The Death Of The Boar

A poem by John Campbell

[Taken from "Leabhar na Feinne," and a prose version written down from oral recitation by J. Dewar.]

OSSIAN.

This vale of Peace, this glen close by,
Where deer and elk would often cry,
Of old saw the fleet-footed Fianti bound
In the strath of the west as they followed the hound.

List if you wish to hear a lay
Of gentle folks long passed away,
Of him who was Prince; of Gulban's blue hill,
And sorrow-cursed Diarmid's sad legend of ill.

AUDIENCE.

Loved Ossian, sweetest voiced, what day
But sees us listeners to thy lay?
Such strains from no birds of the shoreland can float,
Though dawn give each leaf in the woodland a note.

OSSIAN.

My own good king was hunting gone,
They whom no deerlike terror won,
His Feinne, through the secret glens followed, and we
Descended the slopes that lead down to the sea.

Then saw our own great king, whose word
The Feinne, the brave, obeying heard,
A nine folded shaving of wood brightly curled,
Shining white, as to seaward the swift waters swirled.

He grasped it, scanning it, the coil
Hid five feet and a span of soil;
Then loudly he cried, "Ah, Diarmid is here,
No swordsman of Cormac, but Diarmid is near!"

In truth, my own good king then swore
To break his fast and drink no more,
Until were unearthed the vile face of his foe,
If the caves of all Erin should refuge bestow.

Our hounds we sent, and shouting went
Where o'er the vales the branches bent;
The wild-cat we chased from the glens, that the cheer
And cries of our hunting might fall on his ear.

He who was never weak in fight
Heard the loud voices strike the height;
To Grinie he cried, "Though the hounds do not bay,
I wait not their voice, to the hunt I'll away."

GRINIE.

O Diarmid! wait until they cry,
That hunting shout is but a lie,
Where grieves for his wife Cùall's son, there for thee
Thou know'st thy peril for ever must be.

DIARMID

Ere hounds can open on the scent,
To every chase my steps are bent,
And shame were it now for the king's evil will
To lose a good hunt as it sweeps o'er the hill.

OSSIAN.

Then down came Diarmid to the vale,
To the famed sons of Innisfail,
And glad was the king, for his foe in his sight
Came aidless and powerless to baffle his might.

Where o'er his red straths Gulban soars,
Were haunts well loved by savage boars,
And fine were the knolls on the blue mountain's face,
Where oft for King Fionn resounded the chase.

There Grinie's love brought her to shame,
'Twas there the king, with cheeks of flame,
Commanded the hunt, and 'twas there Diarmid stood
To watch for the boar if he broke from the wood.

Deceit a grievous evil wrought!
The monster's ear our tumult caught;
He moved in the glen, as from east and from west,
The shouting grew louder as nearer we pressed.

Envenomed, old, rage-filled, his jaw
Foamed as his eyes the heroes saw,
And faster he went, his strong bristles and mane
Erect, sharp as darts, strong as wood of the plain;

High reeds that fringed a marsh he found,--
Turned on the dogs all baying round,
And killed in a moment the bravest, and glared
As though to the combat their master he dared.

FIONN.

A huge old boar hastes yonder, mark
Of wounding full and bloodstains dark,
Now follow yourself, noble Diarmid, there goes
A monster of evil and terrible woes.

OSSIAN.

As quick his way the warrior took,
No trembling hand the javelin shook,
And hurrying fast as he closed with the boar
He rushed as in floodtide the wave to the shore.

Shot gleaming from white hand the spear,
Straight through the flank its path to shear,
But, splintering there, left the head buried deep;
The shaft fell in three as it whirred o'er the steep.

The sword, the olden, he unsheathed
That victory in each battle breathed,
Then died the great beast on its blade's dripping length;
Unweakened, unharmed rose the youth in his strength.

But gloom the monarch's heart oppressed,
For from the hillside to the west,
He saw how fair Diarmid, unhurt by the tooth,
A conqueror stood in the beauty of youth.

He saw the Feinne's loud wandering band,
Deep-ringed around the carcass stand,
And heard as they praised the good courage and might
That vanquished so soon the grim beast in the fight.
[The verses in italics are from the prose version received from J. Dewar]

But Diarmid went apart, lest he
To praise of self should listener be;
That praise was to Conan's vile envy a sting,
Whose eye looked for gain to the hands of the king.

A dart in deadly poison dipped
Among the rough black hair he slipped,
And none could have seen where the bristles o'erlaid
The point firmly set of the venomous blade.

