Portrait of Nezahualcoyotl from Codex Ixtlilxóchitl.
SONG OF THE FLIGHT
In vain I was born. Ayahue.
In vain I left the house of god and came to earth. I am so wretched! Ohuaya, Ohuaya!
I wish I'd never been born, truly that I'd never come to earth. That's what I say. But what is there to do? Do I have to live among the people? What then? Princes, tell me! Aya. Ohuaya, Ohuaya!
Do I have to stand on earth? What is my destiny? My heart suffers. I am unfortunate. You were hardly my friend here on earth, Life Giver. Ohuaya, Ohuaya!
How to live among the people? Does He who sustains and lifts men have no discretion? Go, friends, live in peace, pass your life in calm! While I have to live stooped, with my head bent down when I am among the people. Ohuaya, Ohuaya!
For this I cry - Yeehuya!- feeling desolate, abandoned among men on the earth. How do you decide your heart - Yeehuya! - Life Giver? Already your anger is vanishing, your compassion welling! Aya! I am at your side, God. Do you plan my death? Ohuaya, Ohuaya!
Is it true we take pleasure, we who live on earth? Is it certain that we live to enjoy ourselves on earth? But we are all so filled with grief. Are bitterness and anguish the destiny of the people of earth? Ohuaya, Ohuaya!
But do not anguish, my heart! Recall nothing now. In truth it hardly gains compassion on this earth. Truly you have come to increase bitterness at your side, next to you, Oh Life Giver. Yyao yyahue auhuayye oo huiya.
I only look for, I remember my friends. Perhaps they will come one more time, perhaps they will return to life? Or only once do we perish, only one time here on earth? If only our hearts did not suffer! next to, at your side, Life Giver. Yyao yyahue auhuayye oo huiya.
Romances de los Señores #36 (21r-22v)
(Composed when he was fleeing the king of Azcapotzalco, either during his first flight in 1418, when he was 16, or during his second flight, around 1426, when he was 24. This is the earliest poem that we can date.
1: IN CHOLOLIZTLI CUICATL
O nen notlacatli. Ayahue!
O nen nonquizaco teotl ichan in tlalticpac. Ninotolinia. Ohuaya ohuaya!
In ma on nel nonquiz in ma on nel nontlacat ah niquitohua yece. Yeehuaya! Tlen naiz anonohuaco tepilhuan? At teixco ninemi? Quen huel xon mimati. Aya Ohuaya ohuaya!
Ye ya nonehuaz in tlalticpac? Ye ya tie in nolhuil? Zan nitoliniya tonehua noyollo tinocniuh in ayaxcan in tlalticpac ye nican. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Quen in nemohua—Aya!—in tenahuac? Mach ilihuiztia nemia tehuic teyaconi. Aya! Nemi zan ihuiyan zan icemelia. In zan nonopechteca zan nitolotinemi a in tenahuac. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Zan ye ica nichoca—Yeehuaya!—nicnotlamati no nicnocahualoc in tenahuac tlalticpac. Quen quinequi noyollo—Yeehuaya!—ipal nemohuani? Ma oc melel on quiza a icnopillotl. Huiya! Ma oc timalihui—Aya!—monahuac titeotl. At ya nech mikitlani? Ohuaya ohuaya.
Azomo ye nelli tipaqui ti ya nemi tlalticpac? Ah ca za tinemi ihuan ti hual paqui in tlalticpac. Ah ca mochi ihui titotolinia. Ah ca no chichic teopouhqui tenahuac ye nican. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Ma xi icnotlamati noyollo. Yeehuaya! Maca oc tle xic yococa. Yeehuaya! Ye nelli in ayaxcan nicnopiltihua in tlalticpac. Ye nelli cococ ye otimalihuico in motloc monahuac in ipal nemohua. Yyao yyahue ahuayye oo Huiya.
Zan niquintemohua—Aya!—niquilnamiqui in tocnihuan. Cuix oc ceppa huitze in cuix oc nemiquihui? Zan cen ti ya polihuia zan cen ye nican in tlalticpac. Maca cocoya inyollo itloc inahuac in ipal nemohua. Yyao yyahue ahuayye oo Huiya.
