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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

India: Elephanta, the Island

The Cave of Elephanta

By Elias D. Knight

AT length, O longing soul, thy foot hath trod

On holy ground; and at the portals dim

Of Elephanta’s sacred cave, I bow

In silent worship of its mysteries

Before thy shrine supreme,

O Bhagavat! I stand in wondering maze

Of meditation lost; and o’er the past—

Expanse immeasurable of years unknown—

I gaze in undefined perplexity!

Brahma, within his lotus-cup, in doubt

And grief involved, knew scarcely less of Thee

Than I! And in the voice mysterious,

That over the weird waste of waters came,

Unto his anxious ear, learned scarcely more

Of whence or where or how he gained his birth,

Than murmurs now among these echo-tones.

Anon, beside the brimming brink I kneel

Of Vishnu’s sacred spring; and, fearful, taste,

With trembling lips, of the amreeta’s juice,

Immortal flood! The magic-mingled draught

Thrills through my shuddering veins, and seems to chill,

My very blood!
But who unmoved can gaze

Upon thy hideous and colossal shape,

O Siva! fell Destroyer! Prince of Death!

What terror-stricken tens of thousands, here,

Before thy gory feet have knelt, and thus,

With tortures terrible, sweltering in their blood,

Have died, with dismal groans, that groaned again

In endless echoes through this dreadful cave,

So vast, so monstrous, so incalculable!

Beyond the understanding of my soul

Are these stupendous mysteries! I stand

And gaze around, above, beneath; yet still

No key I find to the enigma!

Are those whose superstitious skill hewed out

These lofty pillars from the solid rock?

Whose hands, with curious cunning, patient wrought

These sculptured capitals, gigantic, beautiful?

Where, too, are those whose sacrilegious zeal

Defaced and mutilated their magnificence?

The multiplying echoes answer, “Where?”

Destroyer, and destroyed, buried beneath

The silent, ever deepening dust of ages lost!