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

Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia: Gheezeh (Gizeh)


By Nicholas Michell (1807–1880)

(From Ruins of Many Lands)

LO! towards the west, where skies are blue and clear,

Their bald, dark heads what giant structures rear?

High o’er the Nile, and Gizeh’s waste of sand,

They look around, dread guardians of the land.

Stupendous works of Mizraim’s early kings!

Where Time hath dropped his scythe and furled his wings,

The hoary god for ages standing by,

Watching their unchanged summits pierce the sky,

As nearer Gizeh’s wondrous piles we draw,

What stirs within us?—sadness blent with awe:

To gaze above, their massy outlines trace,

To lean, a less than pygmy, at their base;

To muse on that vast crowd, in other years

Worn with their toil, and weeping slavery’s tears,

That one man’s mortal frame might brave decay,

One tyrant’s memory should not pass away.

How fills the soul with thoughts too deep for words!

How dark a scene the pictured past affords!

But while we mourn the follies of our kind,

How glorious seems all-conquering, daring mind!

These piles at once grand, matchless, and sublime,

Yet proofs of darkness, monuments of crime?

O’er Libya’s hills the Day-god sinks once more,

Brightly as when their crowns the Pharaohs wore;

Sweet, too, as then, red-mantled Evening throws

O’er Egypt’s vale the spell of rich repose;

Soft glides and dimples ’neath the sunset smile

The stream of ruins, ancient, storied Nile:

On painted tomb, and crumbling city’s site,

Falls, like a shower of gold, the mellow light.

But brightest here the farewell splendors beam;

From pile to pile the lines of glory stream.

Up from the desert shoot the quivering rays;

No cloud, no mist, relieves that living blaze.

The horizon burns like some vast funeral pyre;

Each towering pyramid seems capped with fire.

But brief that glory,—one by one away

Fade the red beams; now softer colors play,

Pale rose-hues quivering down each structure’s side,

Till deepening shadows veil their pomp and pride.


The pyramids, the tombs,—Death’s Stygian bowers,

Ungraced by yews, unbeautified by flowers,

That crowd the desert sands where, race on race,

Men toiled, laughed, wept, then made their resting-place.

The sphinx, like some vast thing of monstrous birth,

Begot by mountains of the laboring earth,

Or darkly heaved from Pluto’s realms below,

Save that too sweet those Ethiop features glow,

Too sadly calm, majestic, and benign,

To image aught but attributes divine.