Jonas Hallgrimsson

(1807-1845 / Iceland)

Gunnar's Holm - Poem by Jonas Hallgrimsson

The sun's imperial pageant in the west
purples the Eyjafjalla Glacier, standing
huge in the east beneath its icy crest.
It dominates the summer dusk, commanding
the screes beneath it, sketched against the cold
sky like a reef where tattered clouds are stranding.
Hugging its roots, cascading waters hold
hoarse conversation with the trolls where wary
Frosti and Fjalar hoard their secret gold.1
Northward, you see the Summit Mountains, very
sober and formal in their blue-black frocks,
but girt with green where steep and valley marry
and helmed with snow above their sable rocks.
They stare at tarns whose streams will soon be plying
their way through meadows filled with lazy flocks
and sprinkled thick with little farmsteads, lying
deep in the shadow of the sheltering heath.
Far to the north, its snowy peak defying
the heavens, Hekla stands on guard: beneath
its bulwarks, bound in dungeons deep as night,
Terror and Death are gnashing greedy teeth,
while high above them palisades of bright
obsidian glitter, glassy as a mirror.
From there you look on scenes of pure delight:
Wood River glides through leafy glens, then, nearer,
murmuring more softly, makes its leisured way
through farmlands ripe with radiant harvest -- dearer
than gold -- and grassy meads where cattle stray.
High on the hillsides, fragile blossoms gleam;
golden-clawed eagles glide above their prey --
for fish are flashing there in every stream --
and whirring throngs of thrushes flit and trill
through birch and beech groves lovely as a dream.
Now, from the farmstead highest on the hill,
two mounted men ride solemnly, descending
down toward the ocean. Though the air is still,
the winds at peace, a raging sea is sending
its swell against the sand-shoals, where it raves
in angry warfare, ancient and unending.
Anchored offshore, a ship from Norway braves
the whirling surf, its sail still furled, and turning
dragonhead prow to face the furious waves.
Aboard this boat, their spirits proud and burning,
two brothers now must leave their native land,
destined to suffer years of homesick yearning,
far from their loved ones, on a foreign strand:
outlaws and exiles, sent abroad to hide
and pay the penalty the laws demand.
Handsome and strong, his halberd at his side,
Gunnar is leaving Hlíðarendi's hall;
beside him, girt with grey-blue sword, astride
a blood-red stallion, sitting staunch and tall
and tied to Gunnar with intense devotion,
Kolskeggur rides, a man admired by all.
Thus, in a comity of mute emotion,
the brothers guide their horses from the farm:
Kolskeggur gazes out across the ocean,
while Gunnar, glancing backward, finds the charm
of home so master him, he does not care
that savage foes have sworn to do him harm:
'Never before has Iceland seemed so fair,
the fields so white, the roses in such glory,
such crowds of sheep and cattle everywhere!
Here will I live, here die -- in youth, or hoary
helpless old age -- as God decrees. Good-bye,
brother and friend.' Thus Gunnar's gallant story.
For Gunnar felt it nobler far to die
than flee and leave his native shores behind him,
even though foes, inflamed with hate and sly,
were forging links of death in which to bind him.
His story still can make the heart beat high
and here imagination still can find him,
where Gunnar's Holm, all green with vegetation,
glistens amid these wastes of devastation.
Where fertile meads and fields were once outspread,
foaming Cross River buries grass and stubble;
the sun-flushed glacier, with its snowy head,
sees savage torrents choke the plains with rubble;
the dwarves are gone, the mountain trolls are dead;
a desperate land abides its time of trouble;
but here some hidden favor has defended
the fertile holm where Gunnar's journey ended.

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, September 7, 2010

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