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

By 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

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

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

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

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

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,

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,

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

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!

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:

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;

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

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

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.