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A Summer in Skye

THEN of an autumn evening the train brought me into Edinburgh, the scales of familiarity having to some little extent fallen from my eyes, I thought I had never before seen it so beautiful. Its brilliancy was dazzling and fairy-like. It was like a city of Chinese lanterns. It was illuminated as if for a great victory, or the marriage of a king. Princes Street blazed with street lamps and gay shop-windows. The Old Town was a maze of twinkling lights. The Mound lifted up its starry coil. The North Bridge leaping the chasm, held lamps high in air. There were lights on the Calton Hill, lights on the crest of the Castle. The city was in a full blossom of lights—to wither by midnight, to be all dead ere dawn. And then to an ear accustomed to silence there arose on every side the potent hum of moving multitudes, more august in itself infinitely more suggestive to the imagination than the noise of the Atlantic on the Skye shores. The sound with which I had been for some time familiar was the voice of many billows; the sound which was in my ears was the noise of men.

And in driving home, too, I was conscious of a curious oppugnancy between the Skye life which I had for some time been leading, and the old Edinburgh life which had been dropped for a little, and which had now to be resumed. The two experiences met like sheets of metal, but they were still separate sheets — I could not solder them together and make them one. I knew that a very few days would do that for me; but it was odd to attempt by mental effort to unite the experiences and to discover how futile was all such effort. Coming back to Edinburgh was like taking up abode in a house to which one had been for a while a stranger, in which one knew all the rooms and all the articles of furniture in the rooms, but with whose knowledge there was mingled a feeling of strangeness. I had changed my clothes of habit, and for the moment I did not feel so much at ease in the strange Edinburgh, as the familiar Skye, suit.

It was fated, however, that the two modes of life should, in my consciousness, melt into each other imperceptibly When I reached home I found that my friend the Rev. Mr Macpherson of Inverary had sent me a packet of Ossianic translations. These translations, breathing the very soul of the wilderness I had lately left, I next day perused in my Edinburgh surroundings, and through their agency the two experiences coalesced. Something of Edinburgh melted into my remembrance of Skye—something of Skye was projected into actual Edinburgh. Thus is life enriched by ideal contrast and interchange. With certain of these translations I conclude my task. To me they were productive of much pleasure. And should the shadows in my book have impressed the reader to any extent, as the realities impressed me—if I have in any way kindled the feeling of Skye in his imagination as it lives in mine—these fragments of austere music will not be ungrateful.


NIGHT fell on wave-beat Rotha,
The hill shelter’d bay received the ships;
A rock rose by the skirt of the ocean,
A wood waved over the boom of the waves;
Above was the circle of Lodin.
And the huge stones of many a power;
Below was a narrow plain
And tree and grass beside the sea.
A tree torn by the wind when high
From the skirt of the cairns to the plain.
Beyond was the blue travel of streams;
A gentle breeze came from the stilly sea,
A flame rose from a hoary oak;
The feast of the chiefs was spread on the heath;
Grieved was the soul of the king of shields,
For the chief of dark Carrick of the braves.

The moon arose slow and faint;
Deep slumber fell round the heads of the braves,
Their helmets gleam’d around;
The fire was dying on the hill.
Sleep fell not on the eyelids of the king;
He arose in the sound of his arms
To view the wave-beat Carrick.
The fire lower’d in the far distance,
The moon was in the east red and slow.
A blast came down from the cairn;
On its wings was the semblance of a man,
Orm Lodin, ghastly on the sea.
He came to his own dwelling-place,
His black spear useless in his hand,
His red eye as the fire of the skies,
His voice as the torrent of the mountains.
Far distant in the murky gloom.
Fingal raised his spear in the night,
His challenge was heard on the plain—
"Son of the night, from my side,
Take the wind—away;
Why shouldst come to my presence, feeble one,
Thy form as powerless as thy arms?
Do I dread thy dark-brown shape,
Spirit of the circles of Lodin?
‘Weak is thy shield and thy form of subtle cloud,
Thy dull-edged sword as fire in the great waves,
A blast parts them asunder,
And thou [thyself] art straightway dispersed
From my presence, dark son of the skies.
Call thy blast—away !"

