The following poem was sent to Alexander von Humboldt in a letter by Ernst Curtius in the mid-1800s. Humboldt was traveling along the Orinoco River in what is now Venezuela, when he happened upon the Guarequena Indians. There is a legend among the Indians that there lives an old parrot; the natives maintain that no one can understand him. The bird had belonged to the Atures people, a persecuted tribe driven to extinction. To Humboldt's amazement, the parrots were the last remaining speakers of the Atures language.
In the Orinoco forest
An old parrot sits alone,
Never stirring, like the poorest
Little statue carved in stone.
Its course through rock-dams laying
Foams the river's wild flow,
While above the palms are swaying
In the sun's quiescent glow.
How the waves strive on, all acting
Like their race may yet be won;
In the water's mist refracting,
Flash the colors of the sun.
Down below where swells are breaking,
There a tribe speaks nevermore;
As the foe their lands were taking,
Fled to cliffs along the shore.
And the bold Atures perished
As they lived, both free and brave;
And the last things that they cherished
Now lie hidden in a cave.
For the last, now absent members
Of the tribe the parrot grieves,
Hones his beak, and he remembers,
And his cry sounds through the leaves.
Oh, all the boys who trained him
In the phrases they thought best,
And the women who sustained him
With good food and cozy nest.
Now they all lie dead and broken,
Stretched out on the rocky shore;
Despite every word he's spoken
He can't wake them anymore.
And now no one comprehends him
When he calls; alone he is.
Hears the water but it sends him
Not a soul to comfort his.
And the savage who, unwilling,
Spies him, paddles fast to go;
All who see it find it chilling:
The Altures Parrot's Woe.