“War is like a Flower”: Aztec Songs

ZP_drawing of Huitzilopochtli by Ueuehualli_2009

The following “Song-Poems” are taken from the Cantares Mexicanos,

a late 16th-century collection – transcribed by a Franciscan monk,

Bernardino de Sahagún – of  Náhuatl-language (Aztec) poetry known as

“flower and song” (” xóchitl in cuícatl “):  stylized, symbolic poem forms

composed and performed by nobles – including kings.   These song-poems

were carriers of sacred ritual energy.




To the God of War:  Huitzilopochtli


Huitzilopochtli, the Warrior,
He who acts on high
Follows his own path.
Oh marvellous dweller among clouds,
Oh dweller in the region of the frozen wings.
He causes the walls of fire to fall down
Where the feathers are gathered.
Thus he wages war
And subdues the Peoples.
Eager for war, the Flaming One descends,
He rages where the whirling dust arises.
Come to our aid !
There is War, there is burning.
Those Pipitlan are our enemies…



Huitzilopochtli  –  Aztec god of War, from the Náhuatl words for

“hummingbird of the left-side/south-side” – the hummingbird being

known for its aggression, daring, and persistence

Pipitlan   –  a People to the south of Tenochtitlan (capital of the

Aztec Empire, site of present-day Mexico City)





Heart, have no fright.

There on the battlefield

I cannot wait to die

by the blade of sharp obsidian.

Our hearts want nothing but a war death.

You who are in the struggle:

I am anxious for a death

from sharp obsidian.

Our hearts want nothing but a war death.




Sacred crazy flowers,

flowers of bonfires,

our only ornament,

war flowers.




How do they fall?  How do they fall?

These hearts, ripe fruit for harvest**.

Look at them,

These fall, the hearts            —             oh our arrows

These fall, the hearts            —             oh our arrows.




(**These hearts, ripe fruit for harvest  –  a reference to the

human hearts that must be offered to Tonatiuh – the Sun god –

to ensure he will make his daily journey across the sky;

Tlaloc, the Rain god, also required human hearts – and

Waging War was the surest method to get them…)




Where are you going?  Where are you going?

To war, to the sacred water.

There our mother, Flying Obsidian,

dyes men, on the battlefield.

The dust rises

on the pool of flame,

the heart of the god of sun is wounded.

Oh Mactlacueye, oh Macuil Malinalli!

War is like a flower.

You are going to hold it in your hands.



Mactlacueye  –  volcano north of the present-day city of Puebla;

locally known as La Malinche

Macuil Malinalli  –  a friend of Aztec King Nezahualpilli (1465-1515)




One day we must go


One day we must go,
one night we will descend into the region of mystery.
Only here we come to know ourselves;
only in passing are we on earth.
In peace and pleasure let us spend our lives;
come, let us enjoy ourselves.
Let not the angry do so;  the earth is vast indeed.
If only one lived forever;
If only one were not to die !



.     .     .

Editor’s note:

The Aztec Empire was a brief one, lasting 150 years.

Like the Romans (who borrowed heavily from the Greeks),

so too the Aztecs built upon a previous culture (the Toltecs),

and – also like the Romans – the Aztecs were well-organized expansionists,

constructing a Tribute-State that taxed neighbouring peoples and

waged wars here and there to keep those peoples  in check.

But Aztec Gods needed vast quantities of  blood to keep the

fragile Cosmos oiled, and the Spanish, arriving in 1519, under Hernán Cortés,

were rapidly able to make alliances with peoples who had lost

much blood — thousands of lives every year — to the Aztec system.

In 1521, after a major slaughter at the temple-city of Tenochtitlan

– and the murder of King Moctezuma Xocoyotzin –  the Empire fell.

But the Aztecs – they called themselves Mexicas

have lived on…They numbered in the millions at the time of

The Conquest and they exist today in the bloodstreams of the

80% of  Mexicans who are Mestizo (Spanish + Indigenous).




English translations from the Náhuatl and/or from the Spanish:

John Bierhorst,  Edward Kissam,  Michael Schmidt


Top Image:  a drawing of Huitzilopochtli by Ueuehualli_2009