The Popol Vuh

The Popol Vuh

by Michael Bazzett (Translator)

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In the beginning, the world is spoken into existence with one word: “Earth.” There are no inhabitants, and no sun—only the broad sky, silent sea, and sovereign Framer and Shaper. Then come the twin heroes Hunahpu and Xbalanque.Wielding blowguns, they begin a journey to hell and back, ready to confront the folly of false deities as well as death itself, in service to the world and to humanity.

This is the story of the Mayan Popol Vuh, “the book of the woven mat,” one of the only epics indigenous to the Americas. Originally sung and chanted, before being translated into prose—and now, for the first time, translated back into verse by Michael Bazzett—this is a story of the generative power of language. A story that asks not only Where did you come from? but How might you live again? A story that, for the first time in English, lives fully as “the phonetic rendering of a living pulse.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781571314680
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Publication date: 10/09/2018
Series: Seedbank , #1
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 227,616
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Michael Bazzett is the author of The Interrogation; You Must Remember This, which received the 2014 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry; Our Lands Are Not So Different; and a chapbook, The Imaginary City. His poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Ploughshares, The Sun, Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, and Best New Poets. A longtime faculty member at The Blake School, Bazzett has received the Bechtel Prize from Teachers & Writers Collaborative and was a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. He lives in Minneapolis.

The Popol Vuh is a Mayan creation myth. Originally shared orally, and written down in the K’iche’ language in the sixteenth century, it was copied and translated by the Dominican friar Francisco Ximénez at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Read an Excerpt

The Beginning

Here we are. All is still.

All is still silent and waiting.

All is silent and calm. Hushed

and empty is the womb of the sky.

These are the first words.

This is the first speaking.

There is not yet one person,

one animal, bird, fish,

crab, tree, rock, hollow,

canyon, field or woven forest.

The broad sky is all alone.

The face of the earth is not yet here.

The expanse of sea is all alone,

along with the womb of the sky.

Nothing has been gathered.

All is at rest. Nothing stirs.

All is drowsing. Nothing stands.

Only the breadth of water, only the tranquil sea.

There is no thought of what might be.

All lies dark and silent in the only night.

All alone are the Framer and the Shaper,

the Sovereign and the feathered serpent,

the ones who have borne children

and the ones who have planted them.

They are luminous in the waters,

wrapped in feathers of quetzal and cotinga.

Brilliance glimmers through the gaps.

And so they are called Quetzal Serpent,

and hold deep wisdom in their bones.

And so they are called Heart of Sky.

And this is said as the name of the god.


Then came the word.

Heart of Sky arrived

in the dark of the only night.

Heart of Sky arrived

with Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent.

They talked together then.

They pondered and wondered.

They reached an accord,

braiding together their words

and their thoughts.

They heartened one another

and it came clear: the conception

of humans born beneath a luminous sky.

Then they conceived

the generations of trees

and the generations of thickets,

the germination of all life

in the darkness of pale dawn,

by Heart of Sky, who is called Hurricane.

Lightning Hurricane is first.

Newborn Thunderbolt is second.

Sudden Lightning is third.

These three as one are Heart of Sky.

They came together with Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent.

Their joining conceived both light and life:

“How shall it be sown?

When should dawn come?

Who will feed these worlds?

Who will sustain them?”

“Let it be like this.

Let the water clear away

so the plate of earth

comes toward the light.

Let the land gather

and level out.

Then it can be sown.

Then the dawn can come.”

“But there will be no words of praise or prayer

to sing of what we frame and shape

until humanity is born, until true people

have been made,” they said.

When it was time to make the earth:

it only took a word.

To make earth they said, “Earth”

and there it was: sudden

as a cloud or mist unfolds

from the face of a mountain,

so earth was there.

Then mountains were called from the water

and instantly the mountains rose.

It was simply their pure spirit,

their glinting spark of insight

that conceived the mountains and the valleys,

whose face grew sudden groves of cypress and pine.

And the feathered serpent was pleased with this:

“It is good you came, Heart of Sky.

Lightning Hurricane, Newborn Thunderbolt,

and you as well, Sudden Lightning.

The shape of our work will turn out well.”

And so the earth formed first,

folded in mountains and valleys,

and water channeled the land

and streams threaded the slopes,

divided by the land as it rose.

