Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations

Ancient Nahuatl Poetry ||| SONG AT THE BEGINNING

Category: Ancient Nahuatl Poetry



1. Ninoyolnonotza, campa nicuiz yectli, ahuiaca xochitl:—Ac

nitlatlaniz? Manozo yehuatl nictlatlani in quetzal huitzitziltin, in

chalchiuh huitzitzicatzin; manozo ye nictlatlani in zaquan papalotl;

ca yehuantin in machiz, ommati, campa cueponi in yectli ahuiac

xochitl, tla nitlahuihuiltequi in nican acxoyatzinitzcanquauhtla,

manoze nitlahuihuiltequi in tlauhquecholxochiquauhtla; oncan

huihuitolihui ahuach tonameyotoc in oncan mocehcemelquixtia; azo

oncan niquimittaz intla onechittitique; nocuexanco nictemaz ic

niquintlapaloz in tepilhuan, ic niquimellelquixtiz in teteuctin.

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


2. Tlacazo nican nemi, ye nicaqui in ixochicuicatzin yuhqui tepetl

quinnananquilia; tlacazo itlan in meyaquetzalatl, xiuhtotoameyalli,

oncan mocuica, momotla, mocuica; nananquilia in centzontlatolli; azo

quinnananquilia in coyoltototl, ayacachiзahuacatimani, in nepapan

tlazocuicani totome. Oncan quiyectenehua in tlalticpaque


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. Nic itoaya, nitlaocoltzatzia; ma namechellelti y tlazohuane, niman

cactimotlalique, niman hualtato in quetzal huitzitziltin. Aquin

tictemohua, cuicanitzine? Niman niquinnanquilia niquimilhuia: Campa

catqui in yectli, ahuiac xochitl ic niquimellelquixtiz in

amohuampotzitzinhuan? Niman onechicacahuatzque ca nican

tlatimitzittitili ticuicani azo nelli ic tiquimellelquixtiz in

toquichpohuan in teteuctin.

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


4. Tepeitic tonacatlalpa, xochitlalpa nechcalaquiqueo oncan on

ahuachtotonameyotimani, oncan niquittacaya in nepapan tlazoahuiac

xochitl, tlazohuelic xochitl ahuach quequentoc,

ayauhcozamalotonameyotimani, oncan nechilhuia, xixochitetequi, in

catlehuatl toconnequiz, ma mellelquiza in ticuicani, tiquinmacataciz

in tocnihuan in teteuctin in quellelquixtizque in tlalticpaque.

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. Auh nicnocuecuexantia in nepapan ahuiacxochitl, in huel

teyolquima, in huel tetlamachti, nic itoaya manozo aca tohuanti hual

calaquini, ma cenca miec in ticmamani; auh ca tel ye onimatico

nitlanonotztahciz imixpan in tocnihuan nican mochipa

tiqualtetequizque in tlazo nepapan ahuiac xochitl ihuan ticuiquihui

in nepapan yectliyancuicatl ic tiquimellelquixtizque in tocnihuan in

tlalticpactlaca in tepilhuan quauhtliya ocelotl.

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. Ca moch nicuitoya in nicuicani ic niquimicpac xochiti in tepilhuan

inic niquimapan in can in mac niquinten; niman niquehuaya yectli

yacuicatl ic netimalolo in tepilhuan ixpan in tloque in nahuaque, auh

in atley y maceuallo.

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. Can quicuiz? Can quitlaz in huelic xochitl? Auh cuix nohuan aciz

aya in xochitlalpan, in tonacatlalpan, in atley y macehuallo in

nentlamati? Intla y tlacohua in tlalticpac ca зan quitemacehualtica

in tloque in nahuaque, in tlalticpac; ye nican ic chocan noyollo

noconilnamiquia in ompa onitlachiato y xochitlalpana nicuicani.

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


8. Auh nic itoaya tlacazo amo qualcan in tlalticpac ye nican, tlacazo

occecni in huilohuayan, in oncan ca in netlamachtilli; tlezannen in

tlalticpac? tlacazo occecni yoliliz ximoayan, ma ompa niauh, ma ompa

inhuan noncuicati in nepapan tlazototome, ma ompa nicnotlamachti

yectliya xochitl ahuiaca xochitl, in teyolquima, in zan tepacca,

teahuiaca yhuintia, in zan tepacca, ahuiaca yhuintia.

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.