Romances de los Señores #36 (21r-22v)
2: THE FLOWER TREE
Begin the song in pleasure, singer, enjoy, give pleasure to all, even to Life Giver. Yyeo ayahui ohuaya.
Delight, for Life Giver adorns us. All the flower bracelets, your flowers, are dancing. Our songs are strewn in this jewel house, this golden house. The Flower Tree grow and shakes, already it scatters. The quetzal breathes honey, the golden quéchol breathes honey. Ohuaya ohuaya.
You have transformed into a Flower Tree, you have emerged, you bend and scatter. You have appeared before God's face as multi-colored flowers. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Live here on earth, blossom! As you move and shake, flowers fall. My flowers are eternal, my songs are forever: I raise them: I, a singer. I scatter them, I spill them, the flowers become gold: they are carried inside the golden place. Ohuaya ohuyaya.
Flowers of raven, flowers you scatter, you let them fall in the house of flowers. Ohuaya ohuyaya.
Ah, yes: I am happy, I prince NezahualCóyotl, gathering jewels, wide plumes of quetzal, I contemplate the faces of jades: they are the princes! I gaze into the faces of Eagles and Jaguars, and behold the faces of jades and jewels! Ohuaya ohuyaya.
We will pass away. I, NezahualCóyotl, say, Enjoy! Do we really live on earth? Ohuaya ohuaya!
Not forever on earth, only a brief time here! Even jades fracture; even gold ruptures, even quetzal plumes tear: Not forever on earth: only a brief time here! Ohuaya ohuaya!
Cantares Mexicanos #20 (16v-17r)
2: IN XOCHINQUAHUITL
Xiahuilompehua xiahuiloncuican ticuicanitl huiya ma xonahuiacany, onelelquixtilon ypalnemohuani. Yyeo ayahui ohuaya.
Ma xonahuiacani ye techonquimiloa ypalnemohua ye xochimaquiztica netotilo ye nehuihuio—Aya!—moxochiuh—A ohuaya—yao yao ho ama y yehuaya ahuayyao aye ohuaya ohuaya. Ye momamana, ye momana yan tocuic. Maquizcaytec y zan teocuitlacalico moyahuan Xochinquahuitl oo. Ye mohui xohua y zan ye motzetzeloa. Ma in tlachichina quetzaltototl ma in tlachichinan ya zaquan quecholan. Ohuaya.
Xochinquahuitl timochiuh, timaxelihui, tihuitolihui: o ya timoquetzaco in yehuan. Ixpan timomati tehua nipapan xochitl. A Ohuaya ohuaya.
Ma oc xon ya tica oc xon cuepontica yn tlalticpac in. Timolinia tepehui xochitl, timotzetzeloa—Yohuaya ohuaya! Ah tlamiz noxochiuh ah tlamiz nocuic yn noconyayehua—Aaya!—zan nicuicanitl. Huia. Xexelihuiya moyahua yaho cozahua ya xochitl za ye on calaquilo zaquan calitic. A ohuaya ohuaya.
Yn cacaloxochitly mayexochitl—Aya ohuaye!—tic ya moyahua, tic ya tzetzeloa xochincalaytec. A ohuaya ohuaya.
Yyoyahue ye nonocuiltonohua on nitepiltzin niNezahualcoyotl huia nic nechico cozcatl in quetzalin patlahuac ye no nic yximatin chalchihuitl. Yaho in tepilhuan. Ohuaya ohuaya. Yxco nontlatlachia nepapan Quauhtlin Ocelotl, ye no nic yximati chalchiuhtliya in maquiztliya. Ohuaye.
Tiazque yehua xon ahuiacan. Niquittoa o ni Nezahualcoyotl. Huia! Cuix oc nelli nemohua o a in tlalticpac? Yhui. Ohuaye.
Annochipa tlalticpac. Zan achica ye nican. Ohuaye ohuaye. Tel ca chalchihuitl no xamani, no teocuitlatl in tlapani, oo quetzalli poztequi. Yahui ohuaye. Anochipa tlalticpac zan achica ye nican. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Cantares Mexicanos #20 (16v-17r)
3: IT IS PURE JADE
It is pure jade, a wide plumage, your heart, your word, Oh Father! Ehuaya.
You pity man, you watch him with mercy! Only for the most brief moment is he next to you, at your side! Ohuaya ohuyaya.