"Wouldst thou drive me from my own circle?"
Said the hollow voice of eeriest sound.
"To me bends the host of the braves;
I look from my wood on the people,
And they fall as ashes before my sight;
From my breath comes the blast of death;
I come forth on high on the wind;
The storms are pouring aloft
Around my brow, cold, gloomy, and dark.
Calm is my dwelling in the clouds,
Pleasant the great fields of my repose."
"Dwell in thy plain;"
Said the mighty king, his hand on his sword;
"Else remember the son of Cumal in the field;
Feeble is thy phantom, great is my strength.
Have I moved my step from the mountain
To thy halls on the peaceful plain?
Has my powerful spear met
In the skyey robe the voice
Of the dark spirit of the circle of Lodin?
Why raise thy brow in gloom?
Why brandishest thy spear on high?
Little I fear thy threats, feeble one,
I fled not from hosts on the field,
Why should flee from the seed of the wind,
The mighty hero, Morven’s king?
Flee he will not, well he knows
The weakness of thy arm in battle."
"Flee to thy land," replied the Form,
"Flee on the black wind—away!
The blast is in the hollow of my hand—.
Mine are the course and wrestling of the storm,
The king of Soroch is my son,
He bends on the hill to my shad;
His battle is at Carrick of the hundred braves,
And safe he shall win the victory—
"Flee to thy own land, son of Cumal,
Else feel to thy sorrow my rage."
High he lifted his dark spear,
Fiercely he bent his lofty head.
Against him Fingal advanced amain, [a-fire,]
His bright-blue sword in hand,
Son of Loon—the swartest cheek’d.
The light of the steel passed through the Spirit,
The gloomy and feeble spirit of death.
Shapeless he fell, yonder [opposite]
On the wind of the black cairns, as smoke
Which a young one breaks, rod in hand,
At the hearth of smoke and struggle,
The Form of Lodin shriek’d in the hill,
Gathering himself in the wind,
Innis-Tore heard the sound,
The waves with terror stay their courses:
Up rose the braves of Cumal’s son.
Each hand grasp’d a spear on the hill,
"Where is he?" they cried with frowning rage,
Each armour sounding on its lord.


Cuchullin sat by the wall of Tura,
In the shade of the tree of sounding leaf;
His spear leant against the cave-pierced rock,
His great shield by his side on the grast
The thoughts of the chief were on Cairber.
A hero he had slain in battle fierce,
When the watcher of the ocean cam;
The swift son of Fili with the bounding step.
"Arise, Cuchullin, arise,
I see a gallant fleet from the north,
Swift bestir thee, chief of the banquet,
Great is Swaran, numerous is his host !"
"Moran, answered the dauntless blue-eyed,
Weak and trembling wert thou aye;
In thy fear the foe is numerous;
Son of Fill is Fingal,
High champion of the dark-mottled hills."
"I saw their leader," answer’d Moran;
"Like to a rock was the chief,
His spear as a fir on the rocky mountain,
His shield as the rising moon:
He sat on a rock on the shore
As the mist yonder on the hill."
"Many," I said, "chief of the strangers,
Are the champions that rise with thee,
Strong warriors, of hardiest stroke,
And keenest brand in the play of men.
But more numerous and valiant are the braves
That surround the windy Turn."
Answer’d the brave, as a wave on a rock,
"Who in this land is like me?
Thy heroes could not stand in my presence;
But low they should fall beneath my hand.
Who is he would meet my sword?
Save Fingal, king of stormy Selma.
Once on a day we grasp’d each other
On Melmor, and fierce was our strife.
The woo’l fell in the unyielding fight,
The streams turn’d aside, and trembled the cairn.
Three days the strife was renew’d,
Warriors bravest in battle trembled.
On the fourth, said Fingal the king— 
‘The ocean chief fell in the glen.’
He fell not, was my answer."
Let Cuchullin yield to the chief,
Who is stronger than the mountain storm. 
I, said the dauntless blue-eyed,
Yield I shall not to living man.
Cuchullin shall, resolute as he, be
Great in battle, or stainless in death.
Son of Fiji, seize my spear,
Strike the joyless and gloomy shield of Sema;
Thou shalt see it high on the wall of spears;
No omen of peace was its sound.
Swift, son of Fill, strike the shield of Sema,
Summon my heroes from forest and copse.
Swift he struck the spotted [bossy] shield,
Each copse and forest answer’d.
Pauseless, the alarm sped through the grove;
The deer and the roe started on the heath:
Curtha leap’d from the sounding rock:
Connal of the doughtiest spear bestirr’d himself
Favi left the hind in the chase:
Crugeal return’d to festive Jura.
Ronan, hark to the shield of the battles,
Cuchullin’s land signal, Cluthair,
Calmar, hither come from the ocean:
With thy arms hither come, O Luthair.
Son of Finn, thou strong warrior, arise;
Cairber [come] from the voiced Cromlec;
Bend thy knee, free-hearted Fichi.
Cormag [come] from streamy Lena.
Coilte, stretch thy splendid side, [limbs]
Swift, travelling from Mora,
Thy side, whiter than the foam, spread
On the storm-vex’d sea.
Then might be seen the heroes of high deeds
Descending each from his own winding glen,
Each soul burning with remembrance
Of the battles of the time gone by of old:
Their eyes kindling and searching fiercely round
For the dark foe of Innisfail.
Each mighty hand on the hilt of each brand
Blazing, lightning flashing [lit, streaming bright, like the sun]
from their armour.
As pours a stream from a wild glen
Descend the braves from the sides of the mountains,
Each chief In the mail of his illustrious sire.
His stern, dark-visaged warriors behind,
As the gatherings of the waters of the mountains [i.e., rain clouds]
Around the lightning of the sky.
At every step was heard the sound of arms
And the bark of hounds, high gambling
Songs were humm’d in every mouth,
Each dauntless hero eager for the strife.
Cromlec shook on the face of the mountain;
As they march’d athwart the heath:
They stood on the inclines of the hills,
As the hoary mist of autumn
That closes round the sloping mountain,
And binds its forehead to the sky.
     FINGAL, Lib. i., line 1-100

