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Aztec poetry 4 kids
Aztec poetry 4 kids
Nothing beats this: My Song is a Piece of Jade, Toni de Gerez, Methuen, 1984.
Aztec glyph

Ideas for POETRY...

If you’re coming ‘fresh’ to Aztec poetry we recommend you start by reading Chris Guinn’s poignant story of his grandmother’s hidden Aztec poem (link below)... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Now read another version. This is taken from a superb source book (for serious students), Timothy J. Knab’s edition of ‘A Scattering of Jades’, an anthology of Aztec stories, poems and prayers first assembled and made known by Thelma D. Sullivan, ‘one of the foremost Náhuatl scholars of the twentieth century’. (NB: compare Sullivan’s translation with the very different one you read earlier - you soon realise how tricky translating classical Náhuatl is known to be...) -

‘A Scattering of Jades’
‘A Scattering of Jades’

Be indomitable, O my heart!

Love only the sunflower;

It is the flower of the Giver-of-Life!

What can my heart do?

Have we come, have we sojourned here on earth in vain?

As the flowers wither, I shall go.

Will there be nothing of my glory ever?

Will there be nothing of my fame on earth?

At most songs, at most flowers.

What can my heart do?

Have we come, have we sojourned on earth in vain?

To begin to grasp something of the depth of meaning of Aztec poetry, Thelma Sullivan’s words shine like a beacon: ‘Mexico’s great heritage is not only manifest in its archaeological treasures. There are also hundreds - thousands perhaps - of folios in Nahuatl containing poems, songs, and chronicles that are equally overwhelming in their creative vigor and complexity. They were preserved, after the conquest, by Indians who had learned them by rote and later adapted the Latin alphabet they had acquired from the Spanish friars to their own language. This literature is another kind of monument, a more intimate one, for it takes us into the hearts and minds of the people. The Nahuatl term for poetry was, itself, a metaphor. They called it "Flower and Song". They believed it was a gift bestowed on them by the gods and that in it the divine and earthly were fused. Like a flower, it is of the earth - material, finite, visible. Like a song, it is of the air - impalpable, omnipresent, invisible - and therefore touched with divinity... These few fragments [of published Aztec poems] are monuments, as durable as stone, to the humanity of the Aztecs...’

There are many sources of Aztec/Náhuatl poems available on the internet; because poetry was a highly developed art form in Aztec culture, rich in language, imagery and symbolism, we want to point you to sites that both present some short, ‘quotable’ examples AND offer plenty of background information if you want it. We think this page, part of the extraordinary, rather New Age, carnaval.com website, is one of the best.

For a scholarly, but accessible, study of the poems of the famous Poet-Ruler of Texcoco, Netzahualcóytl, read the well researched online feature on "The Flower Songs of Nezahualcoyotl" by John Curl, a respected poet and author of historical works. John wrote an article on Aztec Poetry specially for Mexicolore in 2008 - link below.

And if you want to indulge yourself in a feast of Aztec poetry, now available online as a complete electronic book - thanks to the ‘Project Gutenberg’ - is ‘Ancient Náhuatl Poems’, translated and edited by Daniel G. Brinton (first published in 1887).

John Curl’s feature on Aztec Poetry

Chris Guinn’s website
carnaval.com
‘Ancient Mesoamerican Poets’ by John Curl (FAMSI)
‘Ancient Náhuatl Poems’ by Daniel G. Brinton
‘Poetry & Prose’ - resource for teachers developed by NEH Summer Institute for School Teachers, Oaxaca, 2015
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