by Philip Freneau
Where are those famed piles of human grandeur,
Those sphinxes, pyramids, and Pompey's pillar,
That bid defiance to the arm of Time —
Tell me, dear Genius: for I long to see them.
At Alexandria rises Pompey's pillar,
Whose birth is but of yesterday, compar'd
With those prodigious fabricks that you see
O'er yonder distant plain — upon whose breast
Old Nile hath never roll'd his swelling streams,
The only plain so privileg'd in Egypt.
These pyramids may well excite your wonder,
They are of most remote antiquity,
Almost co-eval with those cloud-crown'd hills
That westward from them rise — 'twas the same age
That saw old Babel's tower aspiring high,
When first the sage Egyptian architects
These ancient turrets to the heavens rais'd; —
But Babel's tower is gone, and these remain!
Old Rome I thought unrivall'd in her years,
At least the remnants that we find of Rome,
But these, you tell me, are of older date.
Talk not of Rome! — before they lopt a bush
From the seven hills where Rome, earth's empress, stood,
These pyramids were old — their birth day is
Beyond tradition's reach, or history.
Then let us haste toward those piles of wonder
That scorn to bend beneath this weight of years —
Lo! to my view, the aweful mansions rise
The pride of art, the sleeping place of death!
Are these the four prodigious monuments
That so astonish every generation —
Let us examine this, the first and greatest —
A secret horror chills my breast, dear Genius,
To touch these monuments that are so ancient,
The fearful property of ghosts and death! —
Yet of such mighty bulk that I presume
A race of giants were the architects. —
Since these proud fabricks to the heavens were rais'd
How many generations have decay'd,
How many monarchies to ruin pass'd!
How many empires had their rise and fall!
While these remain — and promise to remain
As long as yonder sun shall gild their summits,
Or moon or stars their wonted circles run.
The time will come
When these stupendous piles you deem immortal,
Worn out with age, shall moulder on their bases,
And down, down, low to endless ruin verging,
O'erwhelm'd by dust, be seen and known no more! —
Ages ago, in dark oblivion's lap
Had they been shrouded, but the atmosphere
In these parch'd climates, hostile to decay,
Is pregnant with no rain, that by its moisture
Might waste their bulk in such excess of time,
And prove them merely mortal.
'Twas on this plain the ancient Memphis stood,
Her walls encircled these tall pyramids —
But where is Pharoah's palace, where the domes
Of Egypt's haughty lords? — all, all are gone,
And like the phantom snows of a May morning
Left not a vestige to discover them!
How shall I reach the vortex of this pile —
How shall I clamber up its shelving sides?
I scarce endure to glance toward the summit,
It seems among the clouds — When was't thou rais'd,
O work of more than mortal majesty —
Was this produc'd by persevering man,
Or did the gods erect this pyramid?
Nor gods, nor giants rais'd this pyramid —
It was the toil of mortals like yourself
That swell'd it to the skies —
See'st thou yon' little door? Through that they pass'd,
Who rais'd so high this aggregate of wonders!
What cannot tyrants do,
When they have subject nations at their will,
And the world's wealth to gratify ambition!
Millions of slaves beneath their labours fainted
Who here were doom'd to toil incessantly,
And years elaps'd while groaning myriads strove
To raise this mighty tomb — and but to hide
The worthless bones of an Egyptian king. —
O wretch, could not a humbler tomb have done,
Could nothing but a pyramid inter thee!
Perhaps old Jacob's race, when here oppress'd,
Rais'd, in their years of bondage this dread pile.
Before the Jewish patriarchs saw the light,
While yet the globe was in its infancy
These were erected to the pride of man —
Four thousand years have run their tedious round
Since these smooth stones were on each other laid,
Four thousand more may run as dull a round
Ere Egypt sees her pyramids decay'd.
But suffer me to enter, and behold
The interior wonders of this edifice.
'Tis darkness all, with hateful silence join'd —
Here drowsy bats enjoy a dull repose,
And marble coffins, vacant of their bones,
Show where the royal dead in ruin lay!
By every pyramid a temple rose
Where oft in concert those of ancient time
Sung to their goddess Isis hymns of praise;
But these are fallen! — their columns too superb
Are levell'd with the dust — nor these alone —
Where is thy vocal statue, Memnon, now,
That once, responsive to the morning beams,
Harmoniously to father Phaebus sung!
Where is the image that in past time stood
High on the summit of yon' pyramid? —
Still may you see its polish'd pedestal —
Where art thou ancient Thebes? — — all bury'd low,
All vanish'd! crumbled into mother dust,
And nothing of antiquity remains
But these huge pyramids, and yonder hills.
Old Babel's tower hath felt my potent arm
I ruin'd Ecbatan and Babylon,
Thy huge Colossus, Rhodes, I tumbled down,
And on these pyramids I smote my scythe;
But they resist its edge — then let them stand.
But I can boast a greater feat than this,
I long ago have shrouded those in death
Who made those structures rebels to my power —
But, O return! — These piles are not immortal!
This earth, with all its balls of hills and mountains,
Shall perish by my hand — then how can these,
These hoary headed pyramids of Egypt,
That are but dwindled warts upon her body,
That on a little, little spot of ground
Extinguish the dull radiance of the sun,
Be proof to Death and me? — — Traveller return —
There' s nought but God immortal — — He alone
Exists secure, when Man, and Death, and Time,
(Time not immortal, but a fancied point
In the vast circle of eternity)
Are swallow'd up, and, like the pyramids,
Leave not an atom for their monument!
Last updated January 11, 2023