ICELANDIC POETRY SITE.

The Jónas Hallgrímsson: Selected Poetry and Prose website is one of the best of its kind I’ve seen. It has the original side by side with an English translation (which tries to match the formal qualities of the original, and I would have preferred a literal version as well), followed by commentary, sometimes quite copious. The Introduction says:

This Web site is intended to make available, through interactive technology, a wide range of materials that will enable interested persons to familiarize themselves with the work of the Icelandic poet and natural scientist Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845) and to have at their fingertips resources contributing to an understanding and appreciation of that work. Jónas is generally acknowledged to be the most important and influential Icelandic poet of modern times. In addition he has a secure place in the annals of Icelandic science and of his country’s cultural and political history.

I want to see sites like this for every major poet in every language!

Here’s a short poem with its commentary (and a link to a recording):

Dalabóndinn í óþurrknum
Hví svo þrúðgu þú
þokuhlassi
súldanorn
um sveitir ekur?
Þér man eg offra
til árbóta
kú og konu
og kristindómi.

The Farmer in Wet Weather
Goddess of drizzle,
driving your big
cartloads of mist
across my fields!
Send me some sun
and I’ll sacrifice
my cow — my wife —
my Christianity!

Date:
1826-8.

Form:
One fornyrðislag strophe.

Manuscript:
KG 31 b I , where it has the title “Dalabóndinn í óþurrknum” (facsimile KJH 4; image 197K).

First published:
1847 (A15; image 109K).

Sound recording:
Anton Helgi Jónsson reads “Dalabóndinn í óþurrknum.” [0:26; 280K]

Commentary: Not surprisingly, the weather has always been a popular subject for verse in Iceland. The present poem is Jónas’s earliest surviving “weather song” (veðurvísa). It suggests very amusingly — and poignantly — the desperation of Icelandic farmers, in the days before mechanized agriculture, when hay needed to keep their livestock alive over the winter lay rotting in the fields and there was no sunshine to dry it. The image of the “goddess of drizzle” (suldanorn) scattering mist across the fields contains a witty allusion to Icelandic agricultural practice. The prayer-format of the poem, and the ironic progression in its last two lines, may owe something to an Icelandic joke about a farmer who prayed to God about his wife, his mistress, and his horse: “Dear Lord, you can take Dæsa. But let Valka live. And if you kill Rauðka, you and me are through” (5Íþs 364).

Since the poem is an imaginative projection, a sort of miniature dramatic monologue, there seems little point in making guesses about when and where it was written.

(Via plep.)

Comments

  1. Slightly OT, but since I know you’re a fan of new music, I thought I’d share a story I remember whenever someone mentions Icelandic.
    In 1985, I was taking a course in modern counterpoint with the composer Fred Fox. Prof. Fox was late for class. He finally showed up, irritable, exasperated, and chain-chewing nicotine gum. “So, I’ve got this commission from the Reykjavik symphony, and I dial the number they give me, and when they pick up the phone, they’re speaking Viking! Bloody Viking, in the 20th century! Why can’t they speak Norwegian or Danish or something reasonable? Anyway, that’s why I’m late. Vikings.”

  2. Great story! And the next time I’m late, I’ll blame it on the Vikings.

  3. It’s rather silly, since Icelanders learn English well and used to learn Danish well (not so much any more). Passive understanding of Swedish and Norwegian is said to be good, which means that it’s understanding Danish phonology (as usual) that is the real barrier.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    Thanks for finding this. I was vaguely aware of Jónas Hallgrímsson but had never read any of his poetry. My loss. The poem above sums up a life or a lifestyle in eight short lines.

    Some of Dick Ringler’s translations are very good, like e.g. the one above and Gunnarshólmi. In “The Farmer in Wet Weather” he chose the alliteration of “Send me some sun and I’ll sacrifice …” for the despair in something more literal like “To save the harvest, I’d give you …” “Gunnar’s Holm” is a little latinate in English, but flows naturally with the rhythm and rhymes well enough throughout. Sort of if Kipling were American? These meters aren’t simple, and something’s gotta give.

  5. Glad you liked it!

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