Then silent long, the king at last
Spake, all his thought to hatred cast,
"O Diarmid, now measure the Boar, snout to heel,
What length on the ground may the dark hide conceal?"

What man among the Feinne e'er saw
The youth from friend or foe withdraw?
He measured the back barefooted, and passed
Unharmed down the rugged spine, rigid and vast.

FIONN.

"O youth, whose weapons wound so sore,
I pray thee prove this yet once more,
Whate'er thou desirest I'll give thee, but see,
From foot to the snout what the measurement be?"
OSSIAN.

Again his sandals he unlaced,
And 'gainst the hair he slowly paced,
And bare was the foot where alone mortal harm
Could strike his limbs guarded by magic and charm.

There at one spot, lifers crimson well
Was fenced by no enchanted spell.
Ah! if on that death-spot but one vein were rent,
How staunchless the flow of lifts fountain unpent!

And fear was on him: as he stepped,
A keen pang through his senses swept,
For, pierced by the venomous bristle, his sight
Saw gloom shroud the mountain, and darkness the light.

Full soon the poison through his veins
Ran like a fire with fever's pains,
Then sank the bright locks of the warrior brave,
Whose face bore in anguish the hue of the grave.

His blood ran fast, as down a hill
From some high spring a slender rill;
Ah, piteous it was on the brae to behold
How the guileless youth lay in his torture untold.

The cheek which shared the berry's hue
Which flushes red the hillside's dew,
Now blanched, was as cold as a cloud when it lies
Blue-shadowed at noon in the vault of the skies.

DIARMID.

A drink, one drink, O Fionn, give,
One cup to let me drink and live!
My blood flows so fast, give me drink from the spring.
Oft kind were thy words, the good words of a king!

FIONN.

No! not one cup your lips shall drain,
To quench your thirst, to cool your pain!
What good is your life to me? what has it won,
That the deed of one hour has not more than undone?

DIARMID.

Not mine the wish to cause you care,
In East or West, not here or there!
But Grinie's the evil, when, captive, I found
Her love but a shadow, her word but a sound!

A drink, one drink, O Fionn, give,
One cup to let me drink and live!
My blood flows so fast, give me drink from the spring,
Oft kind were thy words, the good words of a king.

FIONN.
No cup of mine your lips shall drain
To quench your thirst, to cool your pain,
What good is your life, can its fair deeds o'erpower
The guilt of one act, and the curse of one hour?

DIARMID.

If you could think of Sween's dread day--
No! vain that memory passed away!--
When fell the eight hundred and three, and my sword
In the narrow pass drank of their blood as it poured!

When prisoned in the Rowan Hold,
Of gratitude your words once told,
When the white teeth were wounding your limbs, and your breath
Came quick, for the fray brought you near unto death.
And yet again your friend was I
In Tara when the strife waxed high,
Not vainly you sought in that hour for a friend,
I fought for thee, king, making Enmity bend;

And Innse's sons, the three, the brave,
From lands far hidden by the wave:
I killed them for thee, who oppressest me sore;
Hard died they, O ruthless one, washed in their gore!

Remember Connell! see again
Carbúi front thee with his men,
To the host of the Feinne see how threatening their gaze:
Ah, Gulban, I burn, as I look on thy braes.

If known to Oigé's women fair
How snared and trapped I here despair,
Their mourning would rise, and their men would lament
The friend whose sad eyes on Ben Gulban are bent.

I, Diarmid of Newry named,
Of Connaught, of Béura famed--
Foster son to that Angus of Broá whose stride
Revealed the best man on the far mountain side:--

"The Eagle of the Red Cascade"--
"The blue-eyed Hawk whom no man stayed"--
They called me--"the strongest of all who could throw
The stone, or the spear, at our game or our foe."

Then knew he, as his strength grew less
That death would end his sore distress;
The Feinne stood around, and they pitied the man
So weak, once the strongest who fought in their van.

They searched for water, and they found
A spring, clear-eyed, in mossy ground,
But cup had they none, and their hands, as they went,
Let fall every drop ere o'er Diarmid they bent.

In bitterness of soul he thought,
"They mock me, now that I am naught,
Your kind hands all leak! of your deed men shall tell,
The 'spring of holed palms' shall they name yonder well.

" Yet would I ask you, now I die,
To lay me where the stream flows by
The water of Lunnan, for there in my grave
I'll hear, though I see not, its cold shining wave.

