When Gunnar wrote the shore of life in 1915 and noted the land is ringed with a deadly surf, that one must cross, either for fish or for the world and back home again for shelter, I think he had the eiðars in mind. Look at them here in Neskaupstaðir, fishing with their chicks in the swells. Some of the chicks get tossed a metre into the air, and then dragged down a metre under the waves.
And yet they must be here. If I’m right, this is Gunnar’s image of World War I. So much has gone into portrayals of its butchery and horror and senselessness for a century now. At the time, to deal with his own horror, Gunnar chose an image of life, and one at the heart of the Icelandic soul.
The Shore of Life.Gunnar wrote and published in Danish. Most copies, however, were in German.
One thing that makes Iceland dramatically beautiful is that its culture and landscape look like they were just plunked there recently and haven’t really taken yet.
That’s what you get after 1100 years of cultural replacement in response to environmental erosion. With very few exceptions, the buildings are less than a century old. With very few exceptions, the living landscapes are far younger. A century ago, the scrub above would have looked much like the outwash plain below it. The people, whose memory is longer, are in a constant state of change, unsettlement and resettlement, just as it was when they first arrived, a little over 1100 years ago. Settlement was the originating impulse, but it was driven by men, who felt unsettled in Norway. These tensions are still written in every moment of the land.
Water and stone both flow. That the tephra cone (Eldborg) and the stream (Bólulækur) are the same colour on this June day is part of the mystery.
Both are coloured by the sky, which gains its colour by heated oxygen, which, to complete the pattern, is (more or less) on fire. The skill at recognizing these correspondences are one of the ways in which poetry adds to human knowledge of the world, and maintains it. Once you have made this realization, you will harm neither stream nor mountain.
It’s time for the Christmas tree right now outside the Akureyri Art Gallery, but the spring tree waits, covered in blizzard stuff.
Look how it springs up as a decoration across a treeless Icelandic landscape (which is also an artwork.) A fine reminder in the snow that everything other than the ice is art, whether human made or not, and that both kinds of trees are botanical treasures imported from another world.