Lord Ullin's Daughter

by Thomas Campbell

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How do Lord Ullin's rigidity and narrow-mindedness contribute to his daughter's death in "Lord Ullin's Daughter"?

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Thomas Campbell, a Scottish poet, visited the Isle of Mull in 1795.  Located in the Hebrides Islands, it lies parallel to the Isle of Ulva mentioned in Campbell's poem "Lord Ullin's Daughter," published in 1804. Scotland's landscape is  a combination of woods, moors, verdant valleys, and beautiful lakes. Lochgyle is an actual lake separating the two isles. 

"Lord Ullin's Daughter," written as a ballad, was intended to be sung, usually by roaming minstrels. Typical in its rhyme scheme, the poem was quite popular when it was published.

The narrator of the poem is unknown, and the characters are fictional. The story itself has similarities to the Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet, particularly with regard to parental interference. Dialogue between the characters advances the story and gives it a play-like quality.

The poems tells of an attempted elopement which results in the couple's deaths. The fleeing lovers, a young chieftain  from Ulva and Lord Ullin's daughter, are going to Ulva to be married. For three days, Lord Ullin and his men have been pursuing the couple to prevent the marriage. Refusing to take money, a boatman agrees to take them across Lochgyle to Ulva for the sake of the girl. Despite a raging storm, the three set out to cross the lake. As the Lord and his men approach, the great chieftain is  forced to watch his daughter and her lover drown. He calls out to them, vainly promising forgiveness to the young man if only they would return.

Like many powerful men of his time, Lord Ullin believed that he owned everything and everyone around him. The Scottish people held close to their individual clans; therefore, it is not surprising that Ullin would want his daughter to marry someone closer to the world that he ruled. With his rigid outlook, Ullin drove his daughter away by refusing to accept her choice for her husband. The Lord was a man of his time, inflexibly holding to the tradition of marrying within the clan.

In literature, this is an often used premise. The unyielding father destroys the life of the one he loves most only to realize his mistakes too late. Obviously, the couple is fearful of her father. How sad that Ullin threatened his daughter with the death of her lover if the soldiers found them together.

For should he find us in the glen,

My blood would stain the heather.

Sadly, the boatman, thinking that he was saving the couple, innocently took them to their deaths. Yet it was the man on the shore, yelling and begging her to come back--her father--that held the responsibility for the drowning.

"Come back! comeback!" he cried in grief

"Across this stormy water;

And I'll forgive your Highland chief.

My daughter!--O my daughter!"

Forgiveness for finding true love with another Scottish chieftain--sadly, it was too little, too late. His lack of understanding, his pride, and his arrogance led his daughter to her watery grave. Rather than face her father, she was willing to go headlong into a dangerous storm.

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