A Supplement to The Tilma and Other Poetry,
the main poem of which is about Our Lady of Guadalupe
 and the poor Indian who saw her, now known as St. Juan Diego
(a simplified painting of her image amid roses)


                              Some things to Consider in Writing Poetry
John Riedell


     This supplement is offered as some background for a student of poetry.  If one feels he or she could benefit from it, I invite the student to look the material over. There are differing kinds of poetry, mainly lyric and narrative, and in English, there's also free and bound verse, the latter being bound to a metrical pattern of a basic foot, meter, and rhyme scheme. This is the kind of poetry that will be the focus here.

     In the 1960's I taught English and writing in my native Iowa.  I used to save the best writings of my students, even if brief, and had them printed in a literary booklet called The Purple Plume.  It was published not only to stimulate interest in writing but also as a creative outlet for the student.  Some, if not all of these booklets, were printed by the prison system.

     While I've no longer a classroom, I hope students of today will find this information helpful in understanding some of what's involved in the composition of poetry, and will also be encouraged to write with an eye to excellence and beauty. 

     Should one wish, one may use it to accompany The Tilma and Other Poems. The major work in this book is about the story of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the poor Indian Juan Diego, the events of which took place ten years and a few months after the fall of the Aztec empire. The story is based on an account originally written in Aztec and happens to have the elements of the Aztec concept of poetry in it, something that will be spoken of, in a fuller way, at the end of this supplement.

                                       Comparing Poetry to Prose

     Very often words are broken into units of sound called syllables. Some of these are stressed and others are not, so there is a rise and fall of sound, something like the sea, where there's a rise and fall of the surface of the water. Thus we have a kind of undulation of sound.

     When words are strung together in ordinary sentences and paragraphs, they're called prose, our usual mode of expression, which includes such things as articles, stories, novels and conversation. Prose, it's said, comes from the Latin word prosa meaning "straightforward."

    When it comes to poetry, it's more structured.  Poetry is said to trace back to Medieval Latin poetria, from the Latin poeta, poet.  The word for an individual piece of poetry, the poem, we're told is traced to the Greek poiēma which has "create" and "write poetry" among its several meanings

    While we use the term "creative" in writing, we should humbly admit that we don't create the way that God does.  He creates from nothing.   When we "create" or write poetry, we use existing language standing for sounds and ideas.  We use the mind and imagination God has endowed us with, and the abilities He's given us.

     We can get an idea of the difference between prose and bound verse, by comparing two groups of people walking down the street. In one group each person walks at his or her own pace. In the other group we have soldiers marching in ranks down the street. They are more regimented, keeping the same step, and walk in lines having the same length.   Metric poetry is more structured in stringing words, and their sounds together.

      While we may strive to fashion poetic feet in a regular-occurring way, it doesn't mean that we can't have some variation. In working with language and ideas, you may find some words with their ideas may not always fall into a uniform pattern. The poetry in The Tilma and Other Poems has some variation.


     Rhyme is quite associated with poetry. Rhyme is a way of speaking or writing that repeats a sound, usually at the end of a line, and the mind knows that the sounds go together. It's meant for the ear to catch these.

     There are various kinds of rhyme: (1) perfect and imperfect rhyme, (2) masculine and feminine rhyme, and (3) internal and end rhyme.

     In perfect rhyme, an accented vowel in one word agrees with an accented vowel in another word or more, and these vowels are followed by the same sound. The sounds before them, however, differ. Thus, in the words "spoken" and "broken," you have an "s" and a "b" differing in sound, but you have an "o" sound followed by a "ken" sound that agree.

     In imperfect rhyme there's an element or more of the perfect rhyme lacking. It's somewhat of a sight thing. Thus, in "mother" and "father," the "ther" sounds are alike, but the vowels that precede them are not. However, "mother" and "brother" are not imperfect rhymes because the "o" sounds are alike. They are perfect rhymes.

     There is masculine and feminine rhyme. The difference is where the emphasis is placed. In masculine rhyme, the emphasis is on the final syllable; thus, compose and repose. In feminine rhyme the final syllable is unstressed with the emphasis coming before it, as in beauty and duty.

     With regard to internal rhyme and end rhyme, it's not how the words are formed, but their position in the line. Internal rhyme is within the line, and end rhyme is of course at the end.

