Hermes Trismegistus

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As Seleucus narrates, Hermes describes the principles that rank as wholes in two myriads of books; or, as we are informed by Manetho, he perfectly unfolded these principles in three myriads six thousand five hundred and twenty-five volumes. . . . . . . Our ancestors dedicated the inventions of their wisdom to this deity, inscribing all their own writings with the name of Hermes.


Still through Egypt's desert places
    Flows the lordly Nile,
From its banks the great stone faces
    Gaze with patient smile.
Still the pyramids imperious
    Pierce the cloudless skies,
And the Sphinx stares with mysterious,
    Solemn, stony eyes.

But where are the old Egyptian
    Demi-gods and kings?
Nothing left but an inscription
    Graven on stones and rings.
Where are Helios and Hephæstus,
    Gods of eldest eld?
Where is Hermes Trismegistus,
    Who their secrets held?

Where are now the many hundred
    Thousand books he wrote?
By the Thaumaturgists plundered,
    Lost in lands remote;
In oblivion sunk forever,
    As when o'er the land
Blows a storm-wind, in the river
    Sinks the scattered sand.

Something unsubstantial, ghostly,
    Seems this Theurgist,
In deep meditation mostly
    Wrapped, as in a mist.
Vague, phantasmal, and unreal
    To our thought he seems,
Walking in a world ideal,
    In a land of dreams.

Was he one, or many, merging
    Name and fame in one,
Like a stream, to which, converging
    Many streamlets run?
Till, with gathered power proceeding,
    Ampler sweep it takes,
Downward the sweet waters leading
    From unnumbered lakes.

By the Nile I see him wandering,
    Pausing now and then,
On the mystic union pondering
    Between gods and men;
Half believing, wholly feeling,
    With supreme delight,
How the gods, themselves concealing,
    Lift men to their height.

Or in Thebes, the hundred-gated,
    In the thoroughfare
Breathing, as if consecrated,
    A diviner air;
And amid discordant noises,
    In the jostling throng,
Hearing far, celestial voices
    Of Olympian song.

Who shall call his dreams fallacious?
    Who has searched or sought
All the unexplored and spacious
    Universe of thought?
Who, in his own skill confiding,
    Shall with rule and line
Mark the border-land dividing
    Human and divine?

Trismegistus! three times greatest!
    How thy name sublime
Has descended to this latest
    Progeny of time!
Happy they whose written pages
    Perish with their lives,
If amid the crumbling ages
    Still their name survives!

Thine, O priest of Egypt, lately
    Found I in the vast,
Weed-encumbered sombre, stately,
    Grave-yard of the Past;
And a presence moved before me
    On that gloomy shore,
As a waft of wind, that o'er me
    Breathed, and was no more.

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