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Iceland - nhpeacenik
A friend pirate_moo , is planning a trip to Iceland next year. She noticed that friends tended not to understand why she wanted to go there, though the importance of the place was clear to her. That set me to thinking about Iceland's unique place in the world from a number of points of view. First, I remembered the Old Icelandic course I had taken at Brown, where we read sagas and poetry in the original language (with a whole lot to dictionary-work for each page read). Some of what we read had never been translated into English, but most of it had, and one of the great forces behind that translation had been William Morris. Then I thought of William Morris's poem about arriving in Iceland for the first time:

Iceland First Seen
Lo from our loitering ship a new land at last to be seen;
Toothed rocks down the side of the firth on the east guard a weary wide lea,
And black slope the hillsides above, striped adown with their desolate green:
And a peak rises up on the west from the meeting of cloud and of sea,
Foursquare from base unto point like the building of Gods that have been,
The last of that waste of the mountains all cloud-wreathed and snow-flecked and grey,
And bright with the dawn that began just now at the ending of day.

Ah! what came we forth for to see that our hearts are so hot with desire?
Is it enough for our rest, the sight of this desolate strand,
And the mountain-waste voiceless as death but for winds that may sleep not nor tire?
Why do we long to wend forth through the length and breadth of a land,
Dreadful with grinding of ice, and record of scarce hidden fire,
But that there 'mid the grey grassy dales sore scarred by the ruining streams
Lives the tale of the Northland of old and the undying glory of dreams?

O land, as some cave by the sea where the treasures of old have been laid,
The sword it may be of a king whose name was the turning of fight;
Or the staff of some wise of the world that many things made and unmade,
Or the ring of a woman maybe whose woe is grown wealth and delight.
No wheat and no wine grows above it, no orchard for blossom and shade;
The few ships that sail by its blackness but deem it the mouth of a grave;
Yet sure when the world shall awaken, this too shall be mighty to save.

Or rather, O land, if a marvel it seemeth that men ever sought
Thy wastes for a field and a garden fulfilled of all wonder and doubt,
And feasted amidst of the winter when the fight of the year had been fought,
Whose plunder all gathered together was little to babble about;
Cry aloud from thy wastes, O thou land, "Not for this nor for that was I wrought.
Amid waning of realms and of riches and death of things worshipped and sure,
I abide here the spouse of a God, and I made and I make and endure."

O Queen of the grief without knowledge, of the courage that may not avail,
Of the longing that may not attain, of the love that shall never forget,
More joy than the gladness of laughter thy voice hath amidst of its wail:
More hope than of pleasure fulfilled amidst of thy blindness is set;
More glorious than gaining of all thine unfaltering hand that shall fail:
For what is the mark on thy brow but the brand that thy Brynhild doth bear?
Love once, and loved and undone by a love that no ages outwear.

Ah! when thy Balder comes back, and bears from the heart of the Sun
Peace and