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" blood bursts and smokes around. As the troabled “ 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 66 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 heaven; 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; 66 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," says 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 picturesque. This is frequently the difference between the two poets. Os can gives no more than the main image, strong and
lliad iv. 275.
pfull. 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 6 sleeps ?." Ossian, with full as much propriety, compares the appearance of a disordered army, to ".the « mountain cloud, when the blast hath entered its 56 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 picture of Oithona, after she had determined to die, is lively and delicate. “ Her soul was resolved, “ and the tear was dried from her wildiy-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 storm “ 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 bim 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 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 u 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 waos ter bubble around it'; it is fair and flourishing; it is “ fanned 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 PS stretches it on the dustb.” To this, elegant as it is, we may oppose 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 won“ dered how they grow so lonely. The blast of the “ desart came by night, and laid their green heads low. “ Next day he returned; but they were withered, and " the heath was bare.” Malvina's allusion to the same object, in her lamentation over Oscar, is so exquisitely tender, that I cannot forbear giving it a place also. “ Í “ was a lovely tree in thy presence, Oscar! with all “ my branches round me. But thy death came like a “ blast from the desart, 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 circumstances ; such as that upon the death of Ryno and Orla : “ They have fallen like the “ oak of the desart; 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 mariner.” His people gathered around Erragon, “ like 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 desart, 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 similies formed upon these. Take, for instance, the Iliad. “ Meriones followed Idomeneus to battle, like Mars " the destroyer of men, when he rushes to war. Ter“ror, 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 will c." 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 thou"sand storms, and scatters battles from his eyes. He "sits on a cloud over Lochlin's seas. His mighty hand "is on his sword. The winds lift 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 o
Iliad siii, 208
war. In Ossian we find a greater variety of other subjects illustrated by similies; 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 dishonour she had suffered ? " Chief of Strumon,” replied the sighing maid, “ why didst thou come over the dark blue wave to “ Nuath's mournful daughter? Why did I not pass away “ in secret, like the flower of the rock, that lifts its fair “ head unseen, and strews its withered leaves to the
blast?” The music of bards, a favourite object with Ossian, 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 similies on this subject, I shall quote, because they would do honour 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 “ wakeas 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 Silmora's side. Soft sounds 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 us adorned with the sweet. ness and harmony of the Virgilian 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 wrote in an early period of society; .both are originals ; both are distinguished by simplicity, sublimity, and fire. The correct elegance of Virgil, his artful imitation of Homer,