"Autobiographies of great nations are written in three manuscripts – a book of deeds, a book of words, and a book of art. Of the three, I would choose the latter as truest testimony." - Sir Kenneth Smith, Great Civilisations

"I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine." - Leo Tolstoy

I have never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again. - John Updike

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Poetry is the shadow cast by our streetlight imaginations." - Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Poetry of Fingal's Cave (with links to Macpherson's Ossian & Mendelssohn's Overture)

The English Romantic poet John Keats visited the island of Staffa in July 1818, accompanied
by his friend Charles Brown. Keats was just as captivated by the wild beauty of the island
and Fingal’s cave, as Felix Mendelssohn was 11 years later.

Staffa, the Island
Fingal’s Cave
John Keats (1795–1821)

NOT Aladdin magian
Ever such a work began;
Not the wizard of the Dee
Ever such a dream could see;
Not Saint John, in Patmos’ isle,        5
In the passion of his toil,
When he saw the churches seven,
Golden aisled, built up in heaven,
Gazed at such a rugged wonder!
As I stood its roofing under,        10
Lo! I saw one sleeping there,
On the marble cold and bare;
While the surges washed his feet,
And his garments white did beat,
Drenched about the sombre rocks;        15
On his neck his well-grown locks,
Lifted dry above the main,
Were upon the curl again.
“What is this? and what art thou?”
Whispered I, and touched his brow;        20
“What art thou? and what is this?”
Whispered I, and strove to kiss
The spirit’s hand, to wake his eyes.
Up he started in a trice:
“I am Lycidas,” said he,        25
“Famed in fun’ral minstrelsy!
This was architectured thus
By the great Oceanus!—
Here his mighty waters play
Hollow organs all the day;        30
Here, by turns, his dolphins all,
Finny palmers, great and small,
Come to pay devotion due,—
Each a mouth of pearls must strew!
Many a mortal of these days        35
Dares to pass our sacred ways;
Dares to touch, audaciously,
This cathedral of the sea!
I have been the pontiff-priest,
Where the waters never rest,        40
Where a fledgy sea-bird choir
Soars forever! Holy fire
I have hid from mortal man;
Proteus is my sacristan!
But the dulled eye of mortal        45
Hath passed beyond the rocky portal;
So forever will I leave
Such a taint, and soon unweave
All the magic of the place.”
So saying, with a spirit’s glance        50
He dived!

Mendelssohn: Fingal's Cave Overture (The Hebrides)

  • "The Hebrides Overture" also known as "Fingal's Cave," is a concert overture composed by Felix Mendelssohn. Written in 1830, the piece was inspired by the German composer's trip to Scotland in 1829. Fingal's Cave itself is a cavern on Staffa, an island in the Hebrides archipelago located off the coast of Scotland. The opening bars of the famous theme were actually written the day before the composer visited the cave.
  • The music, though labelled as an overture, is intended to stand as a complete work. The piece was completed on December 16, 1830 and was originally entitled "The Lonely Island." However, Mendelssohn later revised the score completing it by June 20, 1832 and re-titling the music "The Hebrides." The overture was premiered on May 14, 1832 in London.
  • Mendelssohn was enchanted by Scotland and the Staffa scenery in particular. However, it appears that the journey to the tiny Hebridian island was not so enjoyable. He wrote from the comfort of dry land some days later, "How much has happened since my last letter and this! The most fearful sickness, Staffa, scenery, travels and people."
  • Naturalist Sir Joseph Banks discovered the cave in 1772 while on a natural history expedition to Iceland. It was named after Fingal, the hero of an epic poem by 18th-century Scots poet-historian James Macpherson. Mendelssohn's overture popularized the cave as a tourist destination and during Victorian times paddle steamers landed 300 people a day on the island.
  • The opening few minutes of the overture are played in the 1943 movie The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp while Roger Livesey's character Clive Candy visits his German friend in a Prisoner of War camp.

Pink Floyd - Oenone
(based on Fingal's Cave)


Ossian (/ˈɒʃən, ˈɒsiən/; Irish Gaelic/Scottish Gaelic: Oisean) is the narrator and purported author of a cycle of epic poems published by the Scottish poet James Macpherson from 1760. Macpherson claimed to have collected word-of-mouth material in Gaelic, said to be from ancient sources, and that the work was his translation of that material. Ossian is based on Oisín, son of Finn or Fionn mac Cumhaill, anglicised to Finn McCool, a legendary bard who is a character in Irish mythology. Contemporary critics were divided in their view of the work's authenticity, but the consensus since is that Macpherson framed the poems himself, based on old folk tales he had collected.

