Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Africa
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV.  1876–79.
Introductory to Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia
A Meditation
José Agostinho de Macedo (1761–1831)
Anonymous translation

PORTENTOUS Egypt! I in thee behold
And studiously examine human-kind,
Learning to know me in mine origin,
In the primeval and the social state.
A cultivator first, man next obeyed        5
Wise Nature’s voice internal, equal men
Uniting, and to empire raising law,
The expression of the universal will,
That gives to virtue recompense, to crime
Due punishment, and to the general good        10
Bids private interest be sacrificed.
In thee the exalted temple of the arts
Was founded, high in thee they rose, in thee
Long ages saw their proudest excellence.
The Persian worshipper of sun or fire        15
From thee derived his creed. The arts from thee
Followed Sesostris’ arms to the utmost plains
Of the scorched Orient, in caution where
Lurks the Chinese. Thou wondrous Egypt! through
Vast Hindostan thy worship and thy laws        20
I trace. In thee to the inquirer’s gaze
Nature uncovered first the ample breast
Of science, that contemplates, measuring,
Heaven’s vault, and tracks the bright stars’ circling course.
*        *        *        *        *
From out the bosom of thine opulence        25
And glory vast imagination spreads
Her wings. In thine immortal works I find
Proofs how sublime that human spirit is,
Which the dull atheist, depreciating,
Calls but an instinct of more perfect kind,        30
More active, than the never-varying brute’s.
More is my being, more. Flashes in me
A ray reflected from the eternal light.
All the philosophy my verses breathe,
The imagination in their cadences,        35
Result not from unconscious mechanism.
*        *        *        *        *
  Thebes is in ruins, Memphis is but dust,
O’er polished Egypt savage Egypt lies.
Midst deserts does the persevering hand
Of skilful antiquary disinter        40
Columns of splintered porphyry, remains
Of ancient porticos; each single one
Of greater worth, O thou immortal Rome,
Than all thou from the desolating Goth,
And those worse Vandals of the Seine, hast saved!        45
Buried beneath light grains of arid sand,
The golden palaces, the aspiring towers,
Of Mœris, Amasis, Sesostris, lie;
And the immortal pyramids contend
In durability against the world:        50
Planted midst centuries’ shade, Time ’gainst their tops
Scarce grazes his ne’er-resting iron wing.
  In Egypt to perfection did the arts
Attain; in Egypt they declined, they died:
Of all that ’s mortal such the unfailing lot;        55
Only the light of science ’gainst Death’s law
Eternally endures. The basis firm
Of the fair temple of Geometry
Was in portentous Egypt laid. The doors
Of vasty Nature by Geometry        60
Are opened; to her fortress she conducts
The sage. With her, beneath the fervid sun,
The globe I measure; only by her aid
Couldst thou, learned Kepler, the eternal laws
Of the fixed stars discover; and with her        65
Grasps the philosopher the ellipse immense,
Eccentric, of the sad, and erst unknown,
Far-wandering comet. Justly if I claim
The name geometrician, certainly
Matter inert is not what in me thinks.        70

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