Thursday, October 5, 2000

The Poems of Ossian, by James MacPhearson, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

by James MacPhearson

I am flummoxed, my flabber is ghasted by this primo-genital Celtic Ur-“tale” that sparked off the Romantic Movement. were they nuts? Since I can’t seem to retain any of the elements of the storyline except lots of swords and blue-eyed heroes named Fingal, Ossian, Cuthullen, Morva, Gaul and Orla, I am at a loss as to what MacPherson was actually writing about—his storylines and even his so-called summaries left me in the dark.

When the footnotes are longer than the so-called poems, it spells trouble. Their only purpose, as far as I can see (which isn’t very far at all), is to give an “authentic” and learnéd flavor to the texts, which I consider to be badly written archaic diction, and certainly NOT poetic. Is there a decent metaphor in the house? 

I’m sorry, but I’m a VERY tolerant reader, prone to reading cereal boxes and junk mail, but this text stretches my very patience (and dyslexia). For the record, I HATE exclamation marks!! (she said!!!) And O when thou speakest in sacred tongues—a Romantic notion of ancient language and diction—it simply makes me want to smack MacPherson in the gob.

How could Napoleon have carried a copy around with him, ere he saw Elba, during his campaigns—no wonder he was imprisoned. The Moscow mud was a just punishment for bad literary judgment. But then again, did he really know English? (Was he holding the book hidden in his jacket front all that time?).

The errata page prefacing the opening lines of Fingal, with its hyper-minute corrections of prepositions and articles set the (anal) tone. Poor Fingal, the hero, only gets two lines in edgewise before the author MacPherson interjects an “apologia” in both first- and third-person perspective, rendering some 15 lines of footnotes of disclaimer, which continues onto the next page another 35 lines about finding the “fragments,” and the orthography of CúChulainn’s name, thus merging him with the 3rd c. Fingal. Strange anachronisms indeed. 

The story isn’t about Fingal at all, it’s about what MacPherson, the scholar, knows, he’s wanking off. His spear is a blasted pine, all right. OK, so he professes to know Greek, makes textual comparisons to Homer’s Iliad, Virgil’s Aeniad, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shakespeare, Pope’s Homer and Iliad, Dryden, Himself, Thompson, Gray, et al., in order to perhaps authenticate and place his own work with that of the great English poets, and to demonstrate a Scots-Celtic link with ancient Greece. 

Methinks the author doth protest too much. Does Toland’s book actually exist? Check out footnote 2 on p. 185/6 about his explanation of a “false translation” as to why the ancient Celts couldn’t have been drinking beer or wine...or the author’s “review on p. 206. Perhaps the author himself imbibed, if not in spirits, then in Robert Grave’s favorite hallucinogen, the amanita?

“The poet teaches us the opinions that prevailed in his time...” (p62, footnote 9) holds true for MacPherson: this is a hopelessly jumbled, deluded text. I’m surprised anyone ever took it seriously. 

OK, like B-movie commentator Joe-Bob Riggs, I will attempt to describe the action which takes place mostly in the Scottish Highlands and to the West, perhaps Scandinavia and Ireland as well: lots of battles, ghosts, spears, grimsome deaths, slaughters, heroic combat, suffering fair, lovesick damsels, Viking-like heroes, brave and stately in tall ships, chieftain-kings, druids, and bards, warring tribes...the mighty have fallen in battle indeed, and this author succumbed to sheer verbiage, a fallen warrior on the battlefield of muddled words.

Suggested reading order: 1) read footnotes, 2) read chapter summaries 3) read story—if you are able.

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