As rushes a gray stream in foam
From the iron front of lofty Cromla;
The torrent travelling the mountains,
While dark night enwraps the cairns:
And the cold shades of paly hue
Look down from the skirts of the showers;
So fierce, so great, so pitiless, so swift
Advanced the hardy seed of Erin.
Their chief, as the great boar [whale] of the ocean,
Drawing the cold waves behind him;
Pouring his strength as billows; [or in billows,]
‘Neath his travel shakes the shore.
The seed of Lochlin heard the sound,
As the cold roaring stream of winter;
Swift Swaran struck his shield,
And spoke to the son of Am beside him —
I hear a sound on the side of the mountains,
As the evening fly of slow movements;
It is the gallant Sons of Erin,
Or a storm in the distant woodland.
Like Gonnal is the sound,
Ere wakes the tempest in the high seas:
Hie thee to the heights, son of Am,
Survey each copse and hill-side.
He went, and soon return’d in terror,
His eye fix’d and wild in his head;
His heart beat quick against his side,
His speech was feeble, slow, and broken.
"Arise! thou Lord of the waves,
Mighty chief of the dark shields;
I see the stream of the dark-wooded mountains,
I see the seed of ES and their lord.
A chariot! the mighty chariot of battle
Advances with death across the plain;
The well-made swift chariot of Cuchullin,
The great son of Sema, mighty in danger.
Behind, it bends down like a wave,
Or the mist on the copse of the sharp rocks;
The light of stones of power [gems] is round,
As the sea round a bark at night
Of polish’d yew is the beam,
The seats within are of smoothest bone;
The dwelling-place of spears it is,
Of shields, of swords, and of mighty men.
By the right side of the great chariot
Is seen the snorting, high-mettled steed;
The high-maned, broad, black-chested,
High-leaping, strong son of the hills.
Loud and resounding is his hoof:
The spread of his frontlets above
Is like mist on the haunts of the elk;
Bright was his aspect, and swift his going,
Sith-fadda [Long-stride] is his name.
By the other side of the chariot
Is the arch-neck’d, snorting,
Narrow-maned, high-mettled, strong-hoofed,
Swift-footed, wide-nostril’d steed of the mountains,
Du-sron-geal is the name of the horse.
Full a thousand slender thongs
Bind the chariot on high;
The bright steel bits of the bridles
Are cover’d with foam in their cheeks:
Blazing stones, sparkling bright,
Bend aloft on the manes of the steeds—.
Of the steeds that are like the mist on the mountains,
Bearing the chief to his renown.
Wilder than the deer is their aspect,
Powerful as the eagle their strength;
Their sound is like the savage winter
On Gormal, when cover’d with snow.
In the chariot is seen the chief,
The mighty son of the keenest arms—
Cuchullin of the blue-spotted shields.
The son of Sema, renown’d in song,
His cheek is as the polish’d yew;
His strong eye is spreading high,
‘Neath his dark-arch’d and slender brow.
His yellow hair, as a blaze round his head,
Pouring (waving] round the splendid face of the hero,
While he draws from behind his spear.
Flee, great chief of ships!
Flee from the hero who comes
As a storm from the glen of streams."
"When did I flee? said the king of ships;
When fled Swaran of the dark shields?
When did I shun the threatening danger,
Son of Arn—aye feeble?
I have borne the tempest of the skies,
On the bellowing sea of inclement showers;
The sternest battles I have borne,
Why should I flee from the conflict,
Son of Arn, of feeblest hand?
Arise my thousands on the field,
Pour as the roar of the ocean,
When bends the blast from the cloud,
Let gallant Lochlin rise around my steel.
