Helen Maria Williams

(1761 - 15 December 1827 / England)

Peruvian Tales: Cora, Tale Vi - Poem by Helen Maria Williams

The troops of ALMAGRO and ALPHONSO meet on the plain of CUZCO --. MANCO -CAPAC attacks them by nights--His army is defeated, and he is forced to fly with its scattered remains--CORA goes in search of him-- Her infant in her arms--Overcome with fatigue, she rests at the foot of a mountain--An earthquake--A band of Indians fly to the mountain for shelter--CORA discovers her husband--Their interview--Her death --He escapes with his infant--ALMAGRO claims a share of the spoils of Cuzco--His contention with PIZARRO --The Spaniards destroy each other--ALMAGRO is taken prisoner, and put to death--His soldiers, in revenge, assassinate PIZARRO in his palace--LAS CASAS dies--The annual festival of the PERUVIANS --Their victories over the Spaniards in Chili--A wish for the restoration of their liberty--Conclusion.


At length ALMAGRO and ALPHONSO'S train,
Each peril past, unite on Cuzco's plain;
CAPAC resolves beneath the shroud of night
To pierce the hostile camp, and brave the fight;
Though weak the wrong'd PERUVIANS ' arrowy showers
To the dire weapons stern IBERIA pours,
Fierce was th' unequal contest, for the soul,
When rais'd by some high passion's strong controul,
New strings the nerves, and o'er the glowing frame
Breathes the warm spirit of heroic flame.
But from the scene where raging slaughter burns,
The timid muse with silent horror turns;
The blended sounds of grief she panting hears,
Where anguish dims a mother's eye with tears;
Or where the maid, who gave to love's soft power
Her faithful spirit, weeps the parting hour;
And O, till death shall ease the tender woe,
That soul must languish, and those tears must flow;
For never with the thrill that rapture proves,
Her voice again shall hail the youth she loves!
Her earnest eye no more his form shall view,
Her quiv'ring lip has breath'd the last adieu!
Now night, that pour'd upon the hollow gale
The din of battle, dropp'd her mournful veil.
The sun rose lovely from the sleeping flood,
And morning glitter'd o'er the field of blood;
Where, bath'd in gore, PERUVIA'S vanquish'd train
Lay cold and senseless on the sanguine plain.
The gen'rous CAPAC saw his warriors yield,
And fled indignant from the conquer'd field.
A wretched throng from Cuzco now repair,
Who tread 'mid slaughter'd heaps in mute despair;
O'er some lov'd corse the shroud of earth to spread,
And breathe some ritual that may soothe the dead.
No moan was heard, for agony supprest
The fond complaints which ease the swelling breast;
Each hope for ever lost, they only crave
The deep repose that wraps the shelt'ring grave:--
So the meek lama, lur'd by some decoy
Of man, from all his unembitter'd joy,
Erewhile as free as roves the wand'ring breeze,
Meets the hard burden on his bending knees;
O'er rocks and mountains, dark and waste he goes,
Nor shuns the path where no fresh herbage grows;
Till, worn with toil, on earth he prostrate lies,
Heeds not the barb'rous lash, and scornful dies.
Swift o'er the field of death sad CORA flew,
Her infant to his mother's bosom grew;
She seeks her wretched lord, who fled the plain
With the last remnant of his vanquish'd train:
Thro' the long glen, or forest's gloomy shade,
A dreary solitude, the mourner stray'd;
Her timid heart can now each danger dare,
Her drooping soul is arm'd by deep despair--
Long, long she wander'd, till oppress'd with toil,
Her trembling footsteps track with blood the soil.
Where o'er an ample vale a mountain rose,
Low at its base her fainting form she throws:
"And here, my child," she cried, with panting breath,
"Here let us wait the hour of ling'ring death;
This famish'd bosom can no more supply
The streams that nourish life--my babe must die!
In vain I strive to cherish, for thy sake,
My failing strength; but when my heart-strings break,
When my cold bosom can no longer warm,
My stiff'ning arms no more enfold thy form,
Soft on this bed of leaves my child shall sleep--
Close to his mother's corse, he will not weep!
O! weep not then, my tender babe--tho' near,
I shall not hear thy moan, nor see thy tear;
Hope not to move me by thy mournful cry,
Nor seek with earnest look my answering eye."
As thus the dying CORA'S plaints arose,
O'er the fair valley sudden darkness throws
A hideous horror; thro' the wounded air
Howl'd the shrill voice of nature in despair;
The birds dart screaming thro' the fluid sky,
And, dash'd upon the cliff's hard surface, die;
High o'er their rocky bounds the billows swell,
Then to their deep abyss affrighted fell;
Earth groaning heaves with dire convulsive throes,
While yawning gulphs its central caves disclose.
Now rush'd a frighted throng with trembling pace
Along the vale, and sought the mountain's base;
Purpos'd its perilous ascent to gain,
And shun the ruin low'ring o'er the plain.
They reach'd the spot where CORA clasp'd her child,
And gaz'd on present death with aspect wild:
They pitying pause--she lifts her mournful eye,
And views her lord!--he hears his CORA'S sigh--
He meets her looks--their melting souls unite,
O'erwhelmed, and agoniz'd with wild delight.
At length she faintly cried, "we yet must part!
Short are these rising joys--I feel my heart,
My suff'ring heart is cold, and mists arise,
That shroud thy image from my closing eyes!
O, save my child!--our helpless infant save,
And shed a tear upon thy CORA'S grave."

