Nezahualcoyotl (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 huehuetl drum and cry, "I am Nezahualcoyotl, I am Hungry Coyote," and sing his poems and keep them alive. Nezahualcoyotl was not only a great lyric poet, but was famed as an architect, engineer, city planner, reluctant warrior, lawgiver, and philosopher. The cultural institutions he established included a library of hieroglyphic books, a zoological garden-arboretum, and a self-governing academy of scholars and poets. He led his city-state out of foreign domination and transformed it into a wellspring of art and culture. As the seventh ruler (tlacatecuhtli) of Texcoco, a large city on the north shore of Lake Texcoco, ten miles across the water from the capital of the Aztecs, Hungry Coyote promoted a renewal of Toltec learning based on the peaceful religion of Quetzalcoatl at the very moment when the Aztec cult of sacrifice was coming into ascendancy. All the Nahuatl-speaking city-states in the Valley of Mexico looked to Hungry Coyote's Texcoco as the cultural center of their world.
I ASK IT
I, Nezahualcoyotl, ask this: Is it true one really lives on the earth? Not forever on earth, only a little while here.
Though it be jade it falls apart, though it be gold it wears away, and even the feather of quetzal is torn apart.
Not forever on earth, only a little while here.
STAND UP, BEAT YOUR DRUM
Stand up, beat your drum:
give of yourself, know friendship. -Aya!-
Let your hearts be taken
with many colours -Yehuaya!-
only here perhaps are lent to us
our tobacco pipes, our flowers,
Stand up, my friend,
elated take your flowers to the drum:
your bitterness flees.
Adorn yourself with...