The words of the poem do not represent it as a composition of Netzahualcoyotl, but one which was sung before him, and addressed to him. It admonishes Netzahualcoyotl to rejoice in the present moment, as the uncertainties of life and fate must at some time, perhaps very soon, deprive him of their enjoyment.
I sing for a Moment
1. I wish to sing for a moment, since time and occasion are propitious; I hope to be permitted, as my intention merits it, and I begin my song, though it were better called a lamentation.
2. And thou, beloved companion, enjoy the beauty of these flowers, rejoice with me, cast out fears, for if pleasure ends with life, so also does pain.
3. I, singing, will touch the sonorous instrument, and thou, rejoicing in the flowers, dance and give pleasure to God the powerful. Let us be happy in the present, for life is transitory.
4. Thou hast placed thy noble court in Acolhuacan, thine are its lintels, thou hast decked them, and one may well believe that with such grandeur thy state shall increase and grow.
5. O prudent Yoyontzin, famous king and peerless monarch, rejoice in the present, be happy in the springtime, for a day shall come in which thou shall vainly seek these joys.
6. Then thy destiny shall snatch the sceptre from thy hand, thy moon shall wane, no longer wilt thou be strong and proud, then thy servants shall be destitute of all things.
7. In this sad event, the nobles of thy line, the provinces of might, children of noble parents, lacking thee as their lord, shall taste the bitterness of poverty.
8. They shall call to mind how great was thy pomp, thy triumphs and victories, and bewailing the glory and majesty of the past, their tears will flow like seas.
9. These thy descendants who serve thy plume and crown, when thou art gone, will forsake Culhuacan, and as exiles will increase their woes.
10. Little will fame have to tell of this wondrous majesty, worthy of a thousand heralds; the nations will only remember how wisely governed the three chieftains who held the power,
11. At Mexico, Montezuma the famous and valorous, at Culhuacan the fortunate Nezahualcoyotl, and at the stronghold of Acatlapan, Totoquilhuatli.
12. I fear no oblivion for thy just deeds, standing as thou dost in thy place appointed by the Supreme Lord of All, who governs all things.
13. Therefore, O Nezahualcoyotl, rejoice in what the present offers, crown thyself with flowers from thy gardens, hear my song and music which aim to please thee.
14. The pleasures and riches of this life are but loaned, their substance is vain, their appearance illusory; and so true is this that I ask thee for an answer to these questions:
15. What has become of Cihuapan? Of the brave Quantzintecomatzin? Of Conahuatzin? What of all these people? Perhaps these very words have already passed into another life.
16. Would that we who are now united by the ties of love and friendship could foresee the sharp edge of death, for nothing is certain, and the future ever brings changes.
Source: “Ancient Nahuatl Poetry” by Daniel G. Brinton
As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.