Thomas Campbell stayed on the Isle of Mull for two years. Parallel to Mull is the Isle of Ulva with Lochgyle between them. This is the setting of Campbell's poem "Lord Ullin's Daughter" written in about 1804.
Scottish clans were a group of families who lived and worked together and were highly suspicious of other clans that lived outside of their region. The clans were ruled by a chieftain who was the authority for the people. Rival clans would often fight for years over a single slight. This is the life faced by the characters in the poem
Written in ballad form, the poem was intended to be sung. Told in third person narration, each stanza contains four lines and follows the rhyme scheme abab. To appreciate the rhythm of the poem, it should be read aloud.
The poem tells the story of Lord Ullin, a Scottish Chieftain, who pursues his daughter. She has run away with the Chief of the Isle of Ulva. The lovers must cross Lochgyle to get to Ulva so that they can be married and escape the wrath of her father.
Rejecting his daughter's choice for her husband, Ullin threatens his daughter. If he finds the two of them together, he will kill her "husband to be." His daughter responds by eloping with the man she loves. Lord Ullin and his army chase the couple for three days hoping to prevent the marriage. Finally, the couple arrive at the shore of Lochgyne and ask the boatman to take them across the lake. After hearing their story, the boatman refuses money:
It is not for your silver bright;
But for your winsome lady.
A storm is raging. Hurriedly, the three set off in the boat. As the boat flounders in the stormy water, Lord Ullin and his soldiers arrive to watch the boat capsize and the lovers flung into the water. Ullin cries out that he will forgive the pair if only they will return safely to shore. But it is too late. They drown.
Lacking fatherly wisdom, Lord Ullin arrogantly sends his daughter to her death. If he had caught up with them, Ullin's men would certainly have carried out his threat. His soldiers were probably armed with broadswords. Often, the Scots tortured their enemies before putting them to death. Additionally, they often cut off the enemies' heads to prove that they had punished them. Would Lord Ullin have killed his daughter's lover as she watched? Despite her begging for his life, there is no doubt Lord Ullin would have carried out the murder.
For should he find us in the glen,
My blood would stain the heather...
Should they our steps discover,
Then who will cheer my bonny bride,
When they have slain her lover?
On this day, the Lord saw the results of his rage. Yet, even in his sorrow, he still did not accept responsibility for his daughter's death. No, he says that he will forgive her prince. The reader knows that it is Ullin who should ask for forgiveness.