D. R. Gayton
Born in Mexico City only four years after the fall of Tenochtitlan, the poet Francisco de Terrazas, was the son of the conquistador and steward to Hernan Cortés, of the same name. Of the poet’s life very little is known and of his work only a handful of sonnets and fragments remain. Praised by Cervates in his Galetea in 1585, today, the older poet is primarily remembered as the first of the Spanish speaking poets to be born in the American continent. Scant as his work may be, as Alvaro Bustos Tauler of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid expresses in an essay on the poet, the poetry of Francisco de Terrazas carries “a refined elaboration of the Petrarchan topics, and both a thematic and stylistic originality, which is compatible with the precise handling of its sources” (12). Moreover, what can most interestingly be recognized in the poetry of Terrazas, is the inception of the American consciousness and identity. In the poetry of Terrazas, the formation of the dilemmas that would occupy the mind of the criollo can first be seen to take root.
In no work is this attitude more apparent than in his unfinished epic poem on the conquest of the New World called Nuevo Mundo Y Conquista. Marked by obvious and sometimes painful ambivalences, the attitude that Terrazas takes in this poem is one that seeks at once to condemn, as it lauds the endeavors of the conquistadors that came before him. As noted by the Honduran historian and economist Roberto Ramon Reyes-Mazzoni, one of the defining characteristics of Terrazas’ critical bent is that as a criollo he cannot help but criticize the older hierarchy which has already relegated him to a second place. Reyes-Mazzoni writes,
“Otra de las actitudes criticas de Terrazas es que cuando habia obtenido un mecenazgo para esa obra de alabanza a Cortés, ‘Nuevo Mundo Y Conquesta’, no pudo contentarse y evitar criticarlo por su trato a quienes lo acompañaron en su empresa” (36).
Not capable of fully identifying himself with the conquering peninsulares, nor with the natives that came under their yoke, the poetry of Terrazas seeks to validate the poet’s own existence as an American.
From “New World and Conquest”
Translated from Spanish by David Gayton
From bland exercises tired,
On which the entire day was spend,
Unto sweet dream we both surrendered,
And upon each other’s arms laid.
Suddenly we were surrounded
With an imminent and frightful sound,
And as the gathering lights arose
The stars forsook their course.
In darkness, I immediately jumped from bed,
Not waiting to see, what the sound might be;
Hemmed in by dense weald,
I advised Quetzal to follow near
Until clearly, the cause of the clamor
I could hear; and hardly awake
Was she, when in aimless tread
I made way with an uncertain step.
Following the dim blaze
Through a wooded narrow road,
My dearest paused step by step,
Not realizing, of fright she was half-dead,
Her faint step losing strength,
And neither my face, nor the road she could tell;
Of each other we finally lost sight,
And of reuniting, there was no luck.
From the crest of a tree, I could well see
The flames from the burning houses,
The cries and laments of
Miserable women in pain; and
A frightful wailing resonance
Of fierce voices not well understood.
Which if only I could appraise, it was your
Long hands, which sought me where I stood.
Moved unto extraordinary compassion
From seeing what the poor people suffered.
Down I ran, and with descending step, a year’s breadth,
To me, each appeared to take.
And reassuring Quetzal amidst so much damage,
Unto your ministers I pretended to surrendered,
That unto me their full furor spend,
If only my mournful people they emancipate.
I searched a while, in that adumbral forest
My soul’s fugitive glory;
And the more I searched, dejected,
The further I found myself from finding her.
Until a luminous, burning ray
Which deprived the world of darkness
Removed also, from my chest the doubt
And a far greater loss was granted.
By chance a neighbor found me,
Who with shouts the people sought to gather;
“Unto the river,” he urged them,
“From where the new people are descending
With tearful members of our people
Who with valiant prowess, have been captured.”
And now hand-bound amongst those people
There stood my dear Quetzal and her daughter.
Not unlike the stag who with great promptness takes off
And senselessly presses on,
When wounded, it feels the deadly arrow
Lodged in a certain and calm part;
Nor never through the heavens such talent
Has been seen coursing like a shooting star.
Seeing my misfortune certain,
Dead with dread and love I flew to find her.
And at a walking league, or more
I found the captors and the slaves;
Saw there, heavily bearded white men
With pride and clean steel armed;
Saw I, the captives tied,
Their wretched jewels around them hung
And at the will and mercy of the bearded ones
Who with sticks prodded them on.
So close in fact I came that I was spotted
And towards me all turned;
The wretched prisoners who saw me,
Raised an outcry unto the sky,
Lamenting they implored my help,
Arguments of obligation they presented:
As if to that fierce people,
I, alone and unarmed would suffice.
