Wednesday, December 14, 2011

 

Ancient Nahuatl Poem - Song at the Beginning

The following is an example of 16th century Nahuatl poetry, after the Conquest and probably, by subject matter, composed by a convert to the Christian faith. The Nahuatl language was one of the Aztec languages of Central Mexico. The title, before translation, of course, would be "Cuicapeuhcayotl", or, in English...

Song at the Beginning

1. I am wondering where I may gather some pretty, sweet flowers. Whom shall I ask? Suppose that I ask the brilliant humming-bird, the emerald trembler; suppose that I ask the yellow butterfly; they will tell me, they know, where bloom the pretty, sweet flowers, whether I may gather them here in the laurel woods where dwell the tzinitzcan birds, or whether I may gather them in the flowery forests where the tlauquechol lives. There they may be plucked sparkling with dew, there they come forth in perfection. Perhaps there I shall see them if they have appeared; I shall place them in the folds of my garment, and with them I shall greet the children, I shall make glad the nobles.

2. Truly as I walk along I hear the rocks as it were replying to the sweet songs of the flowers; truly the glittering, chattering water answers, the bird-green fountain, there it sings, it dashes forth, it sings again; the mockingbird answers; perhaps the coyol bird answers, and many sweet singing birds scatter their songs around like music. They bless the earth pouring out their sweet voices.

3. I said, I cried aloud, may I not cause you pain ye beloved ones, who are seated to listen; may the brilliant humming-birds come soon. Whom do we seek, O noble poet? I ask, I say: Where are the pretty, fragrant flowers with which I may make glad you my noble compeers? Soon they will sing to me, "Here we will make thee to see, thou singer, truly wherewith thou shalt make glad the nobles, thy companions."

4. They led me within a valley to a fertile spot, a flowery spot, where the dew spread out in glittering splendor, where I saw various lovely fragrant flowers, lovely odorous flowers, clothed with the dew, scattered around in rainbow glory, there they said to me, "Pluck the flowers, whichever thou wishest, mayest thou the singer be glad, and give them to thy friends, to the nobles, that they may rejoice on the earth."

5. So I gathered in the folds of my garment the various fragrant flowers, delicate scented, delicious, and I said, may some of our people enter here, may very many of us be here; and I thought I should go forth to announce to our friends that here all of us should rejoice in the different lovely, odorous flowers, and that we should cull the various sweet songs with which we might rejoice our friends here on earth, and the nobles in their grandeur and dignity.

6. So I the singer gathered all the flowers to place them upon the nobles, to clothe them and put them in their hands; and soon I lifted my voice in a worthy song glorifying the nobles before the face of the Cause of All, where there is no servitude.

7. Where shall one pluck them? Where gather the sweet flowers? And how shall I attain that flowery land, that fertile land, where there is no servitude, nor affliction? If one purchases it here on earth, it is only through submission to the Cause of All; here on earth grief fills my soul as I recall where I the singer saw the flowery spot.

8. And I said, truly there is no good spot here on earth, truly in some other bourne there is gladness; For what good is this earth? Truly there is another life in the hereafter. There may I go, there the sweet birds sing, there may I learn to know those good flowers, those sweet flowers, those delicious ones, which alone pleasurably, sweetly intoxicate, which alone pleasurably, sweetly intoxicate.

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