Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Aztecs would understand....

I had a very maudlin day today. Yesterday, Saturday, had been fine, I'd done a craft fair at Alresford in Hampshire, which effectively fills the day from getting up at 6am to getting home at about 5.30pm. I get to people-watch and usually make a bit of money, it was okay.

But today somehow ended up like a teenaged Sunday in the mid-70s. I got really bored. There was stuff I should have been doing, like making jewellery for the (hoped-for) Christmas rush, but I couldn't be arsed to do it. There was nothing on the telly I wanted to watch. I should have gone to the allotment but couldn't be bothered. There are books I want to read but I'm saving them up for a trip to Eastern Europe in a couple of weeks time (which I'll write about then). It ended up being a grey day laced with a hefty dollop of ennui.

I listened to a bit of Radio Four but it was Poetry Please and the requested poems were all those ones about death, you know the ones, "Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep" and that one from Four Weddings and a Funeral by W H Auden called 'Funeral Blues' that starts "Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone". It didn't help my mood and was all so miserable that I had to turn the radio off, but it reminded me that a few weeks ago when there were one or two programmes on the box about the Aztec civilisation (because the British Museum has a new exhibition running about Moctezuma, the last Aztec emperor) that I had recalled how much I had enjoyed reading Aztec poetry and that I really should look some of it up again. As I was reading some of this online yesterday, it dawned on me how similar in outlook these Aztec warriors were with the contemporaneous warrior culture of the Samurai - the reverence for beauty and nature (especially floral - the Japanese Emperor sits on the Chrysanthemum Throne) and the need to feel that one would be remembered after death. I think there may be a research project in there somewhere, examining the comparisons.

Aztec culture was fascinated by how transitory and impermanent human life was and equated it with the short, glorious life of a flower which quickly fades. They also conflated flowers with blood and held so-called 'Flowery Wars' where tribes would attack each other in order to capture future sacrificial victims.

Much Aztec poetry is about this similarity of flowers and the human lifespan, and is very moving. Well, I think so anyway although, I have to admit, it does come over a bit Emo. It reads like contemporary poetry but was written 600 years ago. Anyway, see what you think.

Will I have to go like the flowers that perish?
Will nothing remain of my name?
Nothing of my fame here on earth?
At least my flowers, at least my songs!
Earth is the region of the fleeting moment.
Is it also thus in the place
where in some way one lives?
Is there joy there, is there friendship?
Or is it only here on earth
we come to know our faces?
- Ayocuan, Nahua poet, c. 1490

Be indomitable, Oh my heart!
Love only the sunflower;
It is the flower of the Giver-of-Life!
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned here on earth in vain?
As the flowers wither, I shall go.
Will there be nothing of my glory ever?
Will there be nothing of my fame on earth?
At most songs, at most flowers,
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned on earth in vain?
- Anonymous, Aztec poet

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