In Centzontototl (The hummingbird)

by Nezahualcoyotl "The poet-king", Tlatoani of Texcoco (attributed1)


Nehuatl nictlazotla in centzontototl icuicauh,

nehuatl nictlazotla in chalchihuitl Itlapaliz

ihuan in ahuiacmeh xochimeh;

zan oc cenca noicnuitzin in tlacatl,

Nehuatl nictlazotla.

I love the song of the Zenzontle2 3

the bird of the four hundred voices4

I love the color of the Jadestone5

and the invigorating perfume of flowers

but more than all, I love my brother, man6




1 There is some debate about whether this poem was actually written by Nezahualcoyotl, because there are references that date this poem approximately 100 years after his death; but given the context and style in which this poem was found, it's most likely written by the King-Poet. Source: visit to the History and Anthropology Museum in Mexico City

2 Zenzontle (also spelled Cenzontle, Spanish bastardization of the original Nahuatl word) is often translated to "Hummingbird" but I don't know whether these two words refer to the same species.

3 The translations of this poem are usually "modernized" to more or less fit more recent styles of poetry. Nahuatl syntax and semantics are vastly different from European languages' and as such, literal translations that may be more accurate lose the intended poetic mood. This particular stanza would more accurately be translated as "I love the Zenzontle his sound", but it doesn't do justice to the original

4 Many nahua peoples used a vigesimal number system (that is, base 20 instead of the usual 10). The use of the number four hundred is an allegorical description of "an uncountable number" (just like the myriad) because is equal to twenty times twenty

5 In many contexts of Aztec culture, jadestone-green was a color associated with wealth and high social status, similar to the color purple in some Mediterranean cultures. Jadestone and quetzal feathers were a natural expression of this color and therefore highly appreciated as special ornaments.

6 Referring to the whole of mankind as opposed to the male gender.

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