Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Mision San Antonio

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Southern States: San Antonio, Tex.

Mision San Antonio

By George Dennison Prentice (1802–1870)

Thoughts on the Far Past

AMID these ruins, gloomy, ghostly, strange,

The weird memorials of an elder time,

The sacred relics of dead centuries,

I stand in utter loneliness; and thoughts

As solemn as the mysteries of the deep

Come o’er me, like the shadow of a cloud

O’er the still waters of a lonely lake,

Or like the mournful twilight of eclipse

O’er the dim face of Nature.
Ye were reared,

O ruins old, by stern and holy men,—

God’s messengers unto a new-found world,—

Whose voices, like the trumpets of the blast,

Resounded through the forests, and shook down,

As by an earthquake’s dread iconoclasm,

The idols that men worshipped. Their great lives

Were given to awful duty, and their words

Swelled, breathed, and burned and throbbed upon the air

In solemn majesty. They did not shrink

Or falter in the path of thorn and rock

Their souls marked out. Their mouldered relics lie

Beneath yon humble mounds; but ah, their names,

There rudely sculptured upon blocks of stone,

Are breathed on earth with reverential awe,

And written by God’s finger on His scroll

Of saints and martyrs.
Age has followed age

To the abysses of Eternity;

And many generations of our race

Have sprung and faded like the forest leaves;

The mightiest temples reared by human pride

Have long been scattered by a thousand storms,—

But ye remain. Ah yes, ye still remain,

And many pilgrims yearly turn aside

From their far journeyings, to come and pause

Amid your shattered wrecks, as lone and wild

As those of Tadmor of the desert. Wolves

Howl nightly in your ghostly corridors,

And here the deadly serpent makes his home.

Yet round your broken walls, your fallen roofs,

Your many crumbling, shattered images,

Your sunken floors, your shrines with grass o’ergrown,

And the unnumbered strange, mysterious flowers,

That stand, pale nuns, upon your topmost heights,

Wild chants and soul-like dirges seem to rise,

And the low tones of eloquence and prayer

Seem sounding on the hollow winds; and here

I kneel as lowly as I could have knelt,

If I had listened to the living words

Your grand old founders uttered in the name

Of God, who sent them to proclaim his will.