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Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Aztec Poems


The earth shakes: the Mexica [Aztec] begins his song:

He makes the Eagles and Ocelots dance with him!
Come to see the Huexotzinca:

On the dais of the Eagle he shouts out,
Loudly cries the Mexica.

The battlefield is the place: where one toasts the divine liquor in war,
where are stained red the divine eagles,
where the tigers howl,
where all kinds of precious stones rain from ornaments,
where wave headdresses rich with fine plumes,
where princes are smashed to bits.

There is nothing like death in war,
nothing like the flowery death
so precious to Him who gives life:
far off I see it: my heart yearns for it!

And they called it Teotihulcan
because it was the place
where the lords were buried.
Thus they said:

'When we die,
truly we die not,
because we will live, we will rise,
we will continue living, we will awaken
This will make us happy.'

Thus the dead one was directed,
when he died:

'Awaken, already the sky is rosy,
already dawn has come,
already sing the flame-coloured guans,
the fire-coloured swallows,
already the butterflies fly.'



Thus the old ones said
that who has died has become a god,
they said: 'He has been made a god there,
meaning 'He has died.'

Even jade is shattered,
Even gold is crushed,
Even quetzal plume are torn . . .
One does not live forever on this earth:
We endure only for an instant!

Will flowers be carried to the Kingdom of Death:
Is it true that we are going, we are going?
Where are we going, ay, where are we going?
Will we be dead there or will we live yet?
Does one exist again?

Perhaps we will live a second time?
Thy heart knows:
Just once do we live!.
Like a quetzal plume, a fragrant flower,
friendship sparkles:
like heron plumes, it weaves itself into finery.

Our song is a bird calling out like a jingle:
how beautiful you make it sound!
Here, among flowers that enclose us,
among flowery boughs you are singing.



All the earth is a grave and nothing escapes it, nothing is so perfect
that it does not descend to its tomb. Rivers, rivulets, fountains and
waters flow, but never return to their joyful beginnings; anxiously
they hasten on the vast realms of the rain god. As they widen their
banks, they also fashion the sad urn of their burial.

Filled are the bowels of the earth with pestilential dust once flesh and bone,
once animate bodies of man who sat upon thrones, decided cases, presided in
council, commanded armies, conquered provinces, possessed treasure, destroyed
temples, exulted in their pride, majesty, fortune, praise and power. Vanished
are these glories, just as the fearful smoke vanishes that belches forth from
the infernal fires of Popocatepetl. Nothing recalls them but the written page.

HUNGRY-COYOTE (NEZAHUALCOYOTL)

King of Texcoco (1431-72)




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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.


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