Nezahualcoyotl (meaning "Coyote in fast" or "Coyote who Fasts") (April 28, 1402 – June 4, 1472) was ruler (tlatoani) of the city-state of Texcoco in pre-Columbian Mexico. Unlike other high-profile Mexican figures from the century preceding the Spanish Conquest, Nezahualcoyotl was not a Mexica; his people were the Acolhua, another Nahuan people settled in the eastern part of the Valley of Mexico, settling on the eastern side of Lake Texcoco.


According to his descendants and biographers, Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl and Juan Bautista de Pomar, who lived a century after Nezahualcoyotl, he was something of a monotheist, honoring his god in a 10-level pyramidal temple. The roof of this shrine was gem-encrusted and no human sacrifices were permitted, only the offering of flowers and incense. Revered as a sage and poet-king, Nezahualcoyotl drew a group of followers called the tlamatini, generally translated as "wise men". These men were philosophers, artists, musicians and sculptors who pursued their art in the court of Texcoco.

Nezahualcoyotl is credited with cultivating what came to be known as Texcoco's Golden Age, which brought the rule of law, scholarship and artistry to the city and set high standards that influenced other cultures. Nezahualcoyotl designed a code of law based on the division of power, which created the councils of finance, war, justice and culture, the last actually called the council of music. Under his rule Texcoco flourished as the intellectual centre of the Triple Alliance and it possessed an extensive library that, tragically, did not survive the Spanish conquest. He also established an academy of music and welcomed worthy entrants from all regions of Mesoamerica.

Texcoco became known as "the Athens of the Western World" -- to quote the historian Lorenzo Boturini Bernaducci. Indeed, the remains of hilltop gardens, sculptures and a massive aqueduct system show the impressive engineering skills and aesthetic appreciation of his reign.

Many believe, however, that of all the creative intellects nurtured by this Texcocan "Athens," by far the greatest belonged to the king himself. He is considered one of the great designers and architects of the pre-Hispanic era. He is said to have personally designed the "albarrada de Nezahualcoyotl" ("dike of Nezahualcoyotl") to separate the fresh and brackish waters of Lake Texcoco, a system that was still in use over a century after his death.

NezahualCóyotl (Hungry Coyote) was considered by his peers to be the greatest poet of ancient Mexico. His compositions had vast influence, stylistically and in content. Filled with thought, symbol and myth, his poetry moved his people's culture so deeply that after his death generations of poets to follow would stand by the huehuétl drum and cry, "I am NezahualCóyotl, I am Hungry Coyote," and sing his poems and keep them alive.


One of his poems appears in tiny print on the face of the 100 peso note.

I love the song of the mockingbird,

Bird of four hundred voices,

I love the color of the jadestone

And the enervating perfume of flowers,

But more than all I love my brother: man.




Begin the song in pleasure, singer, enjoy, give pleasure to all, even to Life Giver. Yyeo ayahui ohuaya.

Delight, for Life Giver adorns us. All the flower bracelets, your flowers, are dancing.

Our songs are strewn in this jewel house, this golden house. The Flower Tree grow and shakes, already it scatters.

The quetzal breathes honey, the golden quéchol breathes honey. Ohuaya ohuaya.

You have transformed into a Flower Tree, you have emerged, you bend and scatter.

You have appeared before God's face as multi-colored flowers. Ohuaya ohuaya.

Live here on earth, blossom! As you move and shake, flowers fall. My flowers are eternal, my songs are forever:

I raise them: I, a singer. I scatter them, I spill them, the flowers become gold:

they are carried inside the golden place. Ohuaya ohuyaya.

Flowers of raven, flowers you scatter, you let them fall in the house of flowers. Ohuaya ohuyaya.

Ah, yes: I am happy, I prince NezahualCóyotl, gathering jewels, wide plumes of quetzal,

I contemplate the faces of jades: they are the princes! I gaze into the faces of Eagles and Jaguars,

and behold the faces of jades and jewels! Ohuaya ohuyaya.

We will pass away. I, NezahualCóyotl, say, Enjoy! Do we really live on earth? Ohuaya ohuaya!

Not forever on earth, only a brief time here! Even jades fracture; even gold ruptures,

even quetzal plumes tear: Not forever on earth: only a brief time here! Ohuaya ohuaya!




You, azure bird, shining parrot, you walk flying. Oh Highest Arbiter, Life Giver: trembling, You extend Yourself here, filling my house, filling my dwelling, here. Ohuaya Ohuaya!

