sunnudagur, desember 31, 2006


While he goes rocketing off, soaring out on a trajectory even longer than that of Jón Ólafsson Indíafari, she is here, sleeping, dreaming herself to some never-was Hvalfjörður.

The shopfronts are painted warm colors. Food-smells (pot pies? some good, warm thing like that) spill out onto the narrow sidewalk. The monuments in the cemetary are fascinating: elongated figures stretch face-downward on the grass as if beating the earth in grief. There is a sort of little museum, a visitors' center. She considers buying a postcard. She feels guilty at having been waylaid by all these unexpected things. She had wanted to go up the fjord to the old whaling station, but she is on foot, and it is so far.

föstudagur, desember 29, 2006

nefna nafni

I dreamt that it wasn't the correct pronunciation after all.

þriðjudagur, desember 26, 2006


She was still alive, though I can't imagine why she was in this dream.

Those others were still married, and everyone but me was afraid of the great chestnut-colored hound pacing the second floor, not as dark and terrible as a slavering Murder from Dunsany's "Ghosts" but terrible all the same. But he was gentle towards me even when he had hands and we lay next to each other. When he stood and walked away, throwing a conspiratorial look over his shoulder, the other man watched him enviously because he was so handsome.

mánudagur, desember 25, 2006


Frá Hinríki Vaðsvirði vorum
verse of a seasonal kind;
Strauminn hans stóð ég við áðan,
his stead have I just now fared by.
"Í Bótólfsbæ bestur af skáldum!"
bygone are such days of fame,
Í anda hans ort er nú sjaldan:
ever the fashions do change.

From King Olaf's Christmas:

At Drontheim, Olaf the King
Heard the bells of Yule-tide ring,
As he sat in his banquet-hall,
Drinking his nut-brown ale,
With his bearded Berserks hale
And tall.

Three days his Yule-tide feasts
He held with Bishops and Priests,
And his horn filled up to the brim;
But the ale was never too strong,
Nor the Saga-man's tale too long,
For him.


She cannot find her cellphone, and she is forced to call herself from the house phone. When she hears the ring, it comes from under the bedclothes.

laugardagur, desember 23, 2006

yfir öxlina

The car is more or less where you remember parking it. You open the trunk and put your paltry luggage inside. The engine comes unhesitatingly to life at the turn of the key, and before pulling out you flip on the wipers to sweep the increasingly heavy rain from the windshield. You switch on the stereo. The voice of Ella Fitzgerald fills the car. The CD preserves the scratchiness of the original vinyl recording.

The rain is heavier than you had thought. You turn the speed of the wipers up two notches. When you were younger you used to wonder at how the motion of the wipers back and forth across the driver's field of vision could possibly distract less than the splash of the rain against the glass. And yet they do.

You pull out onto the highway. Changing lanes, you look backwards over your shoulder. There are no wipers on the back glass, of course. It is difficult to see out. But the stream of air over the moving car pushes the water into lovely curves you have never seen before.

fimmtudagur, desember 14, 2006


All my memories of the night sky in winter center on the Great Bear. Orion is there too, and I always looked from the Hunter to the Bull and gauge the clarity of the air by counting the Seven Sisters riding on his back.

miðvikudagur, desember 13, 2006


Veiztu hvé ráða skal?


Do you know how to read, how to interpret? Included might be the idea of interpreting without overinterpreting, reading without drifting into oflestur, 'overreading.'

(And all this aside from the possibility of reading ráða as 'to advise,' compare OE rede as in Æþelrad unrede, the ill-advised rather than the unready. His advisors did not know hvé ráða skulu and left him at the mercy of the Danes.)

But Icelandic overreading is not ofráð. Ofráð had meant 'to great a task,' with the sense of ráð as 'plan,' I suppose because a plan is something advisable. These days I expect ofráð is one of those words that prompt Icelanders to reach for the dictionary for guidance (ráð?) on how to interpret the text.

