Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Americas: Vol. XXX. 1876–79.

Central America: Copan, Guatemala


By Nicholas Michell (1807–1880)

(From Ruins of Many Lands)

PASS we yon wilds where Ruin sternly lowers,

And covering roofs of shrines and lofty towers,

Ages have heaped the soil, till spreading trees

Have rooted there, and murmur to the breeze.

Southward we press, where, screened from noontide’s beam,

Flows through dense woods Copan’s pellucid stream;

Here their rich blooms the cassia’s stems unfold,

And parrots spread their wings of green and gold.

This wooded landscape, picturesque and wild,

Might charm the breast of Nature’s fervid child,—

A desert of all beauteous things,—bees, flowers,

Fruits on the boughs, and odors in the bowers;

The green leaves whispering, as by spirits stirred,

The mellow note from some gay-plumaged bird;

Paths rarely trod by man,—the sparry cave,

The trees that bend to sip the glassy wave,—

All form a Paradise where Love might dwell,

And glowing Fancy weave her brightest spell.

What shines through yonder glades? approach with awe,

A scene like this the Old World never saw.

City of shrines! the sainted and the blest!

Dark home of priests, the Mecca of the West!

As starting through the forest’s tangled maze,

Thy countless pillars meet the wondering gaze,

Some crushed by trees, and some by lightning riven,

These prostrate laid, those looking still to heaven,

Each carved with forms whose meaning none may know,

Each looking on its altar spread below,

We scarce feel pleasure, but a shrinking fear,

As borne by demons to some darker sphere,

And these were works of foul and hellish pride,

Where ghouls might dwell, and pale-eyed phantoms glide.

Then, too, the lines of Death’s heads glistening white,

Marking each ancient tomb’s long-mouldered site,

Chill while we gaze, and tell how stern were those

Who bade their fathers in such graves repose.

Yes, o’er Copan drear Mystery spreads its veil;

What was its worship?—ask the sighing gale!

Ask of those crumbling altars moss-o’ergrown,

Those dim carved shapes,—those idol blocks of stone!

Naught do they answer; darkness still must reign

Above the trackless wood and solemn plain.