A WORLD LITERATURE TODAY NOTABLE TRANSLATION
In the beginning, the world is spoken into existence with one word: “Earth.” There are no inhabitants, and no sunonly 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 proseand now, for the first time, translated back into verse by Michael Bazzettthis 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.”
About the Author
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
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 ContentsContents
The Popol Vuh
The Creation of Animals
Figures of Mud and Figures of Wood
The Fall of Seven Macaw
The Shooting of Seven Macaw
Zipacna and the 400 Boys
The Defeat of Zipacna
The Defeat of Cabracan
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
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