Hermes Trismegistus

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Hermes Trismegistus
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
From In the Harbor.

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.--IAMBLICUS.

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 Hephaestus,
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.