Nahuatl or Aztec Poetry

These poems are just a few of those which survived Spanish conquest to be transcribed and translated. Some have only only Spanish and English versions, but wherever I can I include the Nahuatl as well. I might note that, far from being a dead language, Nahuatl is still spoken today by about 2 million people in Mexico. If you're interested, there's a very good Nahuatl web page which has more links.

Noncuicapehua nicana yecoya
moxochiuh ipalnemoani
Toxochihuehueuh huel in tzotzona,
tonequimilol in tlalticpac.  Ohuaya.
Oaitquihuani cuicatl Quenonamican.
Cen tiyahui ayac mocahuaz in tlalticpac.  Ohuaya.
Ma oc cemilhuitl ye nican,
antocnihuan.   Ayahue.
Toconcauhtehuazque toxochiuh,
ye tocuic.  Ayahue.
Tic ya on cahuazque in tlalli manic.  Yiao.
Ma oc xon ahuiacan antocnihuan.  Ohuaye.
Yaohuaye Xon ahuiacan.  Ohuaya.

Fleeting life

I begin the song, I try to take
your flowers, author of life.
Already we are playing our flowered drums.
This is our duty on the earth.
Flowers that cannot be taken,
songs that cannot be taken to the Realm of Mystery!
We go completely: no one will remain on earth.
One day at least, oh my friends:
we must leave our flowers, our songs.
We must leave the earth, which remains.
Let us enjoy ourselves, friends, let us enjoy ourselves!

Vida fugaz

Inicio el canto, intento tomar
tus flores, autor de la vida.
Tañemos ya nuestros enflorados tambores.
Este es nuestro deber en la tierra.
¡Flores que no se pueden llevar,
cantos que no se pueden llevar al Reino del Misterio!
Totalmente nos vamos: nadie quedará en la tierra.
Un día por lo menos, oh mis amigos:
tenemos que dejar nuestras flores, nuestros cantos.
Tenemos que dejar la tierra que perdura.
Gocémosnos, amigos, gocémonos.



Comenta el poeta

¿Quién me tomará? ¿quién irá conmigo
Aquí estoy en pie, amigos míos.
Yo soy un cantor, desde el fondo del pecho
mis flores y mis cantos desgrano ante los hombres.
Una gran piedra tajo, grueso madero pinto: 
en ellos pongo un canto
Se hablará de eso un día, cuando yo me haya ido,
del modelo de cantos que dejo en la tierra.
Allí vivirá mi corazón, allí vendrá de la región de niebla,
mi recuerdo y vivirá mi nombre
La flor de los príncipes exhala fragante aroma,
se están uniendo en uno nuestras flores.
Ya se oye, ya germina mi canto:
está retoñando mi trasplante de palabras.
Se yerguen nuestras flores en tiempo de lluvia
Y la flor de cacao fragante se va abriendo,
exhala aroma y caen en lluvia enervadoras flores.
Ya se oye, ya germina mi canto:
está retoñando mi trasplante de palabras.
Se yerguen nuestras flores en tiempo de lluvia.

The Poet Remarks

Who will take me? Who will go with me?
Here I stand, my friends.
I am a singer, from the depths of my breast
My flowers and my songs I spread before men
I split a great stone, I paint a thick log: 
I put in them a song
This will be talked about someday, when I have gone,
the model songs I leave on earth
My heart will live there, there from the region of fog
my memory will come and my name will live.
The princes' flower emits a fragrant aroma,
our flowers are becoming one.
Already my song is heard, is germinated:
my transplant of words is sproutingagain.
Our flowers rise up in times of rain.
And the fragrant cocoa flower keeps opening,
it emits its aroma and enervating flowers fall in rain.
Already my song is heard, is germinated:
my transplant of words is sprouting again.
Our flowers rise up in times of rain.


From within the Heavens
by Ayocuan Cuetzpaltzin
(translated by Miguel León-Portilla)

From within the heavens they come,
the beautiful flowers, the beautiful songs,
but our yearning spoils them,
our inventiveness makes them lose their fragrance,
although not those of the Chichimec prince Tecayehuatzin.
With his, rejoice!

Friendship is a shower of precious flowers
White tufts of heron feathers
are woven with precious red flowers,
among the branches of the trees
under which stroll and sip
the lords and nobles

Your beautiful song
is a golden wood thrush
most beautiful, you raise it up.
You are in a field of flowers.
Among the flowery bushes you sing.
Are you perchance a precious bird of the Giver of Life?
Perchance you have spoken with God?
As soon as you saw the dawn,
you began to sing.
Would that I exert myself, that my heart desire,
the flowers of the shield,
the flowers of the Giver of Life.

What can my heart do?
In vain we have come,
we have blossomed forth on earth.
Will I have to go alone
like the flowers that perish?
Will nothing remain of my name?
Nothing of my fame here on earth?
At least my flowers, at least my songs!
What can my heart do?
In vain we have come,
we have blossomed forth on earth.

Let us enjoy, O friends,
here we can embrace.
We stroll over the flowery earth.
No one here can do away
with the flowers and the songs,
they will endure in the house of the Giver of Life

Earth is the region of the fleeting moment.
Is it also thus in the Place
Where in Some Way One Lives?

Is one happy there?
Is there friendship?
Or is it only here on earth
we come to know our faces?


English translations by Catherine Fountain, 1999 unless otherwise indicated.