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The Quechua poet Juan Wallparimachi Mayta’s background and tragic life are the stuff of legend. According to one account, he was of mixed Inka and Spanish parentage, and raised from a young age by Indians in the region of Potosí. He fell in love with the young wife of a wealthy Spanish mineowner, the story goes, and their passionate romance led to her being sent to a monastery in Arequipa. Wallparimachi is said to have gone off to fight in the independence wars in the guerrilla army of Manuel Ascencio Padilla and his wife, Juana Azurduy, in Chuquisaca. According to tradition, Wallparimachi died in the battle of Las Carretas in 1814, when he was only twenty-one years old. The heroic story has made him a national icon.

His poetry is no less shrouded in mystery. A dozen Quechua-language poems are attributed to him, though their authenticity cannot be substantiated. They have a strong and sensitive emotional register. The kacharpari, or farewell verse, is a traditional Quechua song style lamenting someone’s departure, and this one uses highly economical five-syllable lines. We follow the Spanish version of Jesús Lara (1898–1980), who played an important role in popularizing the figure of Wallparimachi, though there are discrepancies between the Spanish and the Quechua in Lara’s rendition. This poem resonates with the stories of Wallparimachi’s own life. Though his lover must leave for distant Arequipa, the location of the volcano called El Misti, he promises to accompany her in his heart always. The poet himself will go off to face death in battle, though he affrms that the lovers’ bond will overcome death.

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