The fluttering pulse of life now ceas'd to play,
And in his arms a pallid corse she lay!
O'er her dear form he hung in speechless pain,
And still on CORA call'd--but call'd in vain;
Scarce could his soul in one short moment bear
The wild extremes of transport and despair.
Now o'er the west in melting softness streams
A lustre, milder than the morning beams;
A purer dawn dispell'd the fearful night,
And nature glow'd in all the blooms of light;
Then first the mourner, waking from his trance,
Cast on his smiling babe an eager glance:
Then rose the hollow voice on fancy's ear,
The parting words he hears, or seems to hear!
That sought with anxious tenderness to save
That dear memorial from the closing grave;
He clasps the object of his love's last care,
And vows for him the load of life to bear.
He journey'd o'er a dreary length of way,
To plains where freedom shed her hallow'd ray;
There, o'er the pathless wood, and mountain hoar,
His faithful band the lifeless CORA bore:
Ye who ne'er pin'd in sorrow's hopeless pain,
Deem not the toil that soothes its anguish vain;
Perchance the conscious spirit hovers near,
And love's fond tribute to the dead is dear.
Not long IBERIA'S sullied trophies wave,
Her guilty warriors press th' untimely grave;
For av'rice rising from the caves of earth,
Wakes all her savage spirit into birth:
Bids proud ALMAGRO feel her baleful flame,
And Cuzco's treasures from PIZARRO claim.
Now fierce in hostile rage each warlike train.
Purple with kindred blood PERUVIA'S plain;
While pensive on the hills, whose lofty brow
O'erhung with waving woods the vale below,
PERUVIA'S hapless tribes in scatter'd throngs,
Behold the fiends of strife avenge their wrongs:
Till, fetter'd in PIZARRO'S iron chain,
ALMAGRO swells the victor's captive train.

