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

Mexico: Palenque


By Nicholas Michell (1807–1880)

(From Ruins of Many Lands)

UNLIKE Copan, yet buried, too, mid trees,

Upspringing there for sumless centuries,

Behold a royal city! vast and lone,

Lost to each race,—to all the world unknown;

Like famed Pompeii, ’neath her lava bed,

Till chance unveiled the “City of the Dead.”

Palenque!—dark seat of kings!—as o’er the plain,

Clothed with thick copse, the traveller toils with pain,

Climbs the rude mound the shadowy scene to trace,

He views in mute surprise thy desert grace.

At every step some palace meets his eye,

Some figure frowns, some temple courts the sky.

It seems as if that hour the verdurous earth,

By genii struck, had given these fabrics birth,

Save that old Time hath flung his darkening pall

On each tree-shaded tower and pictured wall.

The royal palace decks its stately mound,

Girt by wild shrubs, by waving thistles crowned;

But strength still breathes throughout the lordly pile,

And lingering beauty sheds a mournful smile.

We walk the rooms where kings and princes met,

Frown on the walls their sculptured portraits yet;

Strange their costume,—ye see no native face,

Lip, brow, and hue bespeak an Ethiop race.

The square stone portals, smooth and glittering floors,

The spacious courts, and sounding corridors,

The picture-writing earliest races learn,

The giant figures, mournful, calm, and stern,—

All point to climes beyond the Eastern sea,

Egypt’s old shores, or, far Cathay! to thee:

How the bold ancients crossed the watery way,

By star or needle, ’t is not ours to say;

Enough we meet their gorgeous buildings here,

Their picture-art, and creeds of gloom and fear.

Lo! o’er the dense black mass of giant trees

The moon upsprings, and sighs the midnight breeze;

Now looks Palenque—on ruin, ruin piled—

August, yet spectral,—beautiful, yet wild:

The tower, just peering through the foliage green,

Bathed in the beams, a silvery point is seen;

The moss-grown palace, temple dark and still,

The shattered pillar thrown across the rill;

The firefly, darting through the forest shade,

The owl’s gray eyes that glare within the glade;

The spells of silence on all earth that lie,

Naught but the cold moon moving in the sky,—

No sight like this may other ruins show;

They wake to wonder, while they melt to woe,

And seem to breathe one voice,—that voice the knell

Of races gone, whose history none may tell.