      It's also possible to formulate rhyme by putting two words together to rhyme with another word. Thus, in the poem, A Sauk Comes to Visit:

He said something, I could hear it,
In a tongue I knew was Sauk;
He asked of God, Great Spirit
To bless the lake Black Hawk:

      I believe it's also possible to have two words sound together — with a word between them — to form something of rhyme. Thus, from the epilogue of the poem, The Tilma, you have these lines in the second stanza:

As she steps upon the shadow of sin
And crushes the serpent and woe we're in!

     Even though there's a word between rhyming elements, if the ear can sufficiently pick up on it, I believe it's usable rhyme even if it isn't perfect. The ear can hear the "o" sound in the last syllable of "shadow" even though it isn't accented like the rhyming word "woe." 

     Another example of rhyme, from The Piers of Stone, is a double rhyme in a line, here combining internal and end rhyme:

The views of lake and shore
And the hues of sky up o'er.

                                                        Rhyme Scheme

Rhyme scheme is the arrangement of rhyme at the end of lines in a poem. Thus the first stanza of "If It Could Speak..." is abab:

If the cannon ball could speak, a
What would the projectile say? b
Did it from a barrel streak a
With puff of smoke in fray? b

     The Italian sonnet is composed of an eight-line stanza, followed by a six-line one. The rhyme scheme is abba abba, then often cde cde.

     The typical English sonnet is organized with three four-line stanzas, followed by a two-line couplet. The rhyme scheme for the English version is abab cdcd efef gg

                                             Rhythm, Feet, Lines and Uses

     Rhythm is a recurring beat or accent. If we write bound poetry, and use rhythm, we write words so their sounds will have a beat. You look and listen for the accent or the natural stress of the words and arrange them in poetic lines. These lines are composed of units called poetic feet, a rhythmic unit of two or three syllables. While there are other kinds of feet, here are the basic ones

The Four Basic Feet in English Verse
(iambic) e. g., believe. Rising duple rhythm (be.lieve)
Anapest (anapestic) e. g., interfere. Rising triple rhythm (in.ter.fere)
Trochee (trochaic) e. g., pondered. Falling duple rhythm (pon.der'd)
Dactyl (dactylic) e. g., happily. Falling triple rhythm (

The Length of Lines in Poetry
Monometer - a line of one foot
Dimeter - a line of two feet
Trimeter - a line of three feet
Tetrameter - a line of four feet
Pentameter - a line of five feet
Hexameter - a line of six feet
Heptameter - a line of seven feet
Octameter - a line of eight feet

     You can describe a line of poetry by an above length, e. g., pentameter. You can also describe it by the kind of foot and by the number of feet in a line. Thus, a line composed of five iambs or iambic feet is called iambic pentameter.

     It might be helpful if we look at the words for counting in Latin and Greek, which are here listed after each English word for the numbers, up to ten:

English no.   Latin no.        Latin combining forms     Greek combining forms

One              Unus,            Uni                                 Mono
Two             Duo,              Du, Bi Dys,                     Dy, Di
Three           Tres,              Tri                                  Tri
Four             Quattuor,       Quadr                            Tetra
Five              Quinque         Quint                              Penta
Six                Sex                Sext                               Hexa
Seven            Septem          Sept                               Hepta
Eight              Octo              Octo                              Octo
Nine              Novem           Nov, Non                      Ennea
Ten                Decem           Decim                            Deca

     One can see, for example, how the pentameter in iambic pentameter corresponds to penta meaning "five" in Greek. Once one sees this, things fall into place better and make more sense. To step for a moment into another area, to see how this works, take the months of the year. It used to be that the Roman year began in March and some of the months took their names from the Latin numbers of the Romans. Thus, seven through ten: septem, octo, novem, and decem are found in September, October, November, and December, the seventh through the tenth months of the Roman calendar.

     Iamb comes from a word said to literally mean “to put forth,” and the Greeks of old considered the iambic meter an approximation of the rhythm natural to speech. An example of iambic poetry in tetrameter is this stanza from Lord Byron's, She Walks In Beauty:

And on
| that cheek, | and o'er | that brow,
So soft,|
so calm, | yet el |oquent,
The smiles | that win, | the tints| that glow,
But tell
| of days |in good | ness spent,
A mind
| at peace | with all | below,
A heart
| whose love | is in |nocent!

And from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
(A line of iambic tetrameter followed by a trimeter. It's also alliterative and has end rhymes echoing internal ones.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

Note: While furrow pertains plowed land, the idea of it is also used for the sea, as in this meaning: “to furrow the deep.”
  The idea of plowing is used in the following stanza from The Crossing.

O westward he did go,
His ship did plow the main,
And down the bow, below,
The water was cleft in twain.

