The Popol Vuh
A NEW YORK TIMES BEST POETRY BOOK OF 2018
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 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.”
By turns poetic and lucid, sinuous and accessible, this striking new translation of The Popol Vuh breathes new life into an essential tale.
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Praise and Prizes
“For nonscholars, the first test of any translation is simply whether it’s pleasurable to read, and Bazzett’s limpid, smoothly paced version is more than satisfying on that score. And it’s a good thing to be reminded, perhaps especially now, and perhaps especially by a text originating in Guatemala, that 'However many nations / live in the world today, / however many countless people, / they all had but one dawn.'”
"Mr. Bazzett's translation offers a welcome path into the power of The Popol Vuh as beautiful literature . . . [his] arrangement and format give the work its own authentic-sounding rhythm and cadence, something that is lost a bit in the recent scholarly editions . . . Mr. Bazzett writes that his intent was to create a more accessible source for students, 'a version of the myth they could disappear into, a verse version that truly sang.' He has succeeded."
“Long overdue, Michael Bazzett’s verse translation of The Popol Vuh does for the Mayan creation epic what Seamus Heaney did for Beowulf . . . [it] shimmers in English, buoyant with life the way the epic must have sounded in Classical K’iche’.”
"With Bazzett's translation, The Popol Vuh has been reincarnated . . . in a clear, elegant English that allows the reader to visualize the epic adventures of the Hero Twins and the universal story of human creation. It's a boon for readers everywhere."
“[Bazzett’s] translation of The Popol Vuh is a superb demonstration of literary translation, and the book, as a whole—containing an authentic and transparent translator’s introduction, the creation epic itself, and a reader’s companion—should be incorporated into every literary translation program.”
“A creative and fascinating version that’s a pleasure to read: Michael Bazzett has made intriguing choices and invested a huge amount of work. The result is both poetic and—in many cases—moving.”