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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

To the Blackbird of Derrycarn

By Ossian and Ossianic Poetry

Ossian Song

SWEET bird and bard of sable wing,

Sweet warbler, hid in Carna grove,

No lays so haunting shall I hear

Again, though round the earth I rove.

Cease, son of Alphron, cease thy bells,

That call sick men to church again!

In Carna wood now hark awhile,

And hear my blackbird’s magic strain.

Ah, if its plaint thou truly heard,

Its melancholy song of old,

Thou wouldst forget thy psalms awhile,

As down thy cheeks the tears were rolled.

For where it sings, in Carna wood,

That westward throws its sombre shade,

There, listening to its strain too long,

The Fians—noble race—delayed.

That note it was, from Carna wood,

That woke the hind on Cora steep;

That note it was, in the wakeful dawn,

Lulled Fionn yet to sweeter sleep.

It sang beside the weedy pool

That into triple rills divides,

Where, cooling in the crystal wave,

The bird of silvery feather glides.

It sang again by Croan’s heath,

And from yon water-girded hill,

A deeper note, a cry of woe,

That lingers—tender, pensive—still.

It sang so once to Fionn’s host,

And pleased the heroes with its plaint:

More lore, they deemed, the blackbird knew,

Than lurks in penances, O Saint!

So far we have been drawing chiefly upon the rich Irish store of these things; but the Fianna of Albin were as rich in saga as the Fianna of Erin, and the Scottish Ossianic or Fiannic ballads and stories are fully as interesting. They show certain differences, local and temporal, from the purely Irish corresponding versions of the same events in the Fian tribal warfare; but there is no doubt that the early basis of tradition is the same in both countries. The Norse coloring is more marked, and much sooner felt, in the Scottish than in the Irish Ossianic material. We soon come, in fact, as we ransack the Scottish MSS., upon the signs of the third stage in the history of the cycle. Of these stages, it may be well to remind the reader here that the first is, roughly speaking, the passage of Aryan myth into definite heroic forms of tradition,—in this case forms which carry the radiant colors of Fian heroes; the second stage is the use of the tradition to express the early dramatic conflict between Christian and pagan Celtdom; the third stage is the vigorous adaptation again of the same tradition to the moving bardic narrative of the struggle with the Norse invaders; the fourth stage is the slow process through centuries of comparative peace, by which the bards and chroniclers, falling back upon the past, spent their art, memory, and imagination upon the accumulated materials,—selecting from them, modifying them, inventing too on occasion, or coloring anew the parts that had become worn, but yet through all this preserving a certain fidelity to the essentials of the cycle. The fifth stage is that of the deliberate literary use of the materials, by men of genius like Macpherson, who are of course fully justified in their doings if only they make it quite clear what their relation to their original materials is. There is yet another stage which we might add: that of the modern patient critical investigation of such a cycle, so as to clear the ground for its future uses both by science and by poetry.
In tracing these stages, one may find it convenient to treat both the Irish and Scottish Gaelic contributions to the subject as one; but in the third which we mentioned, where it is a question of the Norse invader, we certainly get our best popular illustrations from the Scottish side. Take for example the ballad of ‘The Fian Banners,’ which shows in so striking a light the combination of archaic and later material. There is a heroic ring about it which must suffice here to suggest the fine old Gaelic tune to which it was sung traditionally as the Gaelic tribes marched to war against the invading Vikings.