The Assembly Of The Dead by Mrs J C Yule

[“Dr. Reid, a traveller through the highlands of Peru, is said to have found in the desert of Alcoama the dried remains of an assemblage of human beings, five or six hundred in number, men, women, and children, seated in a semicircle as when alive, staring into the burning waste before them. It would seem that, knowing the Spanish invaders were at hand, they had come hither with a fixed intention to die. They sat immoveable in that dreary desert, dried like mummies by the hot air, still sitting as if in solemn council, while over that Areopagus silence broods everlastingly.”]

With dull and lurid skies above,
And burning wastes around,
A lonely traveller journeyed on
Through solitudes profound;
No wandering bird’s adventurous wing
Paused o’er that cheerless waste,
No tree across those dreary sands
A welcome shadow cast.

With scorching, pestilential breath
The desert-blast swept by,
And with a fierce, relentless glare
The sun looked from on high;
Yet onward still, though worn with toil,
The eager wand’rer pressed,
While hope lit up his dauntless eye,
And nerved his fainting breast.

Why paused he in his onward course?–
Why held his shuddering breath?–
Why gazed he with bewildered eye,
As on the face of death?
Before him sat in stern array,
All hushed as if in dread,
Yet still, and passionless, and calm,
A concourse of the dead!

Across the burning waste they stared
With glazed and stony eye,
As if strange fear had fixed erewhile
Their gaze on vacancy;
And woe and dread on every brow
In changeless lines were wrought,–
Sad traces of the anguish deep
That filled their latest thought!

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They seemed a race of other time,
O’er whom the desert’s blast,
For many a long and weary age,
In fiery wrath had passed;
Till, scathed and dry, each wasted form
Its rigid aspect wore,
Unchanged, though centuries had passed
The lonely desert o’er.

Was it the clash of foreign arms–
Was it the invader’s tread,–
From which this simple-minded race
In wildest terror fled,–
Choosing, amid the desert-sands,
Scorched by the desert’s breath,
Rather than by the invaders’ steel,
To meet the stroke of death?

And there they died–a free-born race–
From their proud hills away,
While round them in its lonely pride
The far, free desert lay
And there, unburied, still they sit,
All statute like and cold,
Free, e’en in death, though o’er their homes
Oppression’s tide has rolled!

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