Ossian’s Poems - notesheets

Joyce refers to Ossian in passing in the Cyclops episode:

And there sat with him the high sinhedrim of the twelve tribes of Iar [...] of the tribe of Caolte and of the tribe of Ossian. (U 12.1124-9)

But from his papers it is clear that he had been rereading the poet. Joyce copied phrases from James Macpherson’s translation of the poems supposedly by Ossian into his notesheets (“Cyclops” 4, in Herring p. 94),1 as he did from Hugh Blair’s Critical Dissertation on the poems (which was published in many early editions to validate Ossian’s authorship):

NS 94:17 <the soul of war replied>

Fingal Bk. 1, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), vol. 1, pp. 8-9:

“Hail, thou son of Rossa! What shades the soul of war?” “Four stones,” replied the chief, “rise on the grave of Câthba.”

NS 94: 18 <the main> 339:20?

Fingal Bk. 1, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), vol. 1, p. 13:

Pour round me like the echoing main.

NS 94:19 <a main noise> 339:20

[no reference]

U 12.111: from the streamy vales of Thomond

NS 94:20 <streamy vale>: 290:2

Fingal Bk. 1, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), vol. 1, p. 13:

He comes, like a strom [sic], along the streamy vale!

NS 94:21 <?dost darken the welkin> 337:11?

Fingal Bk. 1, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), vol. 1, p. 13:

Where Fingal himself before me, my soul should not darken with fear.

This perhaps reminds Joyce of the occasional purple literary phrase “to darken the welkin”

NS 94:22 <who comes? it is>

* Fingal Bk. IV, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), Vol. 1, p. 53:

Who comes with her songs from the hill, like the bow of the showery Lena? It is the maid of the voice of love!


* Fingal Bk. V, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), Vol. 1, p. 76:

Who comes with the locks of age? It is the son of songs.

Temora in Works (Frankfort and Leipzig: 1773), vol. 3, p. 73:

Who comes from Lubar’s vale? […] It is Carril of other times.

U 12.335: Ay, says Joe. He paid the debt of nature.

NS 94:23 <pay debt of nature> 296:1

Berrathon in Archibald McDonald Some of Ossian’s lesser poems rendered into verse (1805), p. 283:

Great Fingal I hear, […] He calls his son. – “Come Ossian, come away! Thou must at length the debt of nature pay.”

NS 94: 24<transient beam> 298:21?

Fingal Bk. 1, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), vol. 1, p. 9:

Thou hast fallen in darkness, like a star, that shoots across the desert; when the traveller is alone, and mourns the transient beam!

NS 94:25 <red is thy rolling eye> 325:21?

Fingal Bk. 1, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), vol. 1, p. 10:

Dark are thy brows and terrible! Red are thy rollings [sic] eyes!

* [The <s> is crossed out in Joyce’s copy according to Patrick Gillespie in Joyce's Trieste Library and his Intellectual Backgrounds, 1904-1920, item 304.]

NS 94:26 <excelled himself> 312:3

[no reference]

U 12.405-6: And mournful and with a heavy heart he bewept the extinction of that beam of heaven.

NS 94:27 <extinction of the beam of heaven> 298:1-2

Hugh Blair's Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian is included in * vol. 2 of Poems (Leipzig: 1840):

The fall of this noble young warrior, or in Ossian’s style, the extinction of this beam of heaven, could not be rendered too interesting and affecting.

NS 94:28 joy of grief

* Fingal Bk. 1, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), vol. 1, p. 17:

But, Carril, raise the voice on high, tell the deeds of other times. Send thou the night away in song; and give the joy of grief.

Hugh Blair Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian in James Macpherson tr. Ossian’s Poems (1805) vol. 1, p. 109:

The “joy of grief”, is one of Ossian’s remarkable expressions, several times repeated.

U 12.1113: the daughters of the skies, the virgin moon being then in her first quarter

NS 94:29 <daughter of skies (moon)> 317:8

* Fingal Bk. 1, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), vol. 1, p. 30:

Connal mounts the cars of gems They stretch their shields, like darkened moon, the daughter of the starry skies, when she moves, a dun circle through heaven, and dreadful change expected by men.

Comala, in Poems (Leipzig, 1840), vol. 1, p. 180:

Rise, moon, thou daughter of the sky! Look from between thy clouds, rise that I may behold the gleam of his steel.

Joyce had three versions of Ossian’s poetry in his library in Trieste:

Fingal, trans. into German Reinhold Jachmann (Leipzig: Philipp Reclam, n.d.)

The Poems, trans. James Macpherson (Leipzig: G. J. Goeschen, 1840)

Poesie, trans. into Italian Melchior Cesarotti, 2 vols. (Bassano, 1819).

Harald Beck/John Simpson

September 2018: The authors are grateful to Ronan Crowley for additional references (marked with an asterisk).


1 See also Joyce’s “jameymock farceson” (FW 423.01) and Gogarty’s review of Finnegans Wake (Observer 7 May 1939, p. 4), which ends:

This is the most colossal leg-pull in literature since McPherson’s Ossian. Mr. Joyce has had his revenge.

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