With Your piety and grace one can live, oh Author of Life, on earth: trembling, You extend Yourself here, filling my house, filling my dwelling, here. Ohuaya Ohuaya!




It is pure jade, a wide plumage, your heart, your word, Oh Father! Ehuaya.

You pity man, you watch him with mercy!

Only for the most brief moment is he next to you, at your side! Ohuaya ohuyaya.

Precious as jade your flowers burst forth, Oh Life Giver.

As fragrant flowers they are perfected, as blue parrots they open their corolas.

Only for the most brief moment next to you, at your side! Ohuaya ohuyaya.




I begin to sing, I elevate to the heights the song for He By Whom All Live. Yayahue ohuaya ohuaya.

The festive song has arrived: it comes to reach up to the Highest Arbiter.

Oh lords, borrow precious flowers! Ahuayya ohuaya ohuaya.

Already they are being renewed: how will I do it? With your branches I adorn myself, I will fly:

I am unfortunate, for that reason I cry. Ohuaya ohuaya.

A brief moment at Your side, Oh, You By Whom All Live. Truly You draw the destiny the man.

Can You hold him who feels himself without good fortune in the earth? Ohuaya ohuaya.

With variegated flowers adorned Your drum is erected, Oh, You By Whom All Live.

With flowers, with freshness - Ayahue! - You give pleasure to the princes. Huiya ohuaya!

A brief instant in this form is the house of the flowers of song. Ohuaya ohuaya.

The beautiful yellow corn flowers open their corolas. Huiya!

The warbling quetzal of He By Whom All Live makes a jingling clamor. Yeehuaya!

Flowers of gold open their corolas. Aya!

A brief moment in this form is the house of the flowers of the song. Ohuaya ohuaya.

With colors of the golden bird, with red-black and lucent red You decorate Your songs.

With quetzal feathers You ennoble Your friends, Eagle and Jaguars, You make them valiant. Ohuaya ohuaya.

Who has the piety to reach above to where it ennobles one, to where it brings glory?

Yehuaya! Your friends Eagles and Jaguars, You make them valiant. Ohuaya ohuaya.



I erect my drum, I assemble my friends. Aya! Here they find recreation, I make them sing.

Thus we must go over There. Remember this. Be happy. Aya! Oh my friends! Ohuaya ohuaya!

Perhaps now with calm, and thus it must be over There? Aya! Perhaps there is also calm

There in the Bodyless Place? Aye! Ohuaya ohuaya! Let us go. But here the law of the flowers governs,

 here the law of the song governs, here on earth. Ehuaya! Be happy, dress in finery, oh friends. Ohuaya ohuaya.



In vain I was born. Ayahue.

In vain I left the house of god and came to earth. I am so wretched! Ohuaya, Ohuaya!

I wish I'd never been born, truly that I'd never come to earth. That's what I say. But what is there to do? Do I have to live among the people? What then? Princes, tell me! Aya. Ohuaya, Ohuaya!

Do I have to stand on earth? What is my destiny? My heart suffers.

I am unfortunate. You were hardly my friend here on earth, Life Giver. Ohuaya, Ohuaya!

How to live among the people? Does He who sustains and lifts men have no discretion? Go, friends, live in peace, pass your life in calm! While I have to live stooped, with my head bent down when I am among the people. Ohuaya, Ohuaya!

For this I cry - Yeehuya!- feeling desolate, abandoned among men on the earth. How do you decide your heart - Yeehuya! - Life Giver? Already your anger is vanishing, your compassion welling!

Aya! I am at your side, God. Do you plan my death? Ohuaya, Ohuaya!

Is it true we take pleasure, we who live on earth? Is it certain that we live to enjoy ourselves on earth? But we are all so filled with grief. Are bitterness and anguish the destiny of the people of earth?

Ohuaya, Ohuaya!

But do not anguish, my heart! Recall nothing now. In truth it hardly gains compassion on this earth. Truly you have come to increase bitterness at your side, next to you, Oh Life Giver.

Yyao yyahue auhuayye oo huiya.

I only look for, I remember my friends. Perhaps they will come one more time, perhaps they will return to life? Or only once do we perish, only one time here on earth? If only our hearts did not suffer! next to, at your side, Life Giver. Yyao yyahue auhuayye oo huiya.


Translations by JOHN CURL





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