Ancient Nahuatl Poetry ||| SONG AT THE BEGINNINGCategory: Ancient Nahuatl Poetry
NOTES FOR SONG I.
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
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
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
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),
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,