This was the formation of things

called forth by Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth,

as they are called, for they were the first to conceive it.

The sky was set apart

and the earth was set apart within the water.

So the world was made complete

when they pondered and they wondered.


Lady Blood and The Tree of One Hunahpu

This, then, is the story of a maiden:

the daughter of the lord named Gathered Blood.

She was the daughter of a lord,

and thus was known as Lady Blood.

When she heard the account

of the fruit tree from her father,

she was astonished by the tale.

“Can’t I somehow see this tree,

to better understand its strangeness?

I’ve heard that the fruit

is truly delicious,” she said,

and she left alone to wander

beneath the calabash tree

at Devastation Ballcourt.


What is this fruit?

How could it not be delicious,

the fruit borne by this tree?

I will not die.

I will not be lost.

Who would even hear

if I picked one?” asked the maiden.

Then the skull spoke

there in the midst of the tree:

“What could you desire from this?

It’s just bone, a round thing

stuck in the branches,”

said the head of One Hunahpu

when it spoke to the maiden.

“You do not desire it,” she was told.

“But I do desire it,” said the maiden.

“Then open your right hand

and reach up into the branches

so that I can see it,” said the skull.

“Very well,” said the maiden,

and she stretched her right hand

up to the face of the skull

and it squeezed out a little

spit into her open palm.

Then she looked into her hand--

she wasted no time, but

the skull’s saliva was gone.

“The saliva was a sign

that I have given you.

This head of mine

no longer functions:

a skull without flesh

just doesn’t work.

It is the same with the head

of even a great lord:

it is merely the flesh

that makes it look good

and then when he dies,

people are frightened

because of the bones.

His son remains behind,

spat into the world:

his spittle, his essence.

If his son becomes

a lord, a great sage,

a master of speech,

nothing is lost:

the line continues

to be fulfilled

and made complete.

The face of the lord

is not ruined or extinguished.

The warrior, the sage

abides in his daughters and sons.

Thus it will be so,

as I have now done to you.

Climb, then, to the face of the earth.

You will not die. You have entered

into the word. So be it,” said the skull

of One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu.

This came from the mind,

from the thoughts of Hurricane,

Newborn Thunderbolt, and Sudden Lightning:

This was their word.

And so the maiden returned home,

having been given much instruction.

Children were created

straightaway in her womb.

They came simply from the saliva.

This, then, was the creation

of Hunahpu and Xbalanque.

Once the maiden had arrived

and spent six moons at her home,

she was found out by her father,

Gathered Blood was his name.

Table of Contents



Translator’s Note

The Popol Vuh

Part One


The Beginning

The Creation of Animals

Figures of Mud and Figures of Wood

The Flood

Part Two

Seven Macaw

The Fall of Seven Macaw

The Shooting of Seven Macaw

Zipacna and the 400 Boys

The Defeat of Zipacna

The Defeat of Cabracan

Part Three

The Story of the Father of Hunahpu and Xbalanque

The Summons to Xibalba

The Descent into Xibalba

Lady Blood and the Tree of One Hunahpu

The Ascent of Lady Blood from Xibalba

Lady Blood and the Miracle of Maize

Hunahpu and Xbalanque in the House of Xmucane

The Fall of One Batz and One Chouen

Hunahpu and Xbalanque in the Maizefield

Hunahpu and Xbalanque Discover the Gaming Things

The Summons of Hunahpu and Xbalanque to Xibalba

The Descent of Hunahpu and Xbalanque into Xibalba

Hunahpu and Xbalanque in the House of Cold

Hunahpu and Xbalanque in Jaguar House

Hunahpu and Xbalanque in the House of Fire

Hunahpu and Xbalanque in Bat House

The Head of Hunahpu Restored

The Death of Hunahpu and Xbalanque

The Resurrection of Hunahpu and Xbalanque

The Summons of Hunahpu and Xbalanque

Hunahpu and Xbalanque Dance before the Lords of Xibalba

The Defeat of the Lords of Xibalba

The Miraculous Maize of Hunahpu and Xbalanque

The Sun, Moon, and Stars

Part Four

The Creation of Humanity

The Discovery of Maize

The First Four People

The Vision of the First Men

Gratitude of the First Men

The Displeasure of the Gods

The First Four Women

The Beginnings of the People

The First Dawn


The Popol Vuh: A Reader’s Companion

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