Sonnet on a Tear

Not all | the dar | kened clouds | with fal | ling rain,
And wa | ters, shed | from moun | tain side | and hill;
r all | the spread | ing floods | of low | land plain,
And falls | that plunge |
from cliffs | and down | ward spill...

Not all | the ben |ding brooks, | the sun | ny streams,
And rest | less ri | vers run | ning out | to sea;
Nor melt | ing win | try snow | in war | ming beams
And wa | ter froze | in ice | bergs floa | ting free...

Not all | of these, | and seas | and o |ceans full,
If poured | into | the hot | and fie | ry pit...
Not all | these wa | ters drawn | by na | ture's pull,
Could drown | e'en one | infer | nal flame | of it!

To douse | the hope | less place | that hell | is in,
Needs but | a tear | of sor | row wept | for sin!  

Note: In the second to last line above, I would've preferred using the words "to extinguish" but that would've started the line with an anapestic foot, and I wanted to keep it to the iambic.

In the poem, If It Could Speak..., the predominant foot is iambic and the predominant length is three feet, so the poem is mostly iambic trimeter. There are some variations mixed in.

If It Could Speak...

If the can | non ball | could speak,
What would | the projec | tile say?
Did it | from bar | rel streak
With puff | of smoke | in fray?

Did it fall | on field | of strife,
This hur | ling mis | sile round,
There take | a sol | dier's life,
There lay | him low | to ground?

Did a sol | dier before
See a bar | rel bel | ching fire?
And from | its muz | zle bore
Fear | the com | ing flier?

Did it gouge | nearby,
With a thud | ding sound?
And dust | and dirt | there fly,
As it plowed | into | the ground?

Lo, whe | ther it whirred
Across | the field | of war,
Or whe | ther it hurl'd, | unheard...
Amid | the boom | and roar...

Or whe | ther it sim | ply dropped
Upon | the field, | unshot...
 All this | is here | unknown
And by | the sphere, | unshown...

But loo | king at | this ball
We this | can sure | ly muse:
At Get | tysburg | did fall
A wea | pon there | to use...

And while | I do | not know
Whether | it flew | and fought,
Or fell | by friend | or foe,
I know | for what | 'twas wrought

Alas, | for threat | of force,
The ball | was man | ufactured...
Or for dread | recourse,
Even | people | fractured!

A bet | ter use | of metal
Would be | a bridge | to span
The diff | 'rent sides, | to settle,
The dis | cord, divi | ding man.

The opposite of the iamb, is the trochee, with the stress coming first.  It's used in formal poetry, and by one account, is said to derive from the Greek trokhos, wheel, and khoros, dance.  It's described as  conveying a rolling rhythm. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used the trochee in The Song of Hiawatha. After the introduction, the lines begin:

On the Mountains of the Prairie,
On the great Red Pipestone Quarry...

And farther in:

By the shore of Gitche Gumee
the shining Big-Sea- Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the moon, Nokomis,
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;

     Shakespeare used it, as in this line, Double, double, toil and trouble...And it's been used in nursery rhymes, like Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater.

     Anapest is said to originate from the Latin anapaestus, and to literally mean “struck back” (Among meanings for the prefix ana is "back." ) It reverses the accent of the dactyl; (It puts the stress at the end of the poetic foot [to the back, in the sense it's opposite the front of the foot, but as it's read, it's quite forward from foot's beginning]). Here are two stanzas from a poem that uses this anapestic footage, and also uses several similes. They're from The Destruction of Sennacherib by George Gordon Byron:

The Assyr | ian came down | like a wolf | on the fold,
And his co
| horts were glea | ming in pur | ple and gold;
And the sheen
| of their spears|  was like stars | on the sea,
When the blue
| wave rolls night  ly on deep | Galilee.

Like the leaves | of the for | est when Sum | mer is green,
That host
| with their ban | ners at sun | set were seen:
Like the leaves
| of the for | est when Au |tumn hath blown,
That host
on the mor | row lay wi | thered and strown.

         If the word dactylic in dactylic foot looks strange, remember in Greek that daktylos meant finger, thus the name of the flying reptile, pterodactyl, was derived from petron (wing), and daktylos (finger). The pterodactyl was a smaller variety of the pterosaur (winged lizard) which had a leathery membrane stretched out to the end of a very large fourth finger, the other fingers being smaller and free.

