Conquistador: In his truly fine poem Archibald MacLeish makes this word whistle and flash like a blade of Spanish steel. But there are no overblown heroics here. Avoiding the stale approach of the historian, of “this priest this Gomara with the school-taught skip to his writing,” MacLeish turns over the telling of his story to Bernal Diaz, an old man who in his youth was a soldier with Cortes and who confines his tale to “’That which I have myself seen and the fighting.’. . .” The result, as Diaz rambles on with simple eloquence, becomes an impressionistic, sensual record of the bravery and the brutality, the sickness of defeat and the tingle of triumph that are all a part of conquest.
Diaz’ narrative follows the exploits of the first Spanish conquerors of Mexico under the leadership of Cortes, but the story is neither complete nor fully connected. Episodic and broken, it is what a veteran would remember when he is old and going blind. Wisely, MacLeish does not force Diaz into passing moral judgment on the Spaniards or the Indians, into pondering tricky questions on the rights of the conquerors and the conquered. Of the massacre of the natives at Cholula, Diaz says simply:
They died slowly with much pain likeserpents:Our hands were lame with the swordwhen the thing was done. . ....
(The entire section is 1185 words.)
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