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

Mexico: Uxmal, Yucatan


By Nicholas Michell (1807–1880)

(From Ruins of Many Lands)

THE SEAS are passed Columbus ploughed of yore,

A course he deemed no pilot traced before;

And gales blow fragrance from those Indian Isles,

Where luxury dwells, and soft allurement smiles;

Yet, spite of fruits that bloom, and flowers that wave,

There fell Disease in mockery digs her grave.

Across the gulf tall vessels steer their way,

Or court the breezes down Honduras’ bay;

Like clouds of snow, the restless feathered flocks

Skim the blue surge, or settle on the rocks.

The white man’s axe in yon deep forest sounds,

Up the green steep the buskined hunter bounds.

Peace smiles on Yucatan, and Autumn throws

O’er wood and waste her richness and repose;

The trees’ deep brown, the lemon’s amber hue,

The bloomy grape that never culture knew,

The golden gourd, the sugar-dropping cane,

The watered valley, and the boundless plain,—

Such are the sights this lonely tract displays,

That soothe the spirit while they charm the gaze.

World! wrongly called the New—this clime was old

When first the Spaniard came, in search of gold.

Age after age its shadowy wings had spread,

And man was born, and gathered to the dead;

Cities arose, ruled, dwindled to decay,

Empires were formed, then darkly swept away:

Race followed race, like cloud-shades o’er the field,

The stranger still to strangers doomed to yield.

The last grand line that swayed these hills and waves,

Like Israel, wandered long mid wilds and caves,

Then, settling in their Canaan, cities reared,

Fair science wooed, a milder God revered,

Till to invading Europe bowed their pride,

And pomp, art, power, with Montezuma died.

The dense wild wood that hid the royal seat,

The lofty palms that choked the winding street,

Man’s hand hath felled, and now, in day’s fair light,

Uxmal’s broad ruins burst upon the sight.

City! whose date, whose builders are unknown,

Gracing the wild, mysterious and alone,

Unchronicled thy name on History’s page,

No legend left our fancies to engage;

Gazing around, we task the busy brain,

And who thy dwellers were, demand in vain:

The painted snakes that gleam on yonder wall,

The Hivites’ worship haply might recall,

When, driven by Israel from their fatherland,

They steered the seas, and sought some Western strand.

That house, where burned the sacred fire, may tell

Of Eastern climes, where Magi wove their spell;

While the tall pyramid, with temple crowned,

And sculptured forms with flowing girdles bound,

Speak of the Nile,—vain dreams! the mind is lost,

And on a shoreless sea of fancies tost.

Yet Uxmal’s ruins no dark aspect wear,

Beauty and grace with Time are struggling there.

The smooth stone palace rears its front of white,

Its checkered floors, broad courts, are bathed in light;

Flowers deck the pyramid’s high mouldering side,—

On many a wall the aloe lifts its pride;

Fluttering in air, or glittering on some tomb,

The bird of monarchs spreads its purple plume.

So sweetly sad, so silently serene,

The shades of ancients well might haunt the scene,

Or elves by moonlight hold their revels here,

Play with the beams, and drink the violet’s tear;

Dance round the rose, or climb the lily’s stem,

Deeming that shadowy city built for them.