     Now look at the dactylic foot. The greater sound or stress is on the first part with two lesser-sounding syllables following it. Then look at the finger you point with, from the knuckle to the tip. You have a longer finger bone between the knuckle and the next joint, followed by two shorter ones. In other words, a greater one followed by two lesser ones. It fits the dactylic foot. You may remember it, if you will, as a "finger foot."

      The following poem, Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, uses the dactylic foot. It was written to memorialize the charge by the British light cavalry in the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War (1854-56). Of the 637 in the charge, 247 were killed or wounded, a terrible loss. (See if you feel a momentum as you read it)

Half a league, | half a league, |
|Half a league
| onward, |
All in the | valley of | Death |
Rode the six | hundred: |
|'Forward the
| Light Brigade!|
Charge for the| guns he said:|
Into the | valley of  | Death |
|Rode the six | hundred.|

d, the | Light Brigade!' |
|Was there a | man dismay'd? |
|Not tho' the | soldier knew |
|Someone had |blunder'd: |
|Theirs not to | make reply, |
Theirs not to | reason why, |
Theirs but to | do & die,|

|Into the | valley of | Death|
|Rode the six | hundred.|
|Cannon to | the right | of them,|
|Cannon to | the left | of them,|
|Cannon in | front of them|
|Volley'd & | thunder'd|

|Storm'd at with |shot and shell,|
|Boldly they | rode and well,|
Into the | jaws of Death,|
|Into the |mouth of Hell|
|Rode the six | hundred.|

                                       Additional Feet and a Few Uses

A pyrrhic foot has two unstressed syllables, whereas the spondaic foot has two stressed syllables, "great woods" in the following lines :

The depths | of a | great woods | is the dar | ken'd home
To a pack |of wolves | that there | in sha | dows roam.

An amphimacer is a three-syllabled foot, with an unstressed syllable in the middle: (e.g., forest fast ), whereas an amphibrach is a three-syllabled foot with the stressed syllable in the middle (e.g., ennobling).

An anacrucis is an unexpected unstressed syllable at the beginning of a trochaic or dactylic line.

An initial truncation is the omitting of an expected unstressed syllable at the beginning of an iambic or anapestic line.

A pause sometimes takes the place of an unstressed syllable:

A caesura is a natural break in a line according to the sense or punctuation. It may be within or at the end of the line.

Substitution is using iambic and anapestic feet together which have a rising rhythm, or using trochaic or dactylic feet together which have a falling rhythm. If you substitute, say, an anapestic foot for an iambic feet, you'll note the stress still falls on the last syllable.

                                     Figures of Speech and Sound Patterns

     In writing poetry it useful to know about figures of speech, which use words in a nonliteral way.  "Figures of speech," according to the World Book, "are the flowers of rhetoric.”   Here we'll consider three of these figures: the simile, the metaphor and personification.  We'll also consider three sound patterns: alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia.

     A simile is a comparison between two different things, with a word to signal the comparison, such as like or as. It is a clear and open comparison showing that one thing is similar to another, in  some way or ways. For example, take a crescent moon and compare it to the hand tool for harvesting, the sickle (as in the image of a hammer and sickle), and write the simile: The moon rose like a sickle above the eastern horizon.

    You can carry out your comparison farther, for example, by imagining its purpose or motion: I saw the moon like a sickle cutting a swath across the sky. You may also compare a shining quality of both (provided, of course, the sickle isn't rusty).  Thus, the moon is like a shining sickle.

     A metaphor is an implied comparison between two such things: a suggested similarity. You do not say one thing is like another, as in the simile, you say one thing is another.  They sort of come together. Instead of saying the moon is like a sickle, you say it is a sickle (but are still comparing the one to the other).  For example you could say, poetically, The moon is a sickle, trying to harvest the field of stars.

    Metaphor comes from the Greek meta (beyond, after) + pherein (to carry). You might think of it as one thing carried beyond itself to another thing and taking its place. 

     Again, using the sickle idea, you could use it as an adjective, and basically express the same image. Thus, the sickle moon.

      There's a metaphor in the following passage, gleaned from Mary O'Hara's My Friend Flicka:
"The leaves of the young cottonwoods had turned gold; and at every puff of wind a shower of them floated down with a soft rustling sound."   (Picture, metaphorically, the falling leaves being compared to a shower.)

      Another passage gleaned from the same book (There'd been a snowfall resulting in brown and white scenery): "On the edge of the woods stood a great stag with a full antlered head.  Blending perfectly with the brown and white etching, he was hard to see at first...The upcurving lines of his neck and head flowed out into the trunks and the branches of the many-pointed antlers in indescribable beauty ."  (Picture the antlers being compared metaphorically to trunks and  branches.)  And since the stag's before the woods, might the author have meant to subtly carry the comparative thought into the woods itself?  Suggesting an "antlered woods"?   I don't know, but that would be an interesting play of imagination.

