Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ossian--Part 4

I am going to try to complete this at an early enough hour that my thoughts do not become so maudlin...

Temora Book IV continued: "Erin rose around him like the sound of eagle-wings". I like this description.

While there is much beauty in these books, the relentless emphasis on death makes the worldview a little too bleak. The majority of the characters are killed in the first flushes of youth, unformed as men, virgins, etc. I suppose it the society represented was one devoted to war, and these are the essential facts of war, but I cannot bring myself to shed the prejudice that there is, and ought to be, more to existence.

There is a humorous note on one of MacPherson's notes regarding an absurd image in Book VIII of Temora by a contemporary commentator: "The waves of a mountain lake suddenly frozen into the form of ridges, are undoubtedly picturesque; and the only objection to an image, `familiar,` as it seems, `to those only who reside in a cold and mountainous country,` is, that it never yet was realized, as every lake must acquire a plain superficies when frozen. "

Perhaps anticipating the decline of manliness, the poet taunts those who will come later in softer ages `When thou, O stone, shalt moulder down, and lose thee, in the moss of years, then shall the traveller come, and whistling pass away.--Thou know`st not, feeble wanderer, that fame once shone on Moi-lena.`

Note: `Byron was grateful to Macpherson`s duan for providing him with a rhyme for Don Juan.` (duan: composition in which the narration is often interrupted by episodes and apostrophes. A term supposedly used/created by the ancient Gaelic bards)

In the last bit of writing in the collection, Macpherson`s updated Preface for the 1773 edition, after it is to be speculated he had been deeply engaged in the gratification of his appetites which were alluded to in Part 1 of this series for several years, he asserts that `He that obtains fame must receive it through mere fashion; and gratify his vanity with the applause of men, of whose judgement he cannot approve.`

Tour: This promises to be one of the few literary-oriented tours that might appeal to the class of people who are both at least agreeable-looking and actually understand art, beauty, life, sex, man, travel, etc, though ironically most of the sites involved have probably no definite historical relation to the legends or the books. Ossian himself is said to have been born in the valley of Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands, and his burial place traditionally was in the valley of Sma` Glen, which is somewhat to the east, in the vicinity of Perth. Wordsworth passed through the are in 1803 and noted:

`In this still place, remote from men/Sleeps Ossian, in the Narrow Glen.`

Fingal`s Cave, on the uninhabited island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides, has been a famous natural attraction for the last 200 years. It apparently acquired this named after the composer Mendelssohn visited as a young man and was inspired to write the piece Die Hebrieden, which
is known in English as Fingal`s Cave. In any event literary and artistic people have associated the spot with the spirit of the Ossian poems for a long time. I do not have a sense of how touristed these regions are (as essentially a novice traveller I have mainly confined myself to the most popular and overrun areas of Europe myself) but I cannot imagine that they are terribly crowded.

The traditional burial spot of Fingal is in the village of Killin, in Perthshire.

MacPherson himself was born in the village of Ruthven, in Inverness. He is actually buried in Westminster Abbey, and at his own request too, which given the literary persona he cultivated with such great success is most interesting.

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