Helen Maria Williams

(1761 - 15 December 1827 / England)

Peruvian Tales: Zilia, Tale Iii - Poem by Helen Maria Williams

PIZARRO takes possession of Cuzco--The fanaticism of VALVERDA , a
Spanish priest--Its dreadful effects--A Peruvian priest put to the tor-
ture--His Daughter's distress--He is rescued by LAS CASAS , a Spa-
nish ecclesiastic--And led to a place of safety, where he dies--His
Daughter's narration of her sufferings--Her death.


Now stern PIZARRO seeks the distant plains,
Where beauteous Cuzco lifts her golden fanes.
The meek Peruvians gaz'd in wild dismay,
Nor barr'd the dark Oppressor's sanguine way;
And soon on Cuzco, where the dawning light
Of glory shone, foretelling day more bright,
Where the young arts had shed unfolding flowers,
A scene of spreading desolation lowers!

While buried deep in everlasting shade,
That lustre sickens, and those blossoms fade.
And yet, devoted land, not gold alone,
Or dire ambition wak'd thy rising groan;
For lo! a fiercer fiend, with joy elate,
Feasts on thy suff'rings, and impels thy fate:
Fanatic Fury rears her sullen shrine,
Where vultures prey, where venom'd adders twine;
Her savage arm with purple torrents stains
Thy rocking temples, and thy falling fanes;
Her blazing torches flash the mounting fire,
She grasps the sabre, and she lights the pyre;
Her voice is thunder rending the still air,
Her glance the baleful lightning's lurid glare;
Her lips unhallow'd breathe their impious strain,
And pure Religion's sacred voice profane;
Whose precepts pity's mildest deeds approve,
Whose law is mercy, and whose soul is love.
And see, fanatic Fury wakes the storm--
She wears the stern VALVERDA'S hideous form;
His bosom never felt another's woes,
No shriek of anguish breaks its dark repose.
The temple nods--an aged form appears--
He beats his breast, he rends his silver hairs--
VALVERDA drags him from the blest abode,
Where his meek spirit humbly sought its God;
See, to his aid his child, soft ZILIA , springs,
And steeps in tears the robe to which she clings!
Now bursting from PERUVIA'S frighted throng,
Two warlike youths impetuous rush'd along;
One grasp'd his twanging bow with furious air,
While in his troubled eye sat fierce despair;
But all in vain his erring weapon flies,
Pierc'd by a thousand wounds, on earth he lies.
His drooping head the trembling ZILIA rais'd,
And on the youth in speechless anguish gaz'd;
While he who fondly shared his danger flew,
And from his bleeding breast a poignard drew.
"Deep in my faithful bosom let me hide
The fatal steel that would our souls divide,"--
He quick exclaims--the dying warrior cries
"Ah yet forbear!--by all the sacred ties
That bind our hearts, forbear!"--in vain he spoke,
Friendship with frantic zeal impels the stroke!
"Thyself for ever lost, thou hop'st in vain,"
The youth replied, "my spirit to detain;
From thee my soul, in childhood's earliest year,
Caught the light pleasure and the passing tear;
Thy friendship then my young affections blest
The first pure passion of my infant breast;
And still in death I feel its strong controul,
Its sacred impulse wings my fleeting soul,
That only lingers here till thou depart,
Whose image lives upon my fainting heart!"--
In vain the gen'rous youth, with panting breath,
Pour'd these last murmurs in the ear of death;
He reads the fatal truth in ZILIA'S eye,
And gives to friendship his expiring sigh.--
But now with rage VALVERDA'S glances roll,
And mark the vengeance rankling in his soul;
He bends his gloomy brow --his lips impart
The brooding purpose of his venom'd heart;
He bids the hoary priest in mutter'd strains
Abjure his faith, forsake his native fanes,
While yet the ling'ring pangs of torture wait,
While yet VALVERDA'S power suspends his fate.
"Vain man," the victim cried, "to hoary years
Know death is mild, and virtue feels no fears;
Cruel of spirit, come! let tortures prove
The power I serv'd in life in death I love."
He ceas'd--with rugged cords his limbs they bound,
And drag the aged suff'rer on the ground;
They grasp his feeble frame, his tresses tear;
His robe they rend, his shrivell'd bosom bare.
Ah, see his uncomplaining soul sustain
The sting of insult and the dart of pain!
His stedfast spirit feels one pang alone,
A child's despair awakes one bitter groan--
The mourner kneels to catch his parting breath,
To soothe the agony of ling'ring death:
No moan she breath'd, no tear had power to flow,
Still on her lip expir'd th' unutter'd woe;
Yet ah, her livid cheek, her stedfast look,
The desolated soul's deep anguish spoke--
Mild victim! close not yet thy languid eyes;
Pure spirit! claim not yet thy kindred skies;
A pitying angel comes to stay thy flight,
LAS CASAS * bids thee view returning light;
Ah, let that sacred drop, to virtue dear,
Efface thy wrongs--receive his precious tear;
See his flush'd cheek with indignation glow,
While from his lips the tones of pity flow.--
"Oh, suff'ring Lord!" he cried, "whose streaming blood,
Was pour'd for man--earth drank the sacred flood,
Whose mercy in the mortal pang forgave
The murd'rous band, Thy love alone could save;
Forgive--thy goodness bursts each narrow bound
Which feeble thought, and human hope surround;
Forgive the guilty wretch, whose impious hand
From thy pure altar flings the flaming brand;
In human blood that hallow'd altar steeps,
Libation dire! while groaning nature weeps;
The limits of thy mercy dares to scan,
The object of thy love, his victim,--man.
While yet I linger, lo, the suff'rer dies,
I see his frame convuls'd,--I hear his sighs!
Whoe'er controuls the purpose of my heart,
First in this breast shall plunge his guilty dart."
With hurried step he flew, with eager hands
He broke the fetters, burst the cruel bands.
As the fall'n angel heard with awful fear,
The cherub's grave rebuke, in grace severe,
And fled, while horror plum'd his impious crest,*
The form of virtue as she stood confest;
So fierce VALVERDA sullen mov'd along,
Abash'd, and follow'd by the hostile throng.