Precious as jade your flowers burst forth, Oh Life Giver. As fragrant flowers they are perfected, as blue parrots they open their corolas. Only for the most brief moment next to you, at your side! Ohuaya ohuyaya.
Romances de los Señores #34 (20v)
3: A ZAN CHALCHIHUITLI
A zan chalchihuitli quetzal on patlahuac moyollo motlatol totatzin! Ehuaya.
Tonteicnoitta tonteicnopilitta. In tan cuel achitzin ca in motloc monahuac. Ohuaya Ohuaya.
Chalchiuh itzmolini moxochiuh ipalnemohua. Yexochimimilihui xiuhquechol cuepuntimani. In tan cuel achitzin ca in motloc monahuac! Ohuaya Ohuaya.
Romances de los Señores #34 (20v)
4: I BEGIN TO SING
I begin to sing, I elevate to the heights the song for He By Whom All Live. Yayahue ohuaya ohuaya.
The festive song has arrived: it comes to reach up to the Highest Arbiter. Oh lords, borrow precious flowers! Ahuayya ohuaya ohuaya.
Already they are being renewed: how will I do it? With your branches I adorn myself, I will fly: I am unfortunate, for that reason I cry. Ohuaya ohuaya.
A brief moment at Your side, Oh, You By Whom All Live. Truly You draw the destiny the man. Can You hold him who feels himself without good fortune in the earth? Ohuaya ohuaya.
With variegated flowers adorned Your drum is erected, Oh, You By Whom All Live. With flowers, with freshness - Ayahue! - You give pleasure to the princes. Huiya ohuaya! A brief instant in this form is the house of the flowers of song. Ohuaya ohuaya.
The beautiful yellow corn flowers open their corolas. Huiya! The warbling quetzal of He By Whom All Live makes a jingling clamor. Yeehuaya! Flowers of gold open their corolas. Aya! A brief moment in this form is the house of the flowers of the song. Ohuaya ohuaya.
With colors of the golden bird, with red-black and lucent red You decorate Your songs. With quetzal feathers You ennoble Your friends, Eagle and Jaguars, You make them valiant. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Who has the piety to reach above to where it ennobles one, to where it brings glory? Yehuaya! Your friends Eagles and Jaguars, You make them valiant. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Romances de los Señores #37 (22v-23v)
4: ZAN NOMPEHUA NONCUICA
Zan nompehua noncuica—Aya!—acohui ye noconehua in tan ca ye icuic in ipalnemohua. Yayahue Ohuaya ohuaya.
Cuicailhuizol yecoc hual aciz in Moyocoyatzin in antepilhuan ma on netlanehuilo in cacahuaxochitli. Ahuayya Ohuaya ohuaya.
In ya qui yancohui—Ayahue Huiya!—quen noconchihuaz imaxochitica—Yehuaya!—ma ic ninapantihui ai ya patlaniz ninotolinia ica nichoca. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Cuel achic moilahuac—Yehuaya!—ipal nemohuani in ye nelli tonteicuilohua ac at on teicnomati a in tlalticpac? Ohuaya ohuaya.
Nepapan cuauhizhuayoticac in mohuehueuh in ipal nemohua in xochitica celiztica—Ayahue!—ic mitz on ahuiltia a in tepilhuan—Huiya Ohuaya!—achi ye yuhcan in cuicaxochitli huel imanican. Ohuaya ohuaya.
In quetzalizquixochitl on cuepontoc ye oncan—Huiya!—ihcahuaca on tlatohua—Yeehuaya!—in quetzalayacachtototl ipal nemohuani teocuitlaxochitl—Aya!—cuepuntimani—Ya!—achi ye yuhcan in cuicaxochitli huel imanican. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Zan tzinitzcan zacuan ye tlauhquechol ica titlatlapalpohua ye mocuic zan tiquimoquetzaltia in nocnihuan in cuatli ocelo ic tiquim ya melacuahun. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Ac icnopilli naconacitiuh in oncan piltihua mahuiztihua—Yeehuaya!—in mocnihuan in cuauhtli in ocelo ic tiquim melacuahua. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Romances de los Señores #37 (22v-23v)
5: I ERECT MY DRUM
I erect my drum, I assemble my friends. Aya! Here they find recreation, I make them sing. Thus we must go over There. Remember this. Be happy. Aya! Oh my friends! Ohuaya ohuaya!
