Ossian's song after the fall of Nathos
(Poet's title: Ossians Lied nach dem Falle Nathos)
Set by Schubert:
[probably September 1815]
Beugt euch aus euren Wolken nieder,
ihr Geister meiner Väter, beuget euch.
Legt ab das rote Schrecken eures Laufs.
Empfangt den fallenden Führer,
er komme aus einem entfernten Land,
oder er steig aus dem tobenden Meer!
Sein Kleid von Nebel sei nah,
sein Speer aus einer Wolke gestaltet,
sein Schwert ein erloschnes Luftbild,
und ach sein Gesicht sey lieblich,
dass seine Freunde frohlocken in seiner Gegenwart.
O beugt euch aus euren Wolken nieder,
ihr Geister meiner Väter, beuget euch!
Bend forward from your clouds,
ghosts of my fathers! bend.
Lay by the red terror of your course.
Receive the falling chief:
whether he comes from a distant land,
or rises from the rolling sea.
Let his robe of mist be near;
his spear that is formed of a cloud.
Place an half-extinguished meteor by his side,
in the form of the hero’s sword.
And oh! let his countenance be lovely,
that his friends may delight in his presence.
Bend from your clouds,
ghosts of my fathers! bend!
All translations into English that appear on this website, unless otherwise stated, are by Malcolm Wren. You are free to use them on condition that you acknowledge Malcolm Wren as the translator and schubertsong.uk as the source. Unless otherwise stated, the comments and essays that appear after the texts and translations are by Malcolm Wren and are © Copyright.
‘Ossian’ introduces the dramatis personae as follows:
Nathos is on the deep, and Althos, that beam of youth. Ardan is near his brothers. They move in the gloom of their course. The sons of Usnoth move in darkness, from the wrath of Cairbar of Erin. Who is that, dim by their side? The night has covered her beauty! Her hair sighs on ocean's wind. Her robe streams in dusky wreaths. She is like the fair spirit of heaven in the midst of this shadowy mist. Who is she but Dar-Thula, the first of Erin's maids? She has fled from the love of Cairbar, with blue-shielded Nathos.
Some of us might prefer the ‘Celtic Mist for Dummies’ version of the story: ‘Cairbar is a baddy who is trying to get his wicked way with the lovely heroine, Dar-Thula. Her only hope is in the exploits of three brave brothers, the eldest of whom, Nathos, she has eloped with.’
Ossian’s story of Dar-Thula (first published by Macpherson in 1762) is told in a jagged style using a non-linear narrative. The fortunes of each side continue to ebb and flow as the brothers attack and withdraw and as the weather and conditions at sea are constantly changing. Eventually matters move towards a climactic battle, at which point Ossian the bard enters the scene as a participant observer:
We sat, that night, in Selma, round the strength of the shell. The wind was abroad, in the oaks. The spirit of the mountain roared. The blast came rustling through the hall, and gently touched my harp. The sound was mournful and low, like the song of the tomb. Fingal heard it first. The crowded sighs of his bosom rose. "Some of my heroes are low," said the grey-haired king of Morven. "I hear the sound of death on the harp. Ossian, touch the trembling string. Bid the sorrow rise; that their spirits may fly with joy to Morven's woody hills!" I touched the harp before the king; the sound was mournful and low. "Bend forward from your clouds," I said, "ghosts of my fathers! bend. . . . "
The song that Schubert set as ‘Ossian’s song after the fall of Nathos’ (using Harold’s remarkably faithful translation) thus corresponds with the first sound of music in the course of the narrative. The purpose of the song is partly to lament, but mainly to ‘bid the sorrow rise that their spirits may fly with joy’.
The song is in two clear parts, distinguished by the mood of the verbs: imperatives followed by subjunctives. The poet commands the spirits of the fathers to lean down and welcome the approaching hero; he then begs that Nathos’s appearance in the afterlife will reflect his military prowess and his moral goodness (“Let his countenance be lovely”). At this point Ossian does not know the fate of Dar-Thula. It is later revealed that she was next to the three heroic brothers when they were shot down by a thousand arrows (at Cairbar’s instigation). With Nathos dead, Cairbar then went forward to claim Dar-Thula:
Her shield fell from Dar-Thula's arm. Her breast of snow appeared. It appeared; but it was stained with blood. An arrow was fixed in her side. She fell on the fallen Nathos, like a wreath of snow. Her hair spreads wide on his face. Their blood is mixing round.
Original Spelling and note on the text Ossians Lied nach dem Falle Nathos Beugt euch aus euern Wolken nieder, ihr Geister meiner Väter, beugt euch, legt ab das rothe Schrecken eures Laufs. Empfangt den fallenden Führer! Er komme aus einem entfernten Land, oder er steig aus dem tobenden Meer! Sein Kleid von Nebel sey nah, sein Speer aus einer Wolke gestaltet. Sein Schwert ein erlosch'nes Luftbild1, Und ach sein Gesicht sey lieblich, Daß seine Freunde frohlocken in seiner Gegenwart! O beugt euch aus euern Wolken nieder! ihr Geister meiner Väter, beugt euch. 1 Schubert changed 'Stell ein halb erloschenes Luftbild an seine Seite, / in Gestalt des Helden-Schwerts' to 'Sein Schwert ein erlosch'nes Luftbild'
Confirmed with The Poems of Ossian. Translated by James Macpherson, Esq; Vol.I. A new edition, carefully corrected, and greatly improved. London, MDCCLXXIII, page 370.
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Die Gedichte Ossians, eines alten celtischen Helden und Barden. Zweyter Band. Zweyte verbesserte und mit neu entdeckten Gedichten vermehrte Auflage. Mannheim 1782, im Verlage der Herausgeber der ausländischen schönen Geister, pages 241-242.
To see an early edition of the text, go to Erstes Bild 247 here: https://download.digitale-sammlungen.de/BOOKS/download.pl?id=bsb10035581