Page images

* of the moon, when it foretcls the storm." And by a very fanciful and uncommon allusion, it is said of Cormac, who was to die in his early years, " Nor long shait? "thou lift the spear, mildly shining beam of youth '. "Death stands dim behind thee, like the darkened hall "of the moon behind its growing light."

Another instance of the same nature may be taken from mist, which, as being a very familiar appearance in the country of Ossian, lie applies to a variety of purposes, and pursues through a great many forms. Sometimes, which one would hardly expect, he employs it to heighten the appearance of a beautiful object. The hair of Morna is " like the mist of Cromla, .' when it curls on the rock, and shines to the beam of "the west."—" The song comes with its music to "melt and please the ear. It is like soft mist, that rising "from a lake, pours on the silent vale. The green "flowers are filled with dew. The sun returns in its "strength and the mist is gone "." But, for the most part, mist is employed as a similitude of some disagreeable or terrible object. "The soul of Nathos was sad, "like the sun in the day of mist, when his face is wa"tery and dim." "The darkness of old age comes "like the mist of the desart." "The face of a ghost is "pale as the mist of Cromla." "The gloom of battle '• is rolled along as a mist that is poured on the valley, "when storms invade the silent sun-shine of heaven." Fame suddenly departing, is likened to " mist that flies "away before the rustling wind of the vale:" A ghost, slowly vanishing, to " mist that melts by degrees on "the sunny hill." Cairbar, after his treacherous assassination of Oscar, is compared to a pestilential fog. "I love a foe like Cathmor," says Fingal, " his soul is "great; his arm is strong; his battles are full of fame. "But the little soul is like a vapour that hovers round "the marshy lake. It never rises on the green hill, lest "the winds ireet it there. Its dwelling is in the cave; "and it sends forth the dart of death." This is a simile highly finished. But there is another which is still more striking, founded also on mist, in the fourth book of Temora. Two factious chiefs are contending; Cathmor the king interposes, rebukes and silences them. The poet intends to give us the highest idea of Cathmor's superiority; and most effectually accomplished his intention by the following happy image. "They "sunk from the king on either side, like two columns "of morning mist, when the sun rises between them "on his glittering rocks. Dark is their rolling on ei"ther side; each towards its reedy pool." These instances may sufficiently shew with what richness of imagination Ossian's comparisons abound, and at the same time, with what propriety of judgment they are employed. If his field was narrow, it must be admitted to have been, as well cultivated as its extent would allow. . .

v There is a remarkahle propriety in this comparison. It i, intended to explain tha effect of. soft and mournful music. Armiu appears disturbed at a performance of this kind. Carmor says to him, " why bursts the sigh of Armln t Is-there a cause to "mourn 1 The song comes with its music, to melt and please the ear. It is bke the « soft mist," Sec. That is, such mournfui songs have a happy effect to soften thp heart, and to improve it by tender emotions, as the moisture of the mist nourish..^ the llo-a-ers; whilst the sadness they occasion is only transient, and soon dispelled uy the succeeding occupations anaam^elrients of lifee " the r*» rsSuta, lails slrsns^ •. anatfcemcit is gone. ..

As it is usual to judge of poets from a comparison of their similies more than of other passages, it will per. haps be agreeable to the reader, to see how Homer and Ossian have conducted some images of the same kind. This might be shown in many instances. For as the great objects of nature are common to the poets of all nations, and make the general storehouse of all imagery, the ground-work of their comparisons must of course be frequently the same. I shall select only a few of the most consideiable from boih poets. Mr Pope's translation of Homer can be of no use to us here. The parallel is altogether unfair between prose, anil the imposing harmony of flowing numbers. It is only by viewing Homer in the simplicity of a prose translation, that we can form any comparison between the two bards.

