The Damsel of Peru

Author: William Cullen Bryant  | Date: 1826


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.

’Tis 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.

For she has bound the sword to a youthful lover’s side,

And sent him to the war the day she should have been his bride,

And bade him bear a faithful heart to battle for the right,

And held the fountains of her eyes till he was out of sight.

Since the parting kiss was given, six weary months are fled,

And yet the foe is in the land, and blood must yet be shed.

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

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

Thou look’st in vain, sweet maiden, the sharpest sigh 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That white hand is withdrawn, that fair sad face is gone,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.

And see, along that mountain-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 tender 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."

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Chicago: William Cullen Bryant, The Damsel of Peru Original Sources, accessed April 22, 2024,

MLA: Bryant, William Cullen. The Damsel of Peru, Original Sources. 22 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: Bryant, WC, The Damsel of Peru. Original Sources, retrieved 22 April 2024, from