Indeed, we may suppose that the metre varied with the subject and the skill of the poet. Descriptions of the concerts so popular among the Nahuas have been preserved by the older writers, and it is of the highest importance to understand their methods in order to appreciate the songs presented in this volume.
These old books and traditions mention “Huehue-Tlapalan” as a distant northeastern country, from which the Nahuas or Toltecs came to Mexico; and Brasseur de Bourbourg, who has translated one of the old books and given much attention to others, supposes the Toltecs and the Mound-Builders to be the same people, or did suppose this previous to the appearance of his “Atlantic theory.” But this point will be more fully considered when we come to the Central American antiquities.
Such jewels were believed by the Nahuas to possess certain mysterious powers as charms and amulets, a belief, it is needless to say, found among almost all nations. In verse 18 there is a reference to the superstition that at dawn, when these jewels are exposed to the first rays of the sun, they emit a fine vapor which wafts abroad their subtle potency.
In a passage already quoted, Sahagun imparts the interesting information that the more important songs were written down by the Nahuas in their books, and from these taught to the youth in the schools.
What they enable us to know of the old history resembles what is known of the early times of the Greeks, who had no ancient histories excepting such as were furnished by their “poets of the cycle.” In one case we are told of Pelasgians, Leleges, Cadmeans, Argives, and Eolians very much as in the other we are told of Colhuas, Chichimecs, Quinames, and Nahuas.
Conspicuous among these was the laborious Bernardino de Sahagun, whose works are our most valued sources of information on all that concerns the life of the ancient Nahuas.
White and still, lay the world of the far Northwest, wrapped in peace as profound as that which reigned in primeval ages; when ancestral Nahuas, dragging their sleds across frozen Behring Straits, or cast amid other drift of the Japanese current upon the strange new Pacific shore, climbed the mountains, and fell on their faces before the sun, whose worshippers have sacrificed in all hemispheres.
Brasseur de Bourbourg says: “In the histories written in the Nahuatl language, the oldest certain date is nine hundred and fifty-five years before Christ.” This, he means, is the oldest date in the history of the Nahuas or Toltecs which has been accurately determined.
This song was sung by the king and superior nobles at certain festivals, and, in the prescribed order of the chants, followed a melahuaccuicatl. Chalcayotl: a song of Chalco, on the lake of the same name. This followed the last mentioned in order of time at the festivals. Otoncuicatl: a song of the Otomis. These were the immediate neighbors of the Nahuas, but spoke a language radically diverse.
This extremely difficult composition seems to be a war song, in which the bard refers to the traditional history of the Nahuas, names some of their most prominent warriors, and incites his hearers to deeds of prowess on the battle field. I do not claim for my version more than a general correspondence to the thought of the original.