At length the hoary victim, freed from chains,
LAS CASAS gently leads to safer plains;
His searching eye explores a secret cave,
Whose shaggy sides the languid billows lave;
"There rest secure," he cried, "the Christian's God
Will hover near, will guard the lone abode."
Oft to the gloomy cell his steps repair,
While night's chill breezes wave his silver'd hair;
Oft in the tones of love, the words of peace,
He bids the bitter tears of anguish cease;
Bids drooping hope uplift her languid eyes,
And points to bliss that dwells beyond the skies.
Yet ah! in vain his pious cares would save
The aged suff'rer from the op'ning grave;
For deep the pangs of torture pierc'd his frame,
And sunk his wasted life's expiring flame;
To his cold lip LAS CASAS ' hand he prest,
He faintly clasp'd his ZILIA to his breast;
Then cried, "the God, whom now my vows adore,
My heart through life obey'd, unknowing more;
His mild forgiveness then my soul shall prove,
His mercy share, LAS CASAS ' God is love."
He spoke no more, his ZILIA'S hopeless moan
Was heard responsive to his dying groan.
"Victim of impious zeal," LAS CASAS cries,
"Accept, departed shade, a Christian's sighs;
And thou, soft mourner, tender, drooping form,
What power shall guard thee from the fearful storm?"
"Weep not for me," she cried, "for ZILIA'S breast
Soon in the shelt'ring earth shall find its rest;
Seek not the victim of despair to save,
I ask but death--I only wish a grave.
Witness, thou mangled form, that earth retains,
Witness a murder'd lover's cold remains;
I liv'd my father's pangs to soothe, to share,
I bore to live, though life was all despair.
Ah! still my lover's dying moan I hear,
In every pulse I feel his parting tear--
I faint--an icy coldness chills each vein,
No more these feeble limbs their load sustain;
Spirit of pity! catch my fleeting breath,
A moment stay--and close my eyes in death.
LAS CASAS , thee thy God in mercy gave,
To soothe my pangs, to find the wretch a grave."
She ceas'd, her spirit fled to purer spheres,
LAS CASAS bathes the pallid corse with tears;
Fly, minister of good! nor ling'ring shed
Those fruitless sorrows o'er th' unconscious dead;
I view the sanguine flood, the wasting flame,
I hear a suff'ring world LAS CASAS claim.


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Read poems about / on: despair, death, power, daughter, angel, silver, fate, god, alone, child, murder, light, hope, dark, purple, passion, faith, father, hair, truth



Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003



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