The song is an allegory, portraying the soul-life of the poet. By the

flowers which he sets forth to seek, we are to understand the songs

which he desires to compose. He asks himself where the poetic

inspiration is to be sought, and the answer is the same as was given

by Wordsworth, that it is to the grand and beautiful scenes of Nature

that the poet must turn for the elevation of soul which will lift him

to the sublimest heights of his art. But this exaltation bears with

it the heavy penalty that it disqualifies for ordinary joys. As in

medieval tales, he who had once been admitted to fairyland, could

nevermore conquer his longing to return thither, so the poet longs

for some other condition of existence where the divine spirit of song

may forever lift him above the trials and the littleness of this

earthly life.

There is no sign of Christian influence in the poem, and it is

probably one handed down from a generation anterior to the Conquest.

1. The word peuhcayotl from peua, to begin, intimates that this

was a song chanted at the beginning of a musical entertainment. The

verses are longer, and the phraseology plainer than in many of those

following. There is also an absence of interjections and lengthened

vowels, all of which indicate that the time was slow, and the actions

of the singer temperate, as was the custom at the beginning of a

baile. (See Introd., p. 20.)

1. Ninoyolnonotza, a reflexive, frequentative form from notza, to

think, to reflect, itself from the primitive radicle no, mind,

common to both the Nahuatl and Maya languages. The syllable yol is

for yollotl, heart, in its figurative sense of soul or mind. The

combination of yolnonotza is not found in any of the dictionaries.

The full sense is, “I am thinking by myself, in my heart.”

ahuiaca, an adverbial form, usually means “pleasant-smelling,”

though in derivation it is from the verb ahuia, to be satisfied


quetzal, for quetzalli, a long, handsome blue feather from the

quetzal bird, often used figuratively for anything beautiful or


chalchiuh for chalchiuitl, the famous green-stone, jade or

emerald, so highly prized by the Mexicans; often used figuratively

for anything noble, beautiful and esteemed.

huitzitzicatin, a word not found in the dictionaries, appears to be

from tzitzilca, to tremble, usually from cold, but here applied to

the tremulous motion of the humming bird as it hovers over a flower.

zacuan, the yellow plumage of the zacuan bird, and from similarity

of color here applied to the butterfly. The zacuan is known to

ornithologists as the Oriolus dominicensis. These birds are

remarkably gregarious, sometimes as many as a hundred nests being

found in one tree (see Eduard Mьhlenpfort, Versuch einer getreuen

Schilderung der Republik Mexiko, Bd. I, p. 183).

acxoyatzinitzcanquauhtla; composed of acxoyatl, the wild laurel;

tzinitzcan, the native name of the Trogon mexicanus, renowned for

its beautiful plumage; quauhtli, a tree; and the place-ending

tla, meaning abundance.

tlauquecholxochiquauhtla; composed of tlauquechol, the native

name of the red, spoon-billed heron, Platalea ajaja; xochitl,

flower; quauhtli, tree; and the place-ending tla.

tonameyotoc, the root is the verb tona, to shine, to be warm;

tonatiuh, the sun; tonameyotl, a ray of the sun, etc. As warmth

and sunlight are the conditions of growth and fertility, many

derivatives from this root signify abundance, riches, etc.

mocehcemelquixtia; mo is the reflexive pronoun, 3d sing., often

used impersonally; cehcemel, is a reduplicated form of the numeral

ce, one; it conveys the sense of entire, whole, perfect, and is

thus an interesting illustration of the tendency of the untutored

mind to associate the idea of unity with the notion of perfection;

quixtia is the compulsive form of quiza, to go forth.

onechittitique; 3d person plural, preterit, of the causative form

of itta, to see; ittitia, to cause to see, to show; nech, me,

accusative form of the pronoun.

nocuexanco; from cuexantli, the loose gown worn by the natives,

extending from the waist to the knees. Articles were carried in it as

in an apron; no-cuexan-co, my-gown-in, the terminal tli being

dropped on suffixing the postposition.

tepilhuan; from pilli, boy, girl, child, young person, with the

relative, indefinite, pronominal prefix te, and the pronominal

plural termination huan, to take which, pilli drops its last

syllable, li; hence, te-pil-huan, somebody’s children, or in

general, the young people. This word is of constant occurrence in the


teteuctin, plural with reduplication of teuctli, a noble, a

ruler, a lord. The singer addresses his audience by this respectful


2. ixochicuicatzini; i, poss. pron. 3d sing.; xochitl, flower;

cuicatl, song; tzin, termination signifying reverence or

affection; “their dear flower-songs.”