" There place a pillar stone, and bear
My Grinie some day to me there,
And well to the traveller the words shall be known,
'Tis Diarmid who lies 'neath yon Pillar of Stone.

"Oh woe is me! a foul swine's prey,
The victor lord of battle's day!
I faint, done to death, let me turn, let me lie
With my face to Ben Gulban, to see it, and die."--

OSSIAN.

In tears, and mourning sore,
Then to his grave we bore
That brave and hardy one;
On a green knoll alone,
Beneath a mighty stone
That sees the western sun.

When Grinie coming there,
At last of all aware,
Beheld his narrow bed;
As though her life took flight,
Bereft of sense and sight,
She fell, above the dead!

Then from her swoon awoke,
Her voice in cries outbroke,
And in this song of woe,
Wherein his praise was heard
In every mournful word,
Above the river's flow.

GRINIE.

Two in a fastness of rock were concealed,
Oft we lay there for a year unrevealed,
Though hidden from Fionn by the stream as it leapt,
Where it wet not the head of my love as he slept.

In the hunt's contest the keenest to share,
Hard was that bed for thy thick golden hair!
Never thought he of fear as he sprang to the cry,
When the chase was afoot, and he joined it, to die!

Hour of my torture, ochone, how the pain,
Sore, and sharp, as at first, smites again and again,
Sightless dear eyes, voiceless lips, and the breath
Sweet as honey, now lost in the chambers of death!

Sister's son of a king, a monarch high-placed,
Victor and friend, once with courtesy graced!
Ah what a generous heart to have nursed
Vengeance so causeless, a plot so accursed!

Diarmid, O Love, the best sword of them all,
Victory flew to the field at thy call;
Strongest arm in the games, thou wast ever the best,
Whether called to the fight, or to aid the distressed.

Bluer your eye than the blaeberry kissed
On the high mountain's shoulder by sun and by mist;
Gentler your eyelids' soft motion, than where
The upland grass waves to the breezes of air.

Whiter your teeth than the blossoming spray
Danced in the winds 'mid the brightness of day;
Never harp was so sweet, never bird-song above,
As the voice that is hushed on the lips of my love.

Like to the sun-nurtured sparkles of air
Were the fair yellow waves of the locks of thy hair,
Pure as foam the soft skin of the one of our race,
Who was mighty in mind as majestic in grace.

Sad is my heart, to no joy-shout replying,
Restless, lamenting in grief never-dying;
Oh, the mavis calls sweetly in drear deserts lone,
But in vain I must yearn for the notes I have known.

Now shall my soul find its calm nevermore
In the depths--the blue depths--of your eyes as of yore,
Overborne by a perilous flood I shall know
Surcease of no sorrow, no lightening of woe!

Dark is your dwelling-place under the mould,
Narrow your frozen bed, songless and cold;
Never morn shalt thou see, till the day of God's doom,
When awakened, O hero, thou'lt rise from the tomb.

Dead in the earth, and there hidden away,
Who shall not yearn for thee, fairer than day?
Be my blessing now thine, be it thine evermore,
Let it rest on the beauty 'twas mine to adore.

OSSIAN.

Each bard prepared his harp for singing
That calm and lofty hero's praise;
Deep sorrow through the long notes ringing,
How wild their dirge, how sad their gaze!

THE BARDS.

Mayest thou be blessed, O thou our fairest
Beloved, once to fortune dear,
If still for Ireland's Feinne thou carest,
See how they wail thine absence here.

O strength, like flood on foemen pouring,
Or swoop of eagle from the sky,
Or as the rush through ocean roaring
When myriads from leviathan fly!

Béura's lord! thy fair locks, waving
Hath ceased, pressed down beneath the soil:
Thou'rt seen no more the billows braving,
No more thou'lt know the hunter's toil.

When blows are rained thy blade no longer
Shall strike where clear thy war cry rose,
O man, whose love than man's seemed stronger,
Whose voice no more high Tara knows.

For thee our eyes are red with weeping,
No beauty like to thine have we;
Our solace gone, our best are keeping
The death watch, bravest soul, with thee.

OSSIAN.

Yes, fallen all, to leave me living,
A leafless tree decayed and grey,
Old oaks and young, their green life giving;
The strong must fall, the weak must stay!

Yet though to-day so frail, what glory
Around my youth once shone of old!
Changed world! this poor man, weak and hoary,
Was great in war and rich in gold.


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