FIGURE 14. Six aspects of Lord 9 Wind, from page 48 of the Codex Vienna.

FIGURE 14. Six aspects of Lord 9 Wind, from page 48 of the Codex Vienna.

The couplet is a pair of lines which describe the same thing twice, usually from two different perspectives or in two different ways of speaking. Ideally, the two lines should work together in conceptual resonation, so that the meaning of each line is enhanced by the presence of the other. John Monaghan writes:

The parallel structure of the couplet forces us to rethink ideas, as the second line of the pair supplements or repackages the image expressed in the first line. This gives the couplet a potency unique in poetic forms, as it constantly forces us to return to the first line after finishing the second line, and to discover that there was more to it than we first realized.15

The final four lines of the Cuilapan poem you read earlier were arranged to form a pair of couplets. Each line reveals a different aspect of the names of the Ñudzavui progenitor deities, presenting first their calendric name, then their personal name:

a god who had as a name 1 Deer
and for a nickname Lion Serpent, and
a goddess, very pretty and beautiful, whose name was also 1 Deer
and for a nickname Jaguar Serpent


As another example of this structure, consider the following lines from the Ñudzavui “Prayer to Copal.” These three couplets describe burning copal incense:

You who are the good copal Yo’o ra cutu tya va’a
You who are of the years Yo’o ra cutu tya cuiya
You who give off the black smoke that cures Yo’o ra nu’ma tuun na’a yo’o
You who are the blue smoke Yo’o ra nu’ma asuu
You who give off the vapor Yo’o ra na cu’va yaon
You who give off the odor Yo’o ra na cu’va shicon16


The power of the first couplet lies in the association suggested between “good” and “of the years” (i.e. eternal). By joining these lines, the prayermaker causes us to reflect on what is good about the eternal.17 The second couplet presents a visual image of motion, of the undulating colors of a scented cloud of incense. The third couplet highlights the visual and olfactory aspects of burning copal.

A second form of the couplet, the form that opened the Cuilapan origin narrative, is the “split couplet.” In this poetic structure, four lines of text are joined so that lines 1 and 3, and 2 and 4, form alternating parallels…

In the year and in the day
__Of obscurity and utter darkness
Before there were years and days
__The world being in deep obscurity


In the origin narrative, the first and third lines emphasize time. The second and fourth lines go on to characterize this time as one of darkness and obscurity.

For contemporary example, consider this second excerpt from the Prayer to Copal:

But you Christ Soko mai yo’o Cristu
__Are the one who saw __ Cuu ran inye’e
But you Christ Soko mai yo’o Cristu
__Are the one who knows __ Cu ran nitsito18


In this couplet, the first and third lines address the actor, Christ, and the second and fourth lines present aspects of his omnipotence as all-seeing, all-knowing.19

An example of pictorial couplet composition can be seen in this image from the Codex Vienna (Figure 14). These six images are taken from a larger series of sixteen, all of which present different aspects of the Ñudzavui deity Lord 9 Wind. Reading from top to bottom, starting in the upper left and snaking down the page, these images describe Lord 9 Wind as

He who is the ancient one
He who is the singer
He who is the poet
He who is the scribe
He who carries the red nu ñu’un
He who carries the red and white bundle20


Triplets >

14 Monaghan 1990.

15 The majority of the images from the Codex Vienna reproduced here were originally analyzed for their poetic structures in Monaghan 1990.

16 Monaghan 1990, 135.

17 Monaghan 1990, 134.

18 Monaghan 1990, 135.

19 Monaghan 1990, 135.

20 Monaghan 1990, 137-138. Monaghan’s interpretations of the guises of Lord 9 Wind are based on the work of Maarten Jansen (1982) and Jill Furst (1978).