25 Saturday Oct 2014
Written by Mark in Icelandic
Although I have several books of Icelandic poetry, I’ve generally shied away from posting anything about it. Poetry is hard in your native language, let alone a foreign one, and even with the “I’m just a student” disclaimer I have no desire to do a disservice to anyone’s poetry. However I decided to take a stab at it, as I’ve been reading Nei by Ari Jósefsson, an Icelandic poet who tragically died at a very young age. It’s a great book to add to your collection if you haven’t already. It is a more modern and prosy type of poetry, but still quite challenging. Below is the blurb about the poet and his book from the publisher link (and the back flap):
Ari Jósefsson fæddist á Blönduósi 1939. Hann fór í Menntaskólann á Akureyri en hætti þar og hélt til Reykjavíkur þar sem hann varð fljótlega áberandi í hópi ungu skáldanna, gaf meðal annars út tímaritið Forspil með Degi Sigurðarsyni og fleirum árið 1958. Veturinn 1959-60 dvaldist hann í Barcelona en las eftir það utanskóla við Menntaskólann í Reykjavík og útskrifaðist þaðan stúdent 1961. Sama ár kom út ljóðabókin Nei. Hann stundaði nám í íslenskum fræðum í tvö ár, hélt svo til Rúmeníu til að læra rómönsk fræði og var á heimleið þaðan þegar hann féll fyrir borð á Gullfossi og drukknaði, þann 18. júní 1964.
Ari Jósefsson was born in Blönduós in 1939. He attended school in Akureyri but left to go to Reykjavik, where he quickly distinguished himself among a group of young poets, publishing among other things the journal Forspil with Dagur Sigurdarson and others in 1958. He spent the winter of 1959-1960 in Barcelona, continuing his studies for the Reykjavik Junior College and graduating from there in 1961. That same year his book of poetry Nei was published. He attended school for Icelandic Studies for two years, then headed to Romania to learn Romanian Studies, and was on his way home from there when he fell overboard from the ship Gullfoss and drowned on June 18, 1964.
Stríð is probably one of his best know poems, expressing the contradictions of nationalism and the senselessness of war:
STRÍÐ Undarlegir eru menn sem ráða fyrir þjóðum Þeir berjast fyrir föðurland eða fyrir hugsjón og drepa okkur sem eigum ekkert föðurland nema jörðina einga hugsjón nema lífið.
WAR Strange are those who rule nations They fight for a homeland or for an ideal and kill us who have no homeland besides the earth, no ideal but life.
I think sem ráða fyrir þjóðum was the line I was most unsure of, as well as berjast. There was also a decision about using fatherland or homeland. Also note the spelling of einga in the last line.
stríð n war undar·legur adj peculiar, odd, strange ráða fyrir rule, lead berjast fyrir advocate for, champion hug·sjón f ideal drepa kill, destroy jörð f earth
Sól seems to be a love poem, perhaps with the sun representing a person?
SÓL Ég elska sólina og það eru fjöll á milli okkar En þegar ég sit í rökkrinu og horfi í þetta andlit þá verða augun að ofurlitlum geislum frá sólinni sem ég elska
SUN I love the sun though there are mountains between us But when I sit in the twilight and look into that face the eyes become tiny beams from the sun that I love
It’s amazing how such short lines of text can still present such a challenge to translation, there are so many possibilities for expression.
sól f sun fjall n mountain rökkur n twilight and·lit n face verða að + dat to become, turn into ofur·lítill adj very small geisli m ray, beam
One thing I notice when reading poetry in another language is that I often feel that I understand it, but still cannot express it in my native language. It’s both fascinating and maddening at the same time. In a way I think a poem can never be truly expressed the way it was intended except in the language it was conceived in, but it’s still fun to try.