Amongst the arguments presented
Was their pleasant hospitality,
Their good deeds and constant love,
The esteem in which by them I was held.
For what could he, to whom it’s sufficient
To lament their sad and stricken lot do?
Which even to console their despair
The pain robbed the voice of its weak breath.
Further, when badly said words,
Which the sad case permitted,
Reasons, the spirit ready had,
And spewed then from the mouth it tried,
When Quetzal I saw with clasped hands
Vainly beg for help;
My name a thousand times she cried,
And streams her tears wrought.
Like a turtledove that has left her timorous
Fledgling in the feed, when the scaly
Snake came slithering
Up the tree and unto the nest;
She turns against the poisonous beast
Who ferocious and imbrued, eats her fledgling,
As she flies from bough to bough
Bats her wings and cries in vain.
Like her, harassed without remedy,
Seeing my dearest in captivity,
Confused, I reached the squadron,
Crying in vain and moving quickly,
Hunted and waiting, by chance
I halted the angry captor for a moment,
Who without anger turned attentively with mercy,
New reason for his heart to wonder.
For, not being able to safe her fighting
I couldn’t even die before her.
At once, unto the enemy threatening
At once, unto the enemy begging,
Without much change I continued fighting
With rabid pain and perseverance,
Until I reached the river where
They entered the floating houses.
For the distraught Quetzal, which I saw,
One of this houses enter to forever leave me,
Fought and cried to escape her captor’s hand;
Ceaselessly screaming my name,
Her captor she sought to wield,
Asking for a chance to speak,
“May this boon be to me at least conceded,
With Huitzel to have a word,” she pleaded.
Turning to me and in tears melting,
“Huitzel” she cried, “since my misfortune,
Without you to safe me,
It’s taking me away to where I expect never to see you.
Take with my baleful farewell
The rest of my love pledges,
And this hindmost faith, to you I send,
With all the strength of my heart,
“Which for you Nation, tranquility,
Father, kingdom and honor postponed,
And laid on a loving and sweet stove,
Determined never to cease, being your follower;
Neither in death nor in prison may the blind knot
Which love, into the heart sewed,
Be taken, without taking
The imprisoned soul from its mortal home.
“If to a life of servitude I’m destined
The memory of you will be my companion,
And in my solitary and continued suffering,
Crying I’ll spend my entire day and evening.
But, if dying in dismal sacrifice,
Fortune shortens my unhappiness,
To wherever you may be, doubt not,
In mute shadow and naked spirit will I be there.
Then I said, “Sad and harsh fate, I promise,
Wont be able to part us,
Have me here surrendered, have me here bound,
To an uncertain future and calamitous end.”
Having said as much, I put it to effect,
And with long step and steadfast heart
Entering into power, at that hour,
Of him, the new master of my mistress.
I amazed the new men,
And my afflicted brethren,
Not too hurt from their hardships
With my own misery empathized,
Till finally we embarked
And through the captors spread,
Next to the booty they had claimed,
And found, more violence then worth had.
Silenced was his questioning and his malice,
And his grand arrogance and irate commanding,
His large cruelty and small justice,
And that disdain of having stolen;
His rigorous manners and his greed,
His dishonest and unrestrained vice:
Which took full payment in a few days
With great vengeance and diverse ways.
From which at no time we were liberated
By a fortuitous break we had,
The guards to the sea overthrew,
And through the water houses crossed,
Unto the nearby shore we then jumped,
And into the interior entered
Taking up again my narrow path,
Alone with Quetzal, roving uncertainly.
And not knowing unto where I walked
Through greater pain that I can relate, came,
To where at that time Mochocobol stood.
Prudent, audacious, and virtuous friend,
Who sedate in Champoton reigned,
Without fear or knowledge of the enemy
Received me in the same manner
In which a father receives a son.
Bustos-Tauler, Alvaro. “Francisco De Terrazas, Poeta Toscano, Latino Y Castellano.”
Dicenda. Cuaderno De La Filologia Hispanica 2003.21 (2003): 5-19. Print.
De Terrazas, Francisco. “Nuevo Mundo Y Conquista.” Antologia De La Poesia
Hispanoamerica. Ed. Julio Caillet-Bois. Buenos Aires: Aguilar, 1958. 22-24.
Reyes-Mazzoni, Roberto R. “Francisco De Terrazas, Crillo Novohispano.” Archipiélago
3.1 (1991): 34-36. Print.