Translations of Nahuatl Poetry

Spanish translation from the Náhuatl -
Fragment from Anonymous Manuscript of Tlatelolco
National Library of Paris, 1528

En los caminos yacen dardos rotos:
los cabellos están esparcidos.
Destechadas están las casas,
enrojecidos tienen sus muros.
Gusanos pululan por calles y plazas,
y están las paredes manchadas de sesos.
Rojas están las aguas, cual si las hubieran teñido,
y si las bebíamos, eran agua de salitre.
Golpeábamos los muros de adobe en nuestra ansiedad
y nos quedaba por herencia una red de agujeros.
En los escudos estuvo nuestro resguardo,
pero los escudos no detienen la desolación.
Hemos comido palos de colorín
hemos masticado grama salitrosa,
pedazos de adobe, lagartijas, ratones
y tierra hecha polvo y aun los gusanos.

English translation of the same fragment

The city is covered with broken arrows;
clumps of hair are spread on the roads.
Our houses are roofless,
and their walls are covered with red stains

Worms swarm on our streets and squares,
and our walls are stained with pieces of brains.
Water is red, as if tainted with paint,
and if we taste it, it tastes like saltpeter.

We struck the walls with anxiety,
and our inheritance was absolute vacuum.
We sheltered ourselves behinds our shields,
but they do not stop our desolation.

We have eaten the bark of the trees;
we have chewed bitter plants,
pieces of clay, lizards, mice,
and dirt, and even the swarming worms.

Juego de Pelota Funesto (1570) –
–from an ancient, lost epic, translated from the Náhuatl
from the Cuahtitlán Codex,
National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

Huémac juega a la pelota; juega con los dioses de la lluvia y la tierra.
Le dijeron los Tlaloques, ¿Qué ganamos al jugar?
Huémac les respondió: ” Mis jades, mis plumajes de quetzal”.
Los dioses le dijeron, “Eso mismo ganas tú, nuestras verdes piedras finas, nuestras
plumas de quetzal”.
Jugando a la pelota, Huémac ganó.
Vienen los dioses a pagar la apuesta a Huémac: en vez de plumas de quetzal, le dan
mazorcas tiernas de maíz, en lugar de piedras finas, le dan mazorcas con hojas verdes.
Huémac no quiso recibir la paga, “¡No es eso lo que aposté! ¿No eran jades? ¿No eran
plumas de quetzal? ¡Eso quítenlo de aquí!”
Los dioses le dijeron, “Bien, te daremos jades y te daremos plumas”.
Tomaron sus dones y se fueron.
En el camino dijeron, “Por cuatro años escondamos nuestras joyas, que hambre y
angustia sufran”.
Cayó entonces hielo que hasta la rodilla llegaba, se perdieron las cosechas: en pleno estío
cayó el hielo. Luego vino el ardor del sol y todo lo secó, árboles, cactos, agaves, maíz, y
aún las piedras estallaban debajo del ardiente sol.

English translation of the same fragment

Huémac plays ball; he plays with the gods of the rain and the earth.
The Tlaloques told him: “What will we get if we win the game?”
Huémac answers: My jade, my quetzal feathers.
They played ball and Huémac won.

The gods come and change what they were going to give Huémac;
Instead of quetzal feathers, they give him tender ears of corn and green leaves
With the kernels inside.

Huémac did not want to receive the present: This is not what I bet!
Wasn’t it jade? Didn’t I bet quetzal feathers?
Take this out of here!

The gods said: Then give him jade, give him quetzal feathers.
And they took their gifts, and they left carrying their treasures,
And they were saying on the way: Let’s hide our jewels for four years,
And they will suffer hunger and anguish.

And so much ice fell that it came to the knee.
The harvests were lost and ice came in the summer.
And then the heat of the sun was such that everything dried up.
Trees, cacti, and all plants died
And even the rocks exploded with the heat of the sun.

Fragment translated from the Náhuatl
from the manuscript Mexican Songs, XVI century,
National Library of Mexico

¡ Águilas y tigres !
Uno por uno iremos pereciendo,
ninguno quedará.

Meditadlo, oh príncipe de Huexotzinco,
aunque sea jade,
aunque sea oro,
también tendrá que ir
al lugar de los descarnados

English translation of the same fragment

Eagles and tigers!
We will die one by one;
nobody will remain.

Meditate on this, oh princes of Huexotzinco,
even if you are jade,
even if you are gold,
you will have to go
to the place of the fleshless beings.

Note on the Translation

Náhuatl is the language of the Aztecs. It was hieroglyphic, ideographic, and phonetic.  Early Spanish missionaries learned this language and adapted it to the Latin alphabet. The Náhuatl cosmogony has a universal view of time that does not consider the past or the future, but an always existing present. Náhuatl thought in general is very difficult to grasp.

 

 

 

Previous
Warped Passage