Gods and Fighting Men

Oisin's Lament

   And Oisin used to be making laments, and sometimes he would be making praises of the old times and of Finn; and these are some of them that are remembered yet:--
   I saw the household of Finn; it was not the household of a soft race; I had a vision of that man yesterday.
   I saw the household of the High King, he with the brown, sweet-voiced son; I never saw a better man.
   I saw the household of Finn; no one saw it as I saw it; I saw Finn with the sword, Mac an Luin. Och! it was sorrowful to see it.
   I cannot tell out every harm that is on my head; free us from our trouble for ever; I have seen the household of Finn.
   It is a week from yesterday I last saw Finn; I never saw a braver man. A king of heavy blows; my law, my adviser, my sense and my wisdom, prince and poet, braver than kings, King of the Fianna, brave in all countries; golden salmon of the sea, clean hawk of the air, rightly taught, avoiding lies; strong in his doings, a right judge, ready in courage, a high messenger in bravery and in music.
   His skin lime-white, his hair golden; ready to work, gentle to women. His great green vessels full of rough sharp wine, it is rich the king was, the head of his people.
   Seven sides Finn's house had, and seven score shields on every side. Fifty fighting men he had about him having woollen cloaks; ten bright drinking-cups in his hall; ten blue vessels, ten golden horns.
   It is a good household Finn had, without grudging, without lust, without vain boasting, without chattering, without any slur on any one of the Fianna.
   Finn never refused any man; he never put away any one that came to his house. If the brown leaves falling in the woods were gold, if the white waves were silver, Finn would have given away the whole of it.
   Blackbird of Doire an Chairn, your voice is sweet; I never heard on any height of the world music was sweeter than your voice, and you at the foot of your nest.
   The music is sweetest in the world, it is a pity not to be listening to it for a while, O son of Calphurn of the sweet bells, and you would overtake your nones again
   If you knew the story of the bird the way I know it, you would be crying lasting tears, and you would give no heed to your God for a while.
   In the country of Lochlann of the blue streams, Finn, son of Cumhal, of the red-gold cups, found that bird you hear now; I will tell you its story truly.
   Doire an Chairn, that wood there to the west, where the Fianna used to be delaying, it is there they put the blackbird, in the beauty of the pleasant trees.
   The stag of the heather of quiet Cruachan, the sorrowful croak from the ridge of the Two Lakes; the voice of the eagle of the Valley of the Shapes, the voice of the cuckoo on the Hill of Brambles.
   The voice of the hounds in the pleasant valley; the scream of the eagle on the edge of the wood; the early outcry of the hounds going over the Strand of the Red Stones.
   The time Finn lived and the Fianna, it was sweet to them to be listening to the whistle of the blackbird; the voice of the bells would not have been sweet to them.
   There was no one of the Fianna without his fine silken shirt and his soft coat, without bright armour, without shining stones on his bead, two spears in his hand, and a shield that brought victory.
   If you were to search the world you would not find a harder man, best of blood, best in battle; no one got the upper hand of him. When be went out trying his white hound, which of us could be put beside Finn?
   One time we went hunting on Slieve-nam-ban; the sun was beautiful overhead, the voice of the hounds went east and west, from hill to bill. Finn and Bran sat for a while on the hill, every man was jealous for the hunt. We let out three thousand hounds from their golden chains; every hound of them brought down two deer.
   Patrick of the true crozier, did you ever see, east or west, a greater hunt than that hunt of Finn and the Fianna? O son of Calphurn of the bells, that day was better to me than to be listening to your lamentations in the church.
   There is no strength in my hands to-night, there is no power within me; it is no wonder I to be sorrowful, being thrown down in the sorrow of old age.
   Everything is a grief to me beyond any other man on the face of the earth, to be dragging stones along to the church and the hill of the priests.
   I have a little story of our people. One time Finn had a mind to make a dun on the bald hill of Cuailgne, and he put it on the Fianna of Ireland to bring stones for building it; a third on the sons of Morna, a third on myself, and a third on the sons of Baiscne.
   I gave an answer to Finn, son of Cumhal; I said I would be under his sway no longer, and that I would obey him no more.
   When Finn heard that, be was silent a long time, the man without a lie, without fear. And he said to me then: "You yourself will be dragging stones before your death comes to you."
   I rose up then with anger on me, and there followed me the fourth of the brave battalions of the Fianna. I gave my own judgments, there were many of the Fianna with me.
   Now my strength is gone from me, I that was adviser to the Fianna; my whole body is tired to-night, my hands, my feet, and my head, tired, tired, tired.
   It is bad the way I am after Finn of the Fianna; since he is gone away, every good is behind me.
   Without great people, without mannerly ways; it is sorrowful I am after our king that is gone.
   I am a shaking tree, my leaves gone from me; an empty nut, a horse without a bridle; a people without a dwelling-place, I Oisin, son of Finn.
   It is long the clouds are over me to-night! It is long last night was; although this day is long, yesterday was longer again to me; every day that comes is long to me!
   That is not the way I used to be, without fighting, without battles, without learning feats, without young girls, without music, without harps, without bruising bones, without great deeds; without increase of learning, without generosity, without drinking at feasts, without courting, without hunting, the two trades I was used to; without going out to battle Ochone! the want of them is sorrowful to me.
   No hunting of deer or stag, it is not like that I would wish to be; no leashes for our hounds, no hounds; it is long the clouds are over me to-night!
   Without rising up to do bravery as we were used, without playing as we had a mind; without swimming of our fighting men in the lake; it is long the clouds are over me to-night!
   There is no one at all in the world the way I am: it is a pity the way I am; an old man dragging stones; it is long the clouds are over me to-night!
   I am the last of the Fianna, great Oisin, son of Finn, listening to the voice of bells; it is long the clouds are over me to-night!


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan