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King Nezahualcoyotl poems

(The Secret of the Plumed Serpent)

They say that, as King, Nezahualcoyotl was a great conqueror, and not only of his enemies in battle, but also of the spirit. He constantly sought the path of illumination and evolution. In doña Silvia’s kitchen, of an evening, it was customary to recite some of Nezahualcoyotl poems. They would first be spoken in their original language, then repeated in Spanish for those who did not understand the language of the ancients. It was made clear, however, that although one could translate the words, the real feeling was inevitably lost. This is one of my favourites:

Cuicatl anyolque

Xochitl ancueponque


Ni zacatimaltzin in tochihuitzin

Ompa ye huitze xochimecatl

Auh tocnihuane tla xoconcaquican

In itlatol temictli

Xoxopantla techemitia

In teocuitlaxilotl techonituitia


Techoncozquitia in ticmati ye

Ontlaneltoca toyollo tocnihuan!


How wonderful it was to hear the voice and partake in the knowledge of those who had left long ago! It was as if they were speaking from distant past directly to our ears. The translation of those wise words went as follows:


What a song I have lived.

What a flower I have brought to bud, oh, princes.

I am Tochihuitzin, the wreathmaker:

Here is my chain of flowers!

Friends, favour me and hear this word-woven dream!

In the spring the sweet corn’s golden sprout gives us life;

The flame-coloured cob refreshes us.

How rich it is, this necklace of knowledge,

How faithful to us the hearts of our friends!


We were very pleased to hear the poems and discuss their deeper meaning in such a way that we were able to draw important lessons from each. In fact, I became so fond of the inspired words of the poet king that I collected virtually all of his available texts. While doing that, I unwittingly got into the idiom of the ancients and thus, with pleasure and almost without effort, I managed to learn the language of our ancestors.

I had been granted the honour of preparing a recital for one of our poetry evenings and performing it. To the surprise of the elders, I did it in their own language. At the end, they smiled happily and applauded me. I remember reciting this beautiful poem on that occasion:


Quin oc tlamati noyollo

Niccaqui in cuicatl nicitta in xochitl

Maca in cuatlahuia in tlalticpac!

Nihuinti nichoca nicnotlamati

Nicmati niquitoa niquelnamiqui:

Maca aic nimiqui maca aic nipolihui!

Incan ahmicohua incan ontepetihua

In ma oncan niauh.

Maca aic nimiqui, maca aic nipolihui


Here is the translation:

At last I understand:

I hear a song, I see a flower.

Oh, may they never wilt!

I feel out of myself,

I weep, grieve and ponder, say and remember:

Oh, if I were never to die, never to disappear!

Go where death is not, where victory is mine,

Thither I should go!

Oh, if I were never to die, never to disappear!

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