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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Americas: Vol. XXX. 1876–79.

South America: Peru

The Damsel of Peru

By William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)

WHERE olive leaves were twinkling in every wind that blew,

There sat beneath the pleasant shade a damsel of Peru.

Betwixt the slender boughs, as they opened to the air,

Came glimpses of her ivory neck and of her glossy hair;

And sweetly rang her silver voice, within that shady nook,

As from the shrubby glen is heard the sound of hidden brook.

’T is a song of love and valor, in the noble Spanish tongue,

That once upon the sunny plains of old Castile was sung;

When, from their mountain holds, on the Moorish rout below,

Had rushed the Christians like a flood, and swept away the foe.

Awhile that melody is still, and then breaks forth anew

A wilder rhyme, a livelier note, of freedom and Peru.

A white hand parts the branches, a lovely face looks forth,

And bright dark eyes gaze steadfastly and sadly towards the north.

Thou look’st in vain, sweet maiden, the sharpest sight would fail,

To spy a sign of human life abroad in all the vale;

For the noon is coming on, and the sunbeams fiercely beat,

And the silent hills and forest-tops seem reeling in the heat.

That white hand is withdrawn, that fair sad face is gone,

But the music of that silver voice is flowing sweetly on,

Not as of late, in cheerful tones, but mournfully and low,—

A ballad of a tender maid heart-broken long ago,

Of him who died in battle, the youthful and the brave,

And her who died of sorrow, upon his early grave.

But see, along that mountain’s slope, a fiery horseman ride;

Mark his torn plume, his tarnished belt, the sabre at his side.

His spurs are buried rowel deep, he rides with loosened rein,

There ’s blood upon his charger’s flank and foam upon the mane,

He speeds him toward the olive-grove, along that shaded hill,—

God shield the helpless maiden there, if he should mean her ill!

And suddenly that song has ceased, and suddenly I hear

A shriek sent up amid the shade, a shriek—but not of fear.

For tender accents follow, and tenderer pauses speak

The overflow of gladness, when words are all too weak:

“I lay my good sword at thy feet, for now Peru is free,

And I am come to dwell beside the olive-grove with thee.”