Be ye like rocks on the edge of the ocean,
In my own land of oars,
That lifts the pine aloft
To battle with the tempests of the sky."
As the sound of autumn from two mountains
Towards each other drew the braves,
As a mighty stream from two rocks,
Flowing, pouring on the plain;
Sounding dark, fierce in battle,
Met Lochlin and Innesfail.
Chief mix’d his strokes with chief,
Man contended with man,
Steel clang’d on steel,
Helmets are cleft on high,
Blood is pouring fast around,
The bow-string twanges on the polish’d yew;
Arrows traverse the sky,
Spears strike and fall,
As the bolt of night on the mountains,
As the bellowing seething of the ocean,
When advance the waves on high;
Like the torrent behind the mountains
Was the gloom and din of the conflict.
Though the hundred bards of Cormag were there,
And their songs described the combat,
Scarcely could they tell
Of each headless corpse and death—
Many were the deaths of men and chiefs,
Their blood spreading on the plain.
Mourn, ye race of songs,
For Sith-alum the child of the braves:
Evir, heave thy snowy breast
For gallant Ardan of fiercest look.
As two roes that fall from the mountain,
[They fell] ‘neath the hand of dark-shielded Swaran;
While dauntless he moved before his thousands,
As a spirit in the cloudy sky,
A spirit that sits in cloud.
Half made by mist from the north,
When bends the lifeless mariner
A look of woe on the summit of the waves.
Nor slept thy hand by the side,
Chief of the isle of gentle showers;
Thy brand was in the path of spoils,
As lightning flashing thick,
When the people fall in the glen,
And the face of the mountain, as in a blaze,
[Or is seething white with torrents,]
Du-sron-geal snorted over brave men,
Sith-fadda wash’d his hoof in blood,
Behind him lay full many a hero,
As a wood on Cromla of the floods,
When moves the blast through the heath,
With the airy ghosts of night
Weep on the sounding rock,
Noble daughter of the isle of ships
Bend thy splendid countenance over the sea,
Thou lovelier than a spirit in the woods,
Rising up soft and slow
As a sunbeam in the silence of the hills.
He fell, soon he fell in the battle,
The youth of thy love is pale,
‘Neath the sword of great Cuchullin.
What has made thee so wan and cold?
He will move no more to hardy deeds,
He will not strike the high blood of heroes;
Trenar, youthful Trena has fallen in death;
Maid, thou shalt see thy love no more for ever.
his hounds howl piteously
At home, ns they see his ghost,
His bow is unstrung and bare;
His death-sound is on the knoll,
[i.e., on the knoll he utters his death-groan.]
As roll a thousand waves to the shore,
So under Swaran advanced the foe;
As meets the shore a thousand waves,
So Erin met the king of ships.
Then arose the voices of death,
The sound of battle-shout and clang of arms,
Shields and mail lay broken on the ground.
A sword like lightning was high in each hand,
The noise of battle rose from wing to wing,
Of battle, roaring, bloody, hot,
As a hundred hammers striking wild,
By turns, showers of red sparks from the glowing forge,
Who are those on hilly Sena?
Who of darkest and fiercest gloom?
Who likest to the murkiest cloud?
The sword of each thief as fire on the waves,
The face of the woods is troubled,
The wave-beat rock shakes on the shore.
Who, but Swaran of ships
And the chief of Erin, renown’d in song?
The eye of the hosts beholds aside
The encounter of the mighty heroes.
Night descended on the combat of the braves,
And hid the undecided conflict.
     FINGAL, Book i., 313-502.

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