      A personification is something like a metaphor, in that one thing becomes another. You take an inanimate thing and treat it like it has a human quality. While the moon is an inanimate object in the sky, you can treat it as if it were human.

      Imagine, for example, you are seeing the moon's reflection in the ripples of a stream, and the moon  is rounded or less so.  You envision it looking something like a face. You compare it to the human face bent down to water to be washed, wherein the water is being moved in the act of cleansing. Bring the different elements together, and put them into a descriptive context: I saw the moon washing its face in the rippling water.  It was shiny clean. Or you might add a little more to it: The mountain stream flowed by in the forest darkness, and beneath my feet, I saw the moon washing its face in the rippling water, making it shiny clean.

      Another personified expression: The snow that night gently laid a soft blanket across the sleeping land.   This not only personifies snow but it also uses a metaphor of a blanket to describe the layer of snow on top of the ground...and it does so at night, a time when we sleep, so the idea of when it happens, fits even better.

      An alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sound in a line or in one line following another, as long as they sound close enough together for the ear to pick up on as a repeated sound. The repetition may occur at the beginning of words, but it may also occur on an accented syllable. For one example: The west wind rustled the willows. For another: The rain poured down upon the prairie, as we as we rode home. 

      It seems to me, however, that an alliteration could be overdone if the sound is repeated too many times in close order.  I suggest it would be safer to limit it.   If you said: The rain poured down upon the puddled prairie, as  we rode home, ask whether that alliterative word, puddled, sounds overmuch.  If you want to use it, you might try spreading the words out a little, and see how it sounds then.  Maybe by saying something like this: The rain poured down upon prairie, as we rode home, sloshing through the puddles that lay in our way.  (I might mention that sloshing through puddles, in itself, is quite descriptive).

     An assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in words close together. For example, the vowel "o" in the following: A golden field of oats, sown in the spring... In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan: The a's pronounced as "ah's," produce an assonance of sounds
.  This passage also loaded with several short alliterations of k's, d's, r's, m's and s's.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan       (Four "ah's" but the repetition seems to work okay here)
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

is the forming of a word that imitates the natural sound associated with something, like the tinkling sound of a little bell, the roar or rumble of thunder, the sharp crack of lightning, or the buzzing of the bee. 

      In one of the passages from My Friend Flicka, above, you have the word "rustling," as example of onomatopoeia.  In If It Could Speak, you have a "thudding" sound and a "boom."

                                                        Poetry Spoken

     Words are naturally made up of the property of sound which the eye can see and the tongue can speak, and we should not neglect the effect of poetry on the ear.

      Here's what the English Professor Robert Pinsky had to say on the subject. He was three times the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1997 to 2000, and was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

     In an interview in 2011, he was asked by John O'Rourke ( "You contend that poems should be spoken, not just read. Why?"

     Pinsky replied, "The medium is the reader’s voice. At tonight’s reading, I hope to give a hint of what I worked to achieve in the vowels, consonants, intonations, rhythms, trying to make them like gestures that refine and focus the meanings."

     He was going to read that evening from his book, Selected Poems. O'Rourke asked him: "What do you hope readers take away from Selected Poems?

     Pinsky responded, "Pleasure. A great feeling from hearing the sounds of meaning in the lines fitted to the tunes of the sentences." (from a website called BU Today, the site IDed Boston University).

Writing It

       If one is beginning to write poetry from scratch, one might approach it by selecting a poetic foot to start with.  To illustrate this, we'll use the iambic foot of two syllables or sound units. You might begin by composing just a couple lines (or just a few), and end the lines with rhymes.

      Here's an example of a simple iambic couplet. Since there are four feet to a line that'll make it iambic tetrameter. The rhyme scheme is shown in italicized letters following the lines.  Note the alliteration of "l's" in line one.  

A little leaf upon a limb,                  a        |A lit| tle leaf | upon| a limb,|                               
It comes from God, it honors Him.   a       | It comes | from God,| it ho | nors Him.|

Another couplet:

|Upon | her cheeks | there grows,|     a
|The blush
| of pink | ish rose |           a    Or mix in an anapestic foot: |of a pink | ish...

