September 11, 1541
To the honored memory of Inés de Suárez, the Spanish woman who in 1541 saved the Chilean city and garrison of Santiago de la Nueva Estremadura from Indian attackers by personally decapitating seven hostage chieftains, and flinging their heads over the ramparts at the enemy. ¡Viva Inés!
The garrison and military station
Seemed on the brink of grim annihilation.
The Indians in savage howling hordes
Surrounded it. The Spaniards bared their swords,
Primed their matchlocks, whetted their long spears.
But lancers and a troop of musketeers
Could not hold off the thousands that attacked.
The soldiers retreated, yielded, slowly backed
Into the fort of Santiago, where
They crossed themselves and said a final prayer.
But then one woman, Inés de Suárez,
Speaks to them all, and here is what she says:
“We have one chance, provided by kind heaven—
These Indian chieftains. Let’s behead all seven
And fling their bloody heads into the squalls
Of native scum who dare besiege our walls.”
The men demurred. They thought her plan extreme.
“These hostages are royal, and the cream
Of their nation. Alive, they promise hope.
Inés, we’re at the end of our poor rope!”
Inés replied, “True men don’t weep and squawk.
They know that action’s stronger than mere talk!”
With that she seized a sword, and with one slash
Struck off a chieftain’s head, and from its gash
A spurt of hot blood pooled upon the ground.
Then six more times she swung the blade. Its sound
Was an invigorating rush of air
That blew away all terror and despair.
The soldiers seized the heads, and with a yell
Flung them across the ramparts, where they fell
Among the foes, whom horror struck so deep
They fled in panic like a flock of sheep.
They thought “If Spaniards do this to our kings,
Their anger may provoke them to worse things!
Better to obey our Spanish Dons
Who harness thunder into tubes of bronze
And hack off heads, and show no trace of dread.
We are defeated, and our leaders dead.”
Such is the way when savages rebel—
Give them a taste of unforgiving Hell.
Originally published at Expansive Poetry Online.