In vain his pleading voice, his suppliant eye,
Conjure his conqu'ror by the holy tie
That seal'd their mutual league with sacred force,
When first to climes unknown they bent their course;
When danger's rising horrors low'r'd afar,
The storms of ocean, and the toils of war,
The sad remains of wasted life to spare,
The shrivell'd bosom, and the silver'd hair--
ALMAGRO dies--the victor's barb'rous pride
To his pale corpse funereal rites denied;
Chill'd by the heavy dews of night it lay,
And wither'd in the sultry beam of day;
Till Indian bosoms, touch'd with gen'rous woe,
Paid the last duties to a prostrate foe.
With unrelenting hate the conqu'ror views
ALMAGRO'S band, and vengeance still pursues.
Condemns the victims of his power to stray
In drooping poverty's chill, thorny way;
To pine with famine's agony severe,
And all the ling'ring forms of death to fear;
Till, by despair impell'd, the rival train,
Rush to the haughty victor's splendid fane;
Swift on their foe with rage impetuous dart,
And plunge their daggers in his guilty heart.
How unavailing now the treasur'd ore
That made PERUVIA'S rifled bosom poor!
He falls--unpitied, and would vainly buy
With ANDES ' mines, the tribute of a sigh.
Now faint with virtue's toil, LAS CASAS ' soul
Sought, with exulting hope, her heavenly goal:--
But whence descends, in streams of lambent light,
That lovely vision on the raptur'd sight?
'Tis Sensibility! she stands confest:
With trembling step she moves, and panting breast;
To yon deserted grave, lo, swift she flies,
Where her lov'd victim, mild LAS CASAS lies!
I see her deck the solitary haunt
With chaplets twin'd from every weeping plant:
Its odours soft the simple violet shed,
The shrinking lily hung its drooping head;
A moaning zephyr sigh'd within the bower,
And bent the frail stem of the pliant flower:
"Hither," she cried, her melting tone I hear,
It vibrates full on fancy's wakeful ear;
"Ye to whose yielding hearts my power endears,
The transport blended with delicious tears,
The bliss that swells to agony the breast,
The sympathy that robs the soul of rest;
Hither, with fond devotion, pensive come,
Kiss the pale shrine, and murmur o'er the tomb;
Bend on the hallow'd turf the tearful eye,
And breathe the precious incense of a sigh.
LAS CASAS ' tear has moisten'd misery's grave,
His sigh has moan'd the wretch he fail'd to save!
He, while conflicting pangs his bosom tear,
Has sought the lonely cavern of despair,
Where desolate she pin'd, and pour'd her thought
To the dread verge of wild distraction wrought.
While drops of mercy bath'd his hoary cheek,
He pour'd, by heav'n inspir'd, its accents meek;
In truth's clear mirror bade the mourner's view
Pierce the deep veil which error darkly drew,
And vanquish'd empire with a smile resign,
While brighter worlds in fair perspective shine."
She paus'd--yet still the sweet enthusiast bends
O'er the cold turf, and still her tear descends.
Ah, weak PERUVIA ! oft thy murmur'd sighs,
Thy stifled groans in fancy's ear arise;
She views, as slow the years of bondage roll,
On solemn days* when sorrow mocks controul,
Thy captive sons their antique garb assume,
And wake remember'd images of gloom.
Lo! ATALIBA'S murder'd form appears,
The mournful object of eternal tears!
Wild o'er the scene indignant glances dart,
And pangs convulsive seize the throbbing heart--
Distraction soon each burning breast inflames,
And from the tyrant foe a victim claims!
But now, dispersing desolation's night,
A ray benignant cheers my gladden'd sight!
A blooming Chieftain of Peruvian race,
Whose soaring soul its high descent can trace,
The feather'd standard rears on Chili's* plain,
And leads to glorious strife his gen'rous train.
And see, IBERIA bleeds! while Vict'ry twines
Her fairest garlands round PERUVIA'S shrines;
The gaping wounds of earth disclose no more
The lucid silver, and the blazing ore;
A brighter radiance gilds the passing hour,
While Freedom breaks the rod of lawless power;
On Andes' icy steep exulting glows,
And prints with rapid step th' eternal snows;
While, roll'd in dust her graceful feet beneath,
Fades the dark laurel of IBERIA'S wreath!--
PERU ! the timid muse who mourn'd thy woes,
Whom pity robb'd so long of dear repose,
The muse whose pensive soul with anguish wrung,
Her early lyre for thee has trembling strung;
Shed the vain tear, and breath'd the powerless sigh,
Which in oblivion with her song must die;
Pants with the wish thy deeds may rise to fame;
Bright on some high-ton'd harp's immortal frame,
While on the string of ecstacy it pours
Thy future triumphs o'er unnumber'd shores.


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Read poems about / on: despair, death, power, child, rose, freedom, mother, hope, silver, sorrow, howl, night, sad, nature, sympathy, murder, poverty, solitude, pain, husband



Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003



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