The shock of two encountering armies, the noise and the tumult of battle, afford one of the most grand and awful subjects of description; on which all epic poets have exerted their strength. Let us first hear Homer. The following description is a favourite one, for we find it twice repeated in the same wordss1". "When "now the conflicting hosts joined in the field of battle, "then were mutually opposed shields and swords, and "the strength of armed men. The bossy bucklers "were dashed against each other. The universal tu"mult rose. There were mingled the triumphant shouts "and the dying groans of the victors and the van"quished. The earth streamed with blood. As when "winter torrents rushing from the mountains, pour "into a narrow valley their violent waters. They issue "from a thousand springs, and mix in the hollowed "channel. The distant shepherd hears on the moun"tain their roar from afar. Such was the terror and "the shout of the engaging armies." In another passage, the poet, much in the manner of Ossian, heaps simile on simile, to express the vastness of the idea with which his imagination seems to labour. "With "a mighty shout the hosts engage. Not so loud roars "the wave of ocean, when driven against the shore by "the whole force of the boisterous north; not so loud "in the woods of the mountain, the noise of the flame, "when rising in its fury to consume the forest; not so. "loud the wind among the lofty oaks, when the wrath "of the storm rages; as was the clamour of the Greeks "and Trojans, when, roaring terrible, they rushed "against each other"."

To these descriptions and similies, we may oppose the following from Ossian, and leave the reader to judge between them. He will had images of the same kind employed, commonly less extended; but thrown forth with a glowing rapidity which characterises our poet. "As autumn's dark storms pour from two echoing "hills, towards each other approached the heroes. As "two dark streams from high rocks meet, and mix, "and roar on the plain; loud, rough, and dark in bat"tie, meet Lochlin and Inisfail. Chief mixes his "strokes with chief, and man with man. .Steel clang'< ing, sounded on steel. Helmets are cleft on high;

.w Iliadiv. 446. an.1 Tli-..t «llI . fin. x Ilud yiv. 393.

"blood bursts and smokes around. As the troubled "noise of the ocean, when roll the waves on high; as "the last peal of the thunder of heaven, such is the "noise of battle. As roll a thousand waves to the "rock, so Swaran's host came on; as meets a rock a "thousand waves, so Inisfail met Swaran. Death raises "all his voices around, and mixes with the sound of *' shields. The field echoes from wing to wing, as a *' hundred hammers that rise by turns on the red son "of the furnace. As an hundred winds on Morven; as "the streams of an hundred hills; as clouds fly succes"sive over hebven; or, as the dark ocean assaults the "shore of the desart; so roaring, so vast, so terrible, "the armies mixed on Lena's echoing heath." In several of these images, there is a remarkable similarity to Homer's; but what follows is superior to any comparison that Homer uses on this subject. "The groan "of the people spread over the hills; it was like the "thunder of night, when the cloud bursts on Cona; "and a thousand ghosts shriek at once on the hollow "wind." Never was an image of more awful sublimity employed to heighten the terror of battle.

Both poets compare the appearance of an army approaching, to the gathering of dark clouds. " As when "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," savs Ossian, "over the desart, 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 cloud tinged with lightning, is a sublime idea; but the shepherd and his flock, render Homer's simile more pictoresque. Thi» is frequently (he difference between the two poets. Os sian gives no more than the main image, strong a»4


lull. 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"." 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 threatened rain, retire slowly behind the hills." The pictore of Oithona, after she had determined to die, is lively and delicate. "Her soul was resolved, "and the tear was dried from her wildly-rooking 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 pr„~t9. "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 reds light; the spirits of the storm "rejoice. So stood the silent king of Temora; at "length his wqrds are heard."

Homer's comparison of Achilles to the Dog-star, is very sublime. .. Priam beheld him rushing along the "plain, shining in his armour, like the star of autumn; "bright are its beams, distinguished amidst the multi"tude of stars in the dark hour of night. It rises in "its splendor; but its splendor is fatal; betokening "to miserable men the desuoying heat"." The first appearance of Fingal is, in like manner, compared by Ossian to a star or meteor. "Fingal, tall in his ship,

« PreviousContinue »