the mountain-top, in the day of calmness, when the strength of the north wind sleeps.”f Ossian, with full as much propriety, compares the appearance of a disordered army, to “the mountain cloud, when the blast hath entered its womb, and scatters the curling gloom on every side.” Ossian's clouds assume a great many forms, and, as we might expect from his climate, are a fertile source of imagery to him. “The warriors followed their chiefs like the gathering of the rainy clouds behind the red meteors of heaven.” An army retreating without coming to action, is likened to “clouds, that having long threat. ened rain, retire slowly behind the hills.” The picture of Orthona, after she had determined to die, is lively and delicate. “Her soul was resolved, and the tear was dried from her wildly-looking eye. A troubled joy rose on her mind, like the red path of the lightning on a stormy cloud.” The image also of the gloomy Cairbar, meditating, in silence, the assassination of Oscar, until the moment came when his designs were ripe for execution, is extremely noble and complete in all its parts. “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 red light; the spirits of the strom rejoice. So stood the silent king of Temora; at length his words are heard.” Homer's comparison of Achilles to the Dog-Star, is very sublime. “Priam beheld him rushing along the plain, shining in his armor, like the star of autumn: bright are its beams, distinguished amidst the multitude of stars in the dark hour of night. It rises in its splendor; but its splendor is fatal; betokening to miserable men the destroying heat.” The first appearance of Fingal is, in like manner, compared by Ossian to a star or meteor. “Fingal, tall in his ship, stretched his bright lance before him. Terrible was the gleam of his steel; it was like the green meteor of death, setting in the heath of Malmor, when the traveller is alone, and the broad moon is darkened in heaven.” The hero's appearance in Homer is more magnificent; in Ossian, more terrible. A tree cut down, or overthrown by a storm, is a similitude frequent among poets for describing the fall of a warrior in battle. Homer employs it often But the most beautiful, by far, of his comparisons, founded on this object, indeed one of the most beautiful in the whole Iliad, is that on the death of Euphorbus. “As the young and verdant olive, which a man hath reared with care in a lonely field, where the springs of water

* Iliad, iv. 275. * Iliad, v 522

* Iliad, xxii. 26.

[ocr errors]

bubble around it; it is fair and flourishing; it is fan-
ned by the breath of all the winds, and loaded with
white blossoms; when the sudden blast of a whirlwind
descending, roots it out from its bed, and stretches it
on the dust.” To this, elegant as it is, we may op-
pose the following simile of Ossian's, relating to the
death of the three sons of Usnoth. “They fell, like
three young oaks which stood alone on the hill. The
traveller saw the lovely trees, and wondered how they
grew so lonely. The blast of the desert came by night,
and laid their green heads low. Next day he return-
ed; but they were withered, and the heath was bare.”
Malvina’s allusion to the same object, in her lamenta-
tion over Oscar, is so exquisitely tender, that I cannot
forbear giving it a place also. “I was a lovely tree
in thy presence, Oscar! with all my branches round
me. But thy death came, like a blast from the desert,
and laid my green head low. The spring returned
with its showers; but no leaf of mine arose.” Several
of Ossian's similes, taken from trees, are remarkably
beautiful, and diversified with well-chosen circum-
stances; such as that upon the death of Ryno and
Orla: “They have fallen like the oak of the desert;
when it lies across a stream, and withers in the wind
of the mountains.” Or that which Ossian applies to
himself: “I, like an ancient oak in Morven, moulder
alone in my place; the blast hath lopped my branches
away; and I tremble at the winds of the north.”
As Homer exalts his heroes by comparing them to
gods, Ossian makes the same use of comparisons taken
from spirits and ghosts. “Swaran roared in battle,
like the shrill spirit of a storm, that sits dim on the
clouds of Gormal, and enjoys the death of the mari.
ner.” His people gathered round Erragon, “like

* Iliad, xvii. 53.

storms around the ghost of night, when he calls them. from the top of Morven, and prepares to pour them on the land of the stranger.”—“They fell before my son, like groves in the desert, when an angry ghost rushes through night, and takes their green heads in his hand.” In such images, Ossian appears in his strength; for very seldom have supernatural beings been painted with so much sublimity, and such force of imagination, as by this poet. Even Homer, great as he is, must yield to him in similes formed upon these. Take, for instance, the following, which is the most remarkable of this kind in the Iliad. “Meriones followed Idomeneus to battle, like Mars, the destroyer of men, when he rushes to war. Terror, his beloved son, strong and fierce, attends him ; who fills with dismay the most valiant hero. They come from Thrace armed against the Ephyrians and Phlegyans; nor do they regard the prayers of either, but dispose of success at their will.” The idea here is undoubtedly noble, but observe what a figure Ossian sets before the astonished imagination, and with what sublimely-terrible circumstances he has heightened it. “He rushed, in the sound of his arms, like the dreadful spirit of Loda, when he comes in the roar of a thousand storms, and scatters battles from his eyes. He sits on a cloud over Lochlin's seas. His mighty hand is on his sword. The wind lifts his flaming locks. So terrible was Cuthullin in the day of his fame.” Homer's comparisons relate chiefly to martial subjects, to the appearances and motions of armies, the engagement and death of heroes, and the various incidents of war. In Ossian, we find a greater variety of other subjects, illustrated by similes, particularly the songs of bards, the beauty of women, the different circumstances of old age, sorrow, and private distress, which give occasion to much beautiful imagery. What, for instance, can be more delicate and moving, than the following simile of Oithona's, in her lamentation over the dishonor she had suffered 2 “Chief of Stru. mon.” replied the sighing maid, “why didst thou come over the dark blue wave to Nuath's mournful daughter Why did not I pass away in secret, like the flower of the rock, that lifts its fair head unseen and strews its withered leaves on the blast !” The music of bards, a favorite object with 6)ssian, is illustrated by a variety of the most beautiful appearances that are to be found in nature. It is compared to the calm shower of spring; to the dews of the morning on the hill of roes; to the face of the blue and still lake. Two similes on this subject I shall quote, because they would do honor to any of the most celebrated classics. The one is : “Sit thou on the heath, O bard' and let us hear thy voice; it is pleasant as the gale of the spring that sighs on the hunter's ear, when he awakens from dreams of joy, and has heard the music of the spirits of the hill.” The other contains a short but exquisitely tender image, accompanied with the finest poetical painting. “The music of Carril was like the memory of joys that are past, pleasant, and mournful to the soul. The ghosts of departed bards heard it from Slimora's side. Soft soulds spread along the wood; and the silent valleys of night rejoice.” What a figure would such imagery and such scenery have made, had they been presented to vo adorned with the sweetness and harmony of the Vir. gilian numbers! I have chosen all along to compare Ossian with Homer, rather than Virgil, for an obvious reason. There is a much nearer correspondence between the times and manners of the two former poets. Both

* Iliad, xiii. 298

« PreviousContinue »