Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Americas
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Americas: Vol. XXX.  1876–79.
Introductory to Mexico
Ruins in Mexico and Central America
Isaac McLellan (1806–1899)
A RUINED city! In the heart
Of the deep wilderness of woods
It stands immured,—where seldom foot
Of passing traveller intrudes.
The groves primeval year by year        5
Above the spot renew their blooms,
Year after year cast down their wealth
Of foliage in these desert tombs.
Altar and idol here arise
Inscribed with hieroglyphics strange;        10
Column and pyramid sublime,
Defaced by centuries of change.
Here idols from their pedestals
Displaced by roots of mightiest girth;
There, by a close-embracing branch        15
Half lifted in the air from earth;
Or from their stations prostrate thrown,
Their huge proportions strew the ground,
With vines and brambles overgrown,
With interlacing creepers bound.        20
No sound of life! save when at eve
The Indian’s hatchet cleaves through wood,
Or trips the Indian damsel by,
Singing to cheer the solitude.
No sound, save when the sobbing breeze        25
Sighs through the forest’s dim arcades,
Or shrill call of the red macaw,
Or parrot’s gabble in the glades;
Or when the chattering monkey troop
Glide o’er the tree-tops in their race,        30
Like wandering spirits of the dead,
Haunting the shadows of the place.
Egypt’s colossal skeletons
Of temples and of wondrous shrines,
In the unwatered sands repose,        35
Where hot the sultry summer shines;
But forests lonely and immense
Enshroud these ruins from the sight,
And with their tangled barriers guard
The hidden secrets from the light.        40
Tradition has no tale to tell
And science no recórd to give
Of those who reared these ancient walls,—
Of the lost race that here did live.
All desolate these ruins rest,        45
Like bark that in mid-ocean rolls,
Her name effaced, her masts o’erthrown,
And none remaining of the souls
That once sailed in her, to relate
From what far-distant port she came;        50
Whither she sailed and what her fate,
And what her nation and her name.
But only may conjecture guess
The fancied story of this place,
And from these crumbling ruins gain        55
Some knowledge of the vanished race.
The wanderer from foreign land
With awe beholds each mystic spot,
Ruins of unrecorded years,
The relics of a race forgot.        60
Beneath each gray, sepulchral cairn
He delves to find the heathen bones,
The statues of imperial kings,
The broken monumental stones.
All round are sculptured pedestals        65
Mid shivered columns wide outspread,
Where mighty roots of forest trees
Spring from the ashes of the dead,
That in their growth had levelled low
The pyramids the soil that strow.        70
Here flowering creepers, glossy vines,
The shattered monoliths o’erswept,
And flowers mid painted potteries
And shapely urns luxuriant crept.
The dust with antique treasure teems,        75
Weapons and ornaments of yore,
Great vases carved in arabesques,
Idols, that heathen tribes adore.
Out in the green savanna lands
The prostrate stones in masses lay,        80
Colossal heads with staring eyes
And fractured limbs of granite gray;
The ruins of a race extinct,
The hieroglyphs of language dead,
Memorials of rites long lost,        85
The arms, the wealth of empires fled.
The stranger’s voice with awe is stilled,
His soul with fascination filled,
When musing in that silent mood,
With sad, gray plains extended round,        90
Amid the hum of insect life,
Mid trees with scarlet blossoms crowned,
Mid all the bloom and solemn pomp
Of tropic nature’s wondrous place,
Amid the temples and the graves        95
Of a once haughty, vanished race.

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