Should the daughter have disobeyed her father in "Lord Ullin's Daughter" by Thomas Campbell?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Thomas Campbell spent time on the isle of Mull,  which is part of the Hebrides.  Across a narrow strait called Lochglye is the island of Ulva.  This is the setting for Campbell’s poem, ”Lord Ullin’s Daughter.” This  is a ballad or narrative poem written in short stanzas, intended to be sung to a repeated tune.

Lord Ullin, a Scottish chieftain probably from the Isle of Mull, pursues his daughter who has eloped with the prince of Ulva. A Scottish clan was fiercely loyal to its own chief and people; in addition, the chief was to be obeyed by not only the people but his family as well.  The daughter has disobeyed Lord Ullin.  In his anger, he along with his soldiers intend to stop the wedding and kill the groom. 

After three days, the couple come to Lochgyle which separates Ulva from Mull.  The boatman does not want to take them across because there is a fierce storm on the water. The prince tells the man their story; reluctantly, he agrees to take them in for the sake of the beautiful bride. 

As the trio set out in the boat, the storm worsens.  It seems a though the heavens are unhappy as the winds shriek and the night grows darker. When the boat is in the middle of the water, Lord Ullin and his men ride up.  Just then, the boat is swept over by the intensity of the storm.

Lord Ullin observes the scene:

Lord Ullin reach'd that fatal shore-
His wrath was chang'd to wailing

Come back! Come back!' he cried in grief,
'Across this stormy water;

In his grief, he promises that he will forgive the prince.  Too late, the daughter is washed up on the shore to the distraught father. Her hand is outstretched seeking help and she is holding the hand of her lover. Instead of forgiving them, the Lord should have been asking forgiveness from the couple.  

In the medieval times, the father did have complete control over his family.  A wiser man would have listened to his daughter and tried to understand her position.  Furthermore, this was prince, not just any man. No father should be able to force his child to marry another person or to keep someone who loves a person from marrying him/her.  This is the person’s life and happiness, not the parent’s.  Lord Ullin probably did not learn his lesson.  He only knows that he has lost his daughter.  Maybe he does wish that he had the chance to do things again.

The waters wild went o'er his child,
And he was left lamenting.


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