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The Torture of Cuauhtemoc

Written by: Alan Seeger | Biography
 | Quotes (2) |
 Their strength had fed on this when Death's white arms 
Came sleeved in vapors and miasmal dew, 
Curling across the jungle's ferny floor, 
Becking each fevered brain.
On bleak divides, Where Sleep grew niggardly for nipping cold That twinged blue lips into a mouthed curse, Not back to Seville and its sunny plains Winged their brief-biding dreams, but once again, Lords of a palace in Tenochtitlan, They guarded Montezuma's treasure-hoard.
Gold, like some finny harvest of the sea, Poured out knee deep around the rifted floors, Shiny and sparkling, -- arms and crowns and rings: Gold, sweet to toy with as beloved hair, -- To plunge the lustful, crawling fingers down, Arms elbow deep, and draw them out again, And watch the glinting metal trickle off, Even as at night some fisherman, home bound With speckled cargo in his hollow keel Caught off Campeche or the Isle of Pines, Dips in his paddle, lifts it forth again, And laughs to see the luminous white drops Fall back in flakes of fire.
.
.
.
Gold was the dream That cheered that desperate enterprise.
And now? .
.
.
Victory waited on the arms of Spain, Fallen was the lovely city by the lake, The sunny Venice of the western world; There many corpses, rotting in the wind, Poked up stiff limbs, but in the leprous rags No jewel caught the sun, no tawny chain Gleamed, as the prying halberds raked them o'er.
Pillage that ran red-handed through the streets Came railing home at evening empty-palmed; And they, on that sad night a twelvemonth gone, Who, ounce by ounce, dear as their own life's blood Retreating, cast the cumbrous load away: They, when brown foemen lopped the bridges down, Who tipped thonged chests into the stream below And over wealth that might have ransomed kings Passed on to safety; -- cheated, guerdonless -- Found (through their fingers the bright booty slipped) A city naked, of that golden dream Shorn in one moment like a sunset sky.
Deep in a chamber that no cheerful ray Purged of damp air, where in unbroken night Black scorpions nested in the sooty beams, Helpless and manacled they led him down -- Cuauhtemotzin -- and other lords beside -- All chieftains of the people, heroes all -- And stripped their feathered robes and bound them there On short stone settles sloping to the head, But where the feet projected, underneath Heaped the red coals.
Their swarthy fronts illumed, The bearded Spaniards, helmed and haubergeoned, Paced up and down beneath the lurid vault.
Some kneeling fanned the glowing braziers; some Stood at the sufferers' heads and all the while Hissed in their ears: "The gold .
.
.
the gold .
.
.
the gold.
Where have ye hidden it -- the chested gold? Speak -- and the torments cease!" They answered not.
Past those proud lips whose key their sovereign claimed No accent fell to chide or to betray, Only it chanced that bound beside the king Lay one whom Nature, more than other men Framing for delicate and perfumed ease, Not yet, along the happy ways of Youth, Had weaned from gentle usages so far To teach that fortitude that warriors feel And glory in the proof.
He answered not, But writhing with intolerable pain, Convulsed in every limb, and all his face Wrought to distortion with the agony, Turned on his lord a look of wild appeal, The secret half atremble on his lips, Livid and quivering, that waited yet For leave -- for leave to utter it -- one sign -- One word -- one little word -- to ease his pain.
As one reclining in the banquet hall, Propped on an elbow, garlanded with flowers, Saw lust and greed and boisterous revelry Surge round him on the tides of wine, but he, Staunch in the ethic of an antique school -- Stoic or Cynic or of Pyrrho's mind -- With steady eyes surveyed the unbridled scene, Himself impassive, silent, self-contained: So sat the Indian prince, with brow unblanched, Amid the tortured and the torturers.
He who had seen his hopes made desolate, His realm despoiled, his early crown deprived him, And watched while Pestilence and Famine piled His stricken people in their reeking doors, Whence glassy eyes looked out and lean brown arms Stretched up to greet him in one last farewell As back and forth he paced along the streets With words of hopeless comfort -- what was this That one should weaken now? He weakened not.
Whate'er was in his heart, he neither dealt In pity nor in scorn, but, turning round, Met that racked visage with his own unmoved, Bent on the sufferer his mild calm eyes, And while the pangs smote sharper, in a voice, As who would speak not all in gentleness Nor all disdain, said: "Yes! And am -I- then Upon a bed of roses?" Stung with shame -- Shame bitterer than his anguish -- to betray Such cowardice before the man he loved, And merit such rebuke, the boy grew calm; And stilled his struggling limbs and moaning cries, And shook away his tears, and strove to smile, And turned his face against the wall -- and died.



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