No, overreading is oflestur from lesa, 'to read.' I cannot remember the etymology of lesa, but I seem to recall that it came in with letters on vellum, latin learning. Ráða is very old and has had to do with runes and perhaps with rubbing red pigment into the lines. Perhaps attaching of- to ráða in the reading sense would have resulting in rubbing the carven signs into illegibility? And damaged runes are a notoriously powerful inspiration to oflestur and, indeed, mislestur.


Oflestur is a fine word. It reminds me of a fine English word, the wonderful adverb lest. Uniquely, I believe, lest still demands the subjunctive. Thus:
She wrote with care lest she be misinterpreted.
Or the only slightly less archaic
She worried lest someone should read too much into her words.
I always prefer the former construction to the latter; in this way I cultivate my grammatical atavism. I will ever rush to the defense of the embattled English subjunctive. You may know others like me. We know we are engaged in a hopeless battle. We enjoy the exercise, even though some of us accept that language changes, that change is not bad, and that reversing the direction of that change is a task too great even for the most dedicated grammatical Tories.


There is no connection between Icel. oflestur and Eng. lest unless you make one yourself.

sunnudagur, desember 10, 2006


Chilly day, though not as cold as it has been. The light is yellowish this morning. She finds a pack of cards, much worn. The box (bearing a Union Jack) is still marked 1 pound 7. They had been purchased some 25 years ago on an airplane somewhere over the Atlantic, headed east.

She deals them out and flips them over, only to find that she has forgotten how to play solitaire.

laugardagur, desember 09, 2006


Snow. The new white in the air is always a surprise, every winter. Whiteness flying in the air.

Lines from a ballad come to me:
Jag ser, jag ser
på dina hvita fingrar små
att vigselsringen ej har suttit på dem förrän i går

Jag ser, jag ser
på dina snöhvita bröst
att de ej have været någon småbarnatröst

The hv appears without my willing it, and it tumbles out of my mouth as kv. I feel the harder, sharper sound is whiter. (I cannot justify the rest of the mangling, the translation into some concocted dialect.)

White as a keen edge. White as blankness: the untrodden, unsullied; unmarked and so unread, unwed. But Baronessen wrote about this much better than I could hope to:

But in the midst of the long row there hangs a canvas which differs from the others. The frame of it is as fine and as heavy as any, and as proudly as any carries the golden plate with the royal crown. But on this one plate no name is inscribed, and the linen within the frame is snow-white from corner to comer, a blank page.

miðvikudagur, desember 06, 2006

eitt helzta nætrríkja

'One of the chiefe kingdomes of the night,' a land where lakes may turn men to marble. Have I been there? All of a sudden I am not certain. It may be that this land is only found in winter. Perhaps in summer it sinks. The waves close over it for the season, and fishermen at far-out miði may haul up fragments of sculpture in their nets, clots of nighttime on their hooks.

The terrors of the night (1594) Thomas Nashe

mánudagur, desember 04, 2006


Skating along in Lord Dunsany I trip over the word frore and enjoy a little shiver of excitement. I had been unaware of this cognate to Icelandic frör, frost, itself rather archaic.

I imagine these words as old friends now in their declining years. I can see them meeting at some wayside inn for a drink in good company. They are sitting at a wooden table by the wall and recalling the days of their distant youth, ice on the windowpane, snow falling outside.

laugardagur, desember 02, 2006


Were you travelling also? You were in a dream again. We were at an airport. I had forgotten something.


Dastu í draumana,
fræðagarpur gamli.
Var ljúft að sjá þig;
Sit ég nú og rifja upp
minningar mínar:

Vakandi vorum við
vinir að spjalla
Hart haust úti
Lengi fram á nótt
nutum tals
Kaldur klaki úti

Alltaf bjóstu mér
botnlausa gestrisni
viskí og viskuna
Gafstu mér, gestinum,
gjafir bestar
vín þitt og vináttu

Sólin sekkur og
saknað er þín
Vaknar vetur
Máninn merlar,
man ég allt:
hlógum við og hátt.

Lykur kvæði mínu
með kveðjum öllum góðum
Nú hef ég hestaskál -
En viltu segja mér sögu
einu sinni enn,
kæri karlinn minn,
kæri karlinn minn.
Hvaðan þið eruð