Perhaps now with calm, and thus it must be over There? Aya! Perhaps there is also calm There in the Bodyless Place? Aye! Ohuaya ohuaya!
Let us go. But here the law of the flowers governs, here the law of the song governs, here on earth. Ehuaya! Be happy, dress in finery, oh friends. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Romances de los Señores #38 (23v-24v)
5: NIC QUETZA TOHUEHUEUH
Nic quetza tohuehueuh niquin nechicohua—Aya!—tocnihuan on in melelquiza niquin cuicatia. Tiyazque ye yuhcan xi quilnamiquican xi ya mocuiltonocan—Aya!—in tocnihuan. Ohuaya ohuaya.
In cuix oc no ihuiyan canon ye yuhcan—Aya!—cuix oc no ihuiyan canon ximohuayan? Aye ohuaya ohuaya!
Ma tihuiyacan, yece ye nican in xochinahuatilo, yece ye nican in cuicanahuatilo tlalticpac. Ehuaya! Xi mocuiltonocan xi moquimilocan a in tocnihuan. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Romances de los Señores #38 (23v-24v)
6: YOU, AZURE BIRD
You, azure bird, shining parrot, you walk flying. Oh Highest Arbiter, Life Giver: trembling, You extend Yourself here, filling my house, filling my dwelling, here. Ohuaya Ohuaya!
With Your piety and grace one can live, oh Author of Life, on earth: trembling, You extend Yourself here, filling my house, filling my dwelling, here. Ohuaya Ohuaya!
6: TI XIUHTOTOTL
Ti xiuhtototl ti tlauhquechol ti ya patlantinemi. Moyocoya ipal nemohuani: ti mohuihuixohua ya timotzetzelohua nican moqui nochan moqui nocalla imancan. Ohuaya Ohuaya!
Monecuiltonol moteicnelil huel ic nemohua in ipal nemohua in tlalticpac: ti mohuihuixohua ya timotzetzelohua nican moqui nochan moqui nocalla imancan. Ohuaya Ohuaya!
Romances de los Señores #40 (24v-25r)
Nezahualcoyotl (Hungry Coyote) was considered by his peers to be the greatest poet of ancient Mexico. His compositions had vast influence, stylistically and in content. Filled with thought, symbol and myth, his poetry moved his people's culture so deeply that after his death generations of poets to follow would stand by the huehuétl drum and cry, "I am Nezahualcoyotl, I am Hungry Coyote," and sing his poems and keep them alive.
Nezahualcoyotl was not only a great lyric poet, but was famed as an architect, engineer, city planner, reluctant warrior, law-giver and philosopher. The cultural institutions he established included a library of hieroglyphic books, a zoological garden-arboretum, and a self-governing academy of scholars and poets. He led his city-state out of foreign domination, and transformed it into a wellspring of art and culture. The seventh ruler (tlacatecuhtli) of Tezcoco, a large pueblo on the north shore of Lake Tezcoco, ten miles across the water from the capital of the Aztecs, Hungry Coyote promoted a renewal of Toltec learning, based on the peaceful religion of Quetzalcóatl, at the very moment when the Aztec cult of sacrifice was coming into ascendancy. All the Nahuatl-speaking city-states in the Valley of Mexico looked to Hungry Coyote's Tezcoco as the cultural center of their world.
The story is not a simple one and the chronicles of his life themselves are contradictory. However, the spirit of paradox is embedded in the soul of ancient Mexico.
The complex surfaces of many flower-songs (xochicuicatl) often make them difficult to understand for many people in our culture. We do not have ready categories for them. They require an effort. Yet they contain many gems of universal lasting value, and offer great rewards to those willing to make that effort.
The Nahuatl Language
Nahuatl is commonly known today as "Aztec." However, the inhabitants of the city-state México-Tenochtitlán called themselves "Mexicas" or "Tenochcas" and never "Aztecs," which is a foreign appellation. Besides, Nahuatl was the language of much more than just the Mexicas (and the Tezcocans): it was the lingua franca of the entire Valley of México, comprising many city-states, stemming back to the fabled Toltec city Tula and probably to Teotihuacán.