yuhqui tepetl, etc. The echo in the Nahuatl tongue is called

tepeyolotl, the heart or soul of the mountain (not in Simeon’s

Dictionnaire, but given by Tezozomoc, Cronica Mexicana, p. 202).

meyaquetzalatl; from meya, to flow slowly, to trickle;

quetzalli, beautiful; atl, water.

xiuhtotoameyalli; the root xiuh meant originally green (or blue,

as they were not distinguished apart); hence xiuitl, a leaf or

plant, the green herbage; as where the Nahuas then were this was

renewed annually, xiuitl came to mean a year; as a comet seems to

have a bunch of fiery flames growing from it, this too was xiuitl,

and a turquoise was called by the same term; in the present compound,

it is employed adjectively; xiuh-totol, turquoise-bird, is the

Guiaca cerulea, Linn.; ameyalli, from atl, water, meya, to

trickle, and the noun ending.

mo-motla; to throw one’s self, to dash one’s self against

something, etc.

centzontlatolli; literally,” four hundred speeches.” The numeral

four hundred was employed, like the Greek “myriad,” to express

vaguely any extraordinary number. The term may be rendered “the

myriad-voiced,” and was the common name of the mocking-bird, called

by ornithologists Turdus polyglottus, Calandria polyglotta, and

Mimus polyglotta.

coyoltototl, literally, “the rattle-bird,” so called from its

peculiar notes (coyolli = a rattle), is one of the Tanegridae,

probably the Piranga hepatica.

ayacachicahuactimani; composed of ayacachtli, the rattle (see

ante, page 24); and icahuaca, to sing (of birds); to the theme of

this verb is added the connective syllable ti, and the verb mani,

which, in such connection, indicates that the action of the former

verb is expended over a large surface, broadly and widely (see Olmos,

Gram. de la Langue Nahuatl, p. 155, where, however, the connective

ti is erroneously taken for the pronoun ti).

hueltetozcatemique; composed of huel, good or well; tetozca,

from tozquitl, the singing voice; and temo, to let fall, to drop;

que is the plural verbal termination.

3. ma n-amech-ellelti, vetative causative from elleloa, to cause


cactimotlalique, appears to be a compound of caqui, to listen, to

hear, and tlalia, to seat, to place.

amohuampotzitzinhuan, a compound based on the pronoun of the second

person plural, amo, the particle po, which means similarity or

likeness, and the reduplicated reverential plural termination. The

same particle po, appears a few lines later in toquichpohuan;

potli = comrade, compeer.

4. Tepeitic, from tepetl, mountain, ititl, belly, from which is

derived the proposition itic, within, among. The term is applied to

a ravine or sequestered valley.

5. quauhtliya ocelotl, the expression quauhtli, ocelotl, is of

frequent occurrence in the ancient Nahuatl writers. The words mean

literally “eagle, tiger.” These were military titles applied to

officers commanding small bodies of troops; figuratively, the words

mean control, power, and dignity; also, bravery and virtue. Comp.

Agustin de Vetancurt, Teatro Mexicano, Tratado II, cap. 3.

6. in tloque in nahuaque; this expression, applied by the ancient

Nahuas to the highest divinity, is attributed by some to

Nezahualcoyotl (see above, p. 36). It is composed of two

postpositions tloc and nahaac, and in the form given conveys the

meaning “to whom are present and in whom are immanent all things

having life.” See Agustin de la Rosa, Analisis de la Platica

Mexicana sobre el Mislerio de la Santisima Trinidad, p. 11

(Guadalajara, 1871). The epithet was applied in heathen times to the

supreme divinity Tonacateotl; see the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, in

Kingsborough’s Mexico, Vol. VI, p. 107.

8. ximoayan; this word does not appear in the dictionaries of

Molina or Simeon, and is a proof, as is the sentiment of the whole

verse, that the present poem belongs to a period previous to the

Conquest. The term means “where all go to stay,” and was the name of

the principal realm of departed souls in the mythology of the ancient

Nahuas. See Bartholome de Alva, Confessionario en Lengua Mexicana,

fol. 13 (Mexico, 1634); Tezozomoc, Cronica Mexicana, cap. 55; D.G.

Brinton; The Journey of the Soul (in Aztec and Aryan Myths),

Philadelphia, 1883.

yhuintia, causative form of ihuinti, to make drunk. The Nirvana

of the Nahuas was for the soul to lie in dense smoke and darkness,

filled with utter content, and free from all impressions (“en lo

profundo de contento y obscuridad,” Tezozomoc, Cronica Mexicana,

cap. 55).

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