Menu Home

For the Traveler

The Maya were the only civilization that had a true writing system in the Americas, but catastrophically only a handful of their books survived, the rest burned in the name of religious purity.  Like the Aztecs, they too had a tradition of music, song and poetry, most of  which  is found in a collection called “The Songs of Dzitbalche.”

The collection was entitled “The Book of the Dances of the Ancients that it was the custom to perform here in the towns when the whites had not yet arrived.” According to John Curl, the title “Songs of Dzitbalche” was given to the collection by the first translator Alfredo Barrera Vásquez.  Like Aztec Flower Songs, they cross over into spoken word poetry.

What follows is one song/poem from the collection, as translated by John Curl.



Doves singing
in the ceiba branches there,
flycatchers, little yellow birds,
cuckoos, mockingbirds there,
all happy,
the birds of the Lord.

Likewise the lady has her birds:
the little birds, the small cardinals,
canaries, hummingbirds,
they are the birds of the beautiful lady.

If such happiness is among the animals,
why shouldn’t our hearts be happy too?
At dawn they are
most beautiful
when only songs and games
pass in their thoughts.


In the Maya language original:


Tii ca kay, chan zac pacal
tu kablail yaa[x] che.
Tii yan xan x ciip chohil chan x chuuleeb
beyxan x kukun lail zac chich
tu lacal ciimac yool
u yalaakoob Yum Ku.

Hebix xan H’Colebil yan yaalak h’e . . .
ix chan x muukuy, chan x tz’itz’iibil
Yetel xan x chinchinbaclal
lail xan x tz’unuun.
lail laiix u yaalak chiich’
X Ciichpan Xunan Colebil.

Lail ua yan cimaac [olil] ichil lay bal cheob
baax ten ma u cimaactal ol ton?
Ua beiloob laitiob tac tu zaztal
pencech hatz’utzoob
chen kay chen baxaal
cu man tu tucuuloob.


Source and translation:  Ancient Mesoamerican Poets, Translated and Compiled by John Curl

Categories: Maya Maya Poetry

Tagged as:

The Orly

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.