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

Introductory to Western States

To an Indian Mound

By Thomas H. Shreve (1808–1853)

WHENCE, and why art thou here, mysterious mound?

Are questions which man asks, but asks in vain;

For o’er thy destinies a night profound,

All rayless and all echoless, doth reign.

A thousand years have passed like yesterday,

Since wintry snows first on thy bosom slept,

And much of mortal grandeur passed away,

Since thou hast here thy voiceless vigils kept.

While standing thus upon thy oak-crowned head,

The shadows of dim ages long since gone

Reel on my mind, like spectres of the dead,

While dirge-like music haunts the wind’s low moan.

From out the bosom of the boundless Past

There rises up no voice of thee to tell:

Eternal silence, like a shadow vast,

Broods on thy breast, and shrouds thine annals well.

Didst thou not antedate the rise of Rome,

Egyptia’s pyramids, and Grecian arts?

Did not the wild deer here for shelter come

Before the Tyrrhene sea had ships or marts?

Through shadows deep and dark the mind must pierce,

Which glances backward to that ancient time;

Nations before it fall in struggles fierce,

Where human glory fades in human crime.

Upon the world’s wide stage full many a scene

Of grandeur and of gloom, of blood and blight,

Hath been enacted since thy forests green

Sighed in the breeze and smiled in morning’s light.

Thou didst not hear the woe, nor heed the crime,

Which darkened earth through ages of distress;

Unknowing and unknown, thou stood’st sublime,

And calmly looked upon the wilderness.

The red man oft hath laid his aching head,

When weary of the chase, upon thy breast;

And as the slumberous hours fast o’er him fled,

Has dreamed of hunting-grounds in climes most blest.

Perhaps his thoughts ranged through the long past time,

Striving to solve the problem of thy birth,

Till wearied out with dreams, dim though sublime,

His fancy fluttered back to him and earth.

The eagle soaring through the upper air

Checks his proud flight, and glances on thy crest,

As though his destiny were pictured there

In the deep solitude that wraps thy breast.

Thy reign must soon be o’er,—the human tide

Is surging round thee like a restless sea;

And thou must yield thy empire and thy pride,

And, like thy builders, soon forgotten be.