A poet accompanied Francisco Pizarro as that doughty Spaniard destroyed the Inca and placed himself and Emperor Charles at the head of the Indian empire. The hitherto anonymous poet wrote a lengthy narrative about the deeds of the mighty Pizarro and dedicated it to the Empress Doña Isabel. The manuscript slumbered in the National Library of Austria until a faulty and incomplete version came out in 1848. That edition recognized the poem as a significant document of the Conquest but briefly dismissed its artistic nature as an early, crude “rhymed narrative.” Morton has amply corrected the flaws and omissions of that first edition.
By a minor but neat bit of historical detective work, Morton has reasonably fixed the date of the poem as 1537 and the poet as Pizarro’s secretary, Francisco de Xerez. Internal and external evidence, such as the death date of the Empress, the participation of known figures of the Conquest, Xerez’ authorship of the Conquista del Perú, give validity to the editor’s conclusions.
Morton emphasizes the poem rather than the poet. The work is divided into two parts, the agonies of the search for Perú and the accomplishment of the conquest. It eulogizes a Cristo-Pizarro as a symbol of Spanish nationalism and religious fervor. The structure of the poem borrows very little from the classic epic and scarcely more from earlier Spanish heroic poetry. Xerez, notes the editor, lacked the literary background for such borrowing. The poem offers no new historical information, nor is it a significant work of art.
If the work is a crude narrative poem of little artistic and historical value, why should Morton have given it a devoted and meticulous analysis? The editor properly answers with O’Gorman’s suggestion that America owes her existence more to poetry than to geography, that it is a work of creation rather than discovery. The gawky epic by Francisco de Xerez is the first lengthy work of that creation. It deserves to be studied as literature.