11/18/13

The Singing Truth

Cuetzpaltzin after having his poems misunderstood by Cortes.


He goes his way singing, offering flowers
And his words ring down
Like jade and quetzal plumes
Is this what pleases the Giver of Life
Is that the only truth on Earth?

          - Ayocuan Cuetzpaltzin (Nahuatl poet, 15th century)
   
     The tlamatinime people of precolonial Mexico suggested that immutable truth is by its nature beyond human experience. Their philosophers believed that, because we are mortal, we cannot know Truth. If we cannot grasp eternity, then we cannot grasp eternal truth.
     The passage above is a kind of poetics solution to this riddle. We cannot know truth, but we can sing the things around us. And through singing gain access to truth.
     The poet continues:

          From whence come the flowers that enrapture man
          The songs that intoxicate, the lovely songs?
          Only from the innermost part of heaven.

     Through art we access grace, or other, or truth. Perhaps this seems obvious, or cliche now. But it strikes me that this was a realization of an early 15th century poet from subtropical north america, one of millions doomed by the fast approach of material Europe.

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