     You might add to it and expand the poem, and play upon the rose idea:

|A tear | from eyes| of blue, |         a   Option: insert an anapest: ...tear | from her eyes | of blue
Doth there
| appear | like dew. |    a       
It runs
| on down | her cheek |        b     
|Onto | her face | and flow'r... |        b     
It leaves
|  a mois | ture streak, |    c      
To mark
| the sad | den'd hour. |      c      

    A four-lined poem mainly in the iambic foot, with an anapestic foot in the last line:

A lustrous moon shone down       a     |A lus | trous moon | shone down |
Upon the sleeping town;              a     |Upon | a slee | ping town;|
In orbit through the night,             b     |In or| bit through | the night, |
It landed its lunar light.                 b     |It lan | ded its lu | nar light.|     .

      The following poem, while also written mainly in iambic foot, contains an amphibrach at the end of lines two and four. The final word, “petal” is a metaphor, saying a butterfly is a petal, yet still comparing the butterfly's wings to a petal.

I saw a butterfly                       a          | I saw | a but | terfly |                                
Upon a flower settle;                b           | Upon | a flo | wer settle;|                  
It didn't pass it by,                     a          | It did | n't pass | it by |                                
But formed another petal.          b          | But formed | ano | ther petal.|    

In the following there's a line of tetrameter followed by one of trimeter, and amphibrachs at the end lines one and three:
| den tres ses|,| po sses ses|

Her hair flows down in golden tresses
And frames her pretty face...
Yet greater beauty she possesses,
The beauty of inner grace.

Beyond the dermal that we see,
Is kindness with a smile;
It's how she others treats, it's she,
Sincere without a guile.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

                        Some commentary on the Aztec mind and language

      The Tilma is the first listed and the major work of the book The Tilma and Other Poems. A tilma is the name of the outer garment worn by Juan Diego. The events of the poem are based on a history written in the Aztec language (also known as Nahuatl), ten years and some months after the fall of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital.  It was located where Mexico City is today. It was islanded out on a lake, and connected to the mainland by causeways. Cortes didn't find it easy to conquer the Aztec in Tenochtitlan. While I've tried to learn some their Indian language, I do not find Aztec easy to conquer either, and am quite limited in what I know. You might say, a step or two at the beginning of the linguistic causeway.

      One of the things that shows up early in the historical account called the Nican Mopohua, is a linguistic feature called a difrasismo. In El Mundo de Juan Diego (The World of Juan Diego) by Francisco J. Perea, it says the difrasismo is common to Aztec literature, and consists of the placement of two words next to one another, to express an idea, generally rich and profound, one term being considered insufficient. Early in the Nican Mopohua, you find these two difrasismos mentioned: in atl in tepetl (the water, the hill or mountain) standing for city, and in mitl in chimalli (the arrow point, the shield), standing for war.

       The difrasismo in xochitl in cuicatl (the flower, the song) stands for poetry. In the book La Morenita - Evangelizer of the Americas by Virgil Elizondo, it quotes one Leon-Portilla from his dictionary of ancient words and expressions: “Concretamente se afirma tambien que “flores y cantos” el unico camino para decir lo verdadero en la tierra. (Concretely it also affirms that “flower and song” is the only road to say the truth on earth.) He goes on to say that to know the poetic is to “venido del interior de cielo,” to come to the interior of heaven, and “la clave para penetrar el ambito de la verdad,” the key to penetrate the field of truth. (Verdad was in all caps.)

     I didn't find the difrasismo in xochitl in cuicatl, as such, in the Nican Mopohua but I did find the flower and song in the story, placed like bookends around an important part of the narrative. Early on in the story, Juan Diego hears singing which draws his attention to the hill where the Blessed Virgin appears to him (the cuicatl). Later on she'll tell him to gather flowers from atop the same hill in a time of frost and cold, and take them to the bishop as a sign (the xochitl). Flowers are very central to the happenings.*   The story embodies the concept of  in xochitl in cuicatl. 

        However this difrasismo of was played out in the thought and actions of the Aztecs prior to Christianity — and certainly human sacrifice was not a truth to live by — this concept of in xochitl in cuicatl of theirs, is worth recalling for us: we should follow the road of truth on earth, and live to "come to the interior of heaven."   We should keep in mind the One, Who's "The Way, the Truth and the Life."   A sign of His coming into world, is seen on the Tilma.
* In the account I checked, the word xochitl is mentioned a dozen times in the context of the story, and a few times as tlazoxochitl (tlazo means precious). Notice how tlazo joined with xochitl to convey the idea of “precious flowers.” In English, the adjective precious would be a separate word. This combining of elements is one of the things you run into, in Aztec.

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