The work was internationally popular, translated into all the literary languages of Europe and was highly influential both in the development of the Romantic movement and the Gaelic revival. "The contest over the authenticity of Macpherson's pseudo-Gaelic productions," Curley asserts, "became a seismograph of the fragile unity within restive diversity of imperialGreat Britain in the age of Johnson." Macpherson's fame was crowned by his burial among the literary giants in Westminster Abbey. W.P. Ker, in the Cambridge History of English Literature, observes that "all Macpherson's craft as a philological impostor would have been nothing without his literary skill."

The Poems of Ossian, by James Macpherson

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A unique basalt formation known as Fingal’s Cave
gilds the uninhabited volcanic island of Staffa.

Fingal’s Cave:
Scotland’s Eerie & Tuneful Cave
Discovered in 1772

by Ian Harvey
May 25, 2017

Owned by the National Trust for Scotland as part of a National Nature Reserve, the cave is known for its eerie melody, caused by natural acoustics.

Discovered in 1772, Fingal’s Cave gained fame when the Scottish poet-historian James Macpherson wrote an epic poem about an eponymous hero in the 18th century. The hero of the poem was known as Fionn mac Cumhaill, meaning “white stranger” in Irish mythology.

According to the legend of the Giant’s Causeway, Fionn built the causeway between Scotland and Ireland, inspiring Macpherson, and the cave was named in Fionn’s honor.

Fingal’s Cave, Island of Staffa, Scotland

A key part of Macpherson’s legacy is the cave’s original name, “An Uamh Bhin,” or the “melodious” cave, changed into “Fingal’s Cave” by Sir Joseph Banks in 1772 when Macpherson’s popularity was still high.

The origin of the cave is a frequent question among the tourists for whom the place is a favorite stopping point. Apparently, the magnificent eerie cave was formed from hexagonal basalt columns within an approximately 60 million-year-old lava flow.

Fingal’s cave entrance

After cooling, the upper and lower structures started fracturing and turned into a block tetragonal pattern, and transitioned to a regular hexagonal fracture pattern. As the cooling continued, the cracks extended toward the center of the flow, forming the long three- to eight-sided columns visible in the wave-eroded cross-section.

When observing the cave from a distance, you can’t miss its oval large entrance occasionally filled with water from the sea.

Although the entrance is big, boats can’t enter into the depths of the cave unless the sea is very calm. However, boats aren’t the only option for sneaking into the cave or just to take a closer look at the formation.

Basalt columns inside Fingal’s Cave. – By Hartmut Josi Bennöhr – CC BY-SA 3.0

Several local cruise and charter companies offer an exploration tour of the cave from April to October.

It’s also possible to land on the island and explore the cave by stepping over some of the fractured columns forming a walkway over the water.

Tourists find this way of exploring the cave exciting since it gives them the freedom to observe its formations closely and ability to hear more clearly the echoes of waves splashing inside.

Entrance to Fingal’s cave. – By Hartmut Josi Bennöhr – CC BY-SA 3.0

View from the depths of the cave, with the island of Iona visible
in the background, 2008. – By N2e CC BY-SA 3.0

Some visitors say that the melody formed by the echoes of waves is similar to ones that can be heard in cathedrals, and to some, the cave is a natural cathedral.

One of the most beautiful sights from the inside of the cave is the entrance, described as a perfect frame to the island Iona across the sea.

Besides being an attraction for tourists, Fingal’s Cave remains a muse to many important artists, such as the romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn, author Jules Verne, Alfred Lord Tennyson, the playwright August Strindberg, Pink Floyd, and the English engraver of portraits and landscapes, James Fittler. And it is described by the revered Scots novelist Sir Walter Scott as one of the most extraordinary places on Earth.

Engraving of Fingal’s Cave by James Fittler in Scotia Depicta, 1804

Staffa top. By Hartmut Josi Bennöhr – CC BY-SA 3.0

Some writers were inspired enough to mention the cave in their poems and books, while others named their songs after the famous cave.

Even the movie adaptation of the novel When Eight Bells Toll was filmed there, with Anthony Hopkins in the leading role.

Those who decide to visit the island will see some spectacular coastal sights, crystal clear sea and, of course, the famous Fingal’s Cave, eclipsing everything with its grandeur.

* * * * * * * * *

Scotland Trip Full Film HD

Published on Feb 25, 2017
The Highlands, Oban. Lochgilphead. Loch Fyne, Inveraray, Largs, Loch Lomond, Great Cumbrae, Staffa, Iona, Iona Abbey, Hebrides, Iona Nunnery, Isle of Mull, Staffa, Iona, Oban, Fingal's Cave, Basking Shark, Birdlife, Puffins, Bird Sanctuary, Seahouses, Guillemots, 6th Century history. St Aidan and St Cuthbert, The herring boat houses, Lindisfarne Castle, Priory, St. Mary's Church.

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