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

Introductory to Mexico

Ruins in Mexico and Central America

By Isaac McLellan (1806–1899)

A RUINED city! In the heart

Of the deep wilderness of woods

It stands immured,—where seldom foot

Of passing traveller intrudes.

The groves primeval year by year

Above the spot renew their blooms,

Year after year cast down their wealth

Of foliage in these desert tombs.

Altar and idol here arise

Inscribed with hieroglyphics strange;

Column and pyramid sublime,

Defaced by centuries of change.

Here idols from their pedestals

Displaced by roots of mightiest girth;

There, by a close-embracing branch

Half lifted in the air from earth;

Or from their stations prostrate thrown,

Their huge proportions strew the ground,

With vines and brambles overgrown,

With interlacing creepers bound.

No sound of life! save when at eve

The Indian’s hatchet cleaves through wood,

Or trips the Indian damsel by,

Singing to cheer the solitude.

No sound, save when the sobbing breeze

Sighs through the forest’s dim arcades,

Or shrill call of the red macaw,

Or parrot’s gabble in the glades;

Or when the chattering monkey troop

Glide o’er the tree-tops in their race,

Like wandering spirits of the dead,

Haunting the shadows of the place.

Egypt’s colossal skeletons

Of temples and of wondrous shrines,

In the unwatered sands repose,

Where hot the sultry summer shines;

But forests lonely and immense

Enshroud these ruins from the sight,

And with their tangled barriers guard

The hidden secrets from the light.

Tradition has no tale to tell

And science no recórd to give

Of those who reared these ancient walls,—

Of the lost race that here did live.

All desolate these ruins rest,

Like bark that in mid-ocean rolls,

Her name effaced, her masts o’erthrown,

And none remaining of the souls

That once sailed in her, to relate

From what far-distant port she came;

Whither she sailed and what her fate,

And what her nation and her name.

But only may conjecture guess

The fancied story of this place,

And from these crumbling ruins gain

Some knowledge of the vanished race.

The wanderer from foreign land

With awe beholds each mystic spot,

Ruins of unrecorded years,

The relics of a race forgot.

Beneath each gray, sepulchral cairn

He delves to find the heathen bones,

The statues of imperial kings,

The broken monumental stones.

All round are sculptured pedestals

Mid shivered columns wide outspread,

Where mighty roots of forest trees

Spring from the ashes of the dead,

That in their growth had levelled low

The pyramids the soil that strow.

Here flowering creepers, glossy vines,

The shattered monoliths o’erswept,

And flowers mid painted potteries

And shapely urns luxuriant crept.

The dust with antique treasure teems,

Weapons and ornaments of yore,

Great vases carved in arabesques,

Idols, that heathen tribes adore.

Out in the green savanna lands

The prostrate stones in masses lay,

Colossal heads with staring eyes

And fractured limbs of granite gray;

The ruins of a race extinct,

The hieroglyphs of language dead,

Memorials of rites long lost,

The arms, the wealth of empires fled.

The stranger’s voice with awe is stilled,

His soul with fascination filled,

When musing in that silent mood,

With sad, gray plains extended round,

Amid the hum of insect life,

Mid trees with scarlet blossoms crowned,

Mid all the bloom and solemn pomp

Of tropic nature’s wondrous place,

Amid the temples and the graves

Of a once haughty, vanished race.