Nahua Literature

An attempt against etymology is to talk about an Aztec literature. Great efforts had the prehispanic cultures made to engrave their thoughts either on rock or on paper. We have not be able, though, to discipher their written language. Symbolic ideograms, some very styled and phonetic similar to the Chinese and Japanese Languages, served as a vehicle for their literature.

A very abundant poetic production of popular eloquence existed, treasured in the memory and transmitted from generation to generation. Codes for a moral life and social conduct, codes that parents taught to their children by rule and that at the same time they enclose high precepts as well as beautiful expressions. Sahagún, Motolínea, Ixtlilxochitl, the angry pen of father Durán, and in general all the chroniclers, agree in affirming it.

Collective chanting, almost always accompanied by dancing, or the songs of a poet in a contest, all this generally in the higher classes of society, were institutions so characteristic of those towns as are our books, theaters, and social gatherings. The most important, naturally, was the worship, collective or individual of their divinities.

This abundant production perished in its most part. Nothing else could have happened. The shaking of the conquest discouraged the happiness of the people and displaced their ways of social life. And the missionaries were not as careful in gathering this type of information as they were with the historical information. For some time it remained in the memories and lips of the survivors of the tribes disaster; but little by little for various reasons it kept dying. Just a few persons were left as a remainder of that past, and whose knowledge is of great importance for the study of the national soul in a field so intimate as is poetry.

Some missionaries had the Indians dictate to them, or as it happened with Sahagún, the Indians themselves wrote, under the missionaries' supervision, these kind of chants. In this way the their literature was saved otherwise it would have perished forever.

excerpts from Angel María Garibay K.

The following are fragments from different Nahuatl poems

What was it that your mind perhaps was finding?
Where was your heart?
That is why you give your heart to every thing;
without direction you take it; you go about destroying your heart.
On the earth, can you go in search of something?
Can it be lived on the Earth?
Not for always on earth: just a little here.
Even though it be jade it breaks,
even though it be gold it breaks,
even though it be quetzal feathering it rips,
not for always on earth: just a little here.
Do we speak something truthful here, Giver of life?
We only dream, we only get up from the dream.
It is only like a dream...
Nobody speaks the truth here...
Are the men truth?
For so our chant is not truth anymore.
What is by luck standing?
What is to come out well?
Do we really speak here, Giver of life...?
Even if emeralds, if fine ointments,
we give to the Giver of Life,
if with collars you are invoked, with the strength of the eagle,
of the tiger,
it could be that nobody says the truth on the earth.
Ayocuan and Cuetzpal speak like this,
that truly know the Giver of Life...
I hear his word there, certainly his,
the rattle bird answers to the Giver of Life.
Go chanting, offer flowers, offer flowers.
Like emeralds and quetzal feathers, are his words raining.
Over there maybe the Giver of Life satisfies himself?
Is this the only truthful thing on the earth?
We only come to sleep,
we only come to dream,
every each spring of the grass, that is how our making is,
it is not true, it is not true that we came to live on the earth,
it comes and sprouts, it comes and our heart opens corollas,
our body gives out some flowers, it wilts!
The night gets drunk here.
Why did you make yourself scornful?
Immolate now, dress yourself with golden clothing!
My god carries water emeralds on his back,
by the middle of the aqueduct is his rest.
Quetzal feathers Sabino,
green serpent of turquoise,
he has done me favors.
May I be delighted, that I may not perish,
I am the young Corn Plant,
an emerald is my heart,
I will see the gold of the water!
My life will be refreshed,
the firstborn man strengthens,
the one who Leads in the war is born!
My Corn Cob God with the face up high without a motive startles.
I am the young Corn Plant, from your mountains
I come to see you, I your god.
Will my life get refreshed?
The firstborn man strengthens,
the one who leads in the war is born!
Like a wind Lilly the shield turns,
like smoke, the dust lifted,
the whistle with the hands repercutes,
in Tenochtitlan México;
where the place of the Tigers is,
the ones who have the charge of war,
whistle with the hands for the battle.
Ah, the flowers of the Smoking Shield
it is not true, it is not true,
they will never cease, they will never finish!
Though I may cry, though I may worry,
as much as my heart does not want it,
will I not have to go to the Mystery Region?
Here on the earth our hearts say.
Oh my friends! I wish we were immortal,
Oh friends! Where is the land where one cannot die?
Will I go? Does my mother live there? Does my father live there?
In the Mystery Region...My heart trembles,
if I would not die, if I would not perish...!
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