Today Nahuatl-speaking people are still one of México's largest Indigenous groups, numbering over one million people spread over the central parts of the country. Most call themselves "Mexicas" today. Nahuatl-speaking people are also now commonly called "Nahuas."
Modern Nahuatl is quite different from the language of Hungry Coyote. The shape of the modern language was of course strongly influenced by centuries of proximity to Spanish.
Sources and Translations
Most of the surviving Nahuatl songs can be found in two major collections, "Romances de los señores de la Nueva España" and "Cantares mexicanos." Both were compiled between 1560 and 1582. A few songs are duplicated in both the Romances and the Cantares, attesting to their authenticity and popularity. Neither manuscript has a compiler's name attached, though there is solid evidence of the identities of both.
The Romances, containing 10 flower-songs attributed to NezahualCóyotl (or 11, depending on how one counts), were probably collected by Juan Bautista Pomar, a great-grandson of Hungry Coyote. Although no scribe's name or date is on the only existing Romances manuscript, that manuscript was discovered bound together with Pomar's history of Tezcoco, "Geographical Relation of Tezcoco," dated 1582. The two manuscripts are of the same vintage. Pomar wrote in his own language and for his own people, to conserve their history, traditions and culture.
The Cantares Mexicanos, with 24 to 28 flower-songs attributed to NezahualCóyotl, was probably collected by the Indigenous informants of Fra Bernardino de Sahagún as part of his great work known as the Florentine Codex.
Two more of Hungry Coyote's songs are found, in Spanish translation, in "Historia chichimeca," a history written in Spanish by Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, another descendant of Hungry Coyote and surely an associate of Pomar. This book and "Relation of Tezcoco" are the primary sources for Hungry Coyote's life and the history of his city-state Tezcoco. More of this history and a paraphrase of a Hungry Coyote poem have been passed down in "Monarquía Indiana," another contemporary book by Fray Juan de Torquemada. The sacred hymns can be found in the Florentine Codex, "Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca" and "Anales de Cuauhtinchan."
Andrews, J. Richard, Introduction to Classical Nahuatl, Austin, 1975.
Cantares Mexicanos, Biblioteca Nacional, Mexico. Spanish translation by Garibay, K., Angel María, Poesía Nahuatl, México, 1964. English translation by Bierhorst, John, Cantares Mexicanos, Stanford, 1985.
Caso, Alfronso, The Aztecs, People of the Sun, Norman, 1958.
Códice Xólotl, Mexico, 1980.
Cruces Caruajal, Nezahualcoyotl, Flor y Canto, Tezcoco, 1988.
Duran, Diego, Book of the Gods and the Rites, trans. Horcasitas and Heyden, Norman, 1971.
Garibay, K., Angel María, Llave de Nahuatl, Mexico 1959; Poesía Nahuatl, México, 1964; La Literatura de Los Aztecas, Mexico, 1964.
Gillmor, Frances, Flute of the Smoking Mirror, Albuquerque 1949.
Ixtlilxóchitl, Fernando de Alva, Historia Chichimeca, México, 1977.
Kissam, Edward and Schmidt, Michael, trans., Poems of the Aztec Peoples, Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 1983.
León-Portilla, Miguel, Trece poetas del mundo antiguo, México, 1984; The Broken Spears, Boston, 1962; Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico, Norman, 1969, Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World, Oklahoma, 1992.
Mapa Quinatzin, Anales del Museo Nacional de México, Primera época, 1886.
Martínez, J. L., Nezahualcóyotl, México, 1972. Biography.
Martínez, J. M., Introduccion al estudio del idioma Nauatl, 1990.
Pomar, Juan Bautista de, Relación de Pomar, Included in Garibay, Poesía Nahuatl, México, 1964.
Romances de los señores de la Nueva España, University of Texas Library, Austin; Spanish translation by Garibay K., Angel María, Poesía Nahuatl, México, 1964.
Sahagún, Fr. Bernardino de, General History of Things of New Spain (Florentine Codex), trans. Anderson and Dibble, 1950 et seq.
Soustelle, Jacques, Daily Life of the Aztecs, Stanford, 1961.
Torquemada, Juan de, Monarchía Indiana, Mexico, 1975.
Copyright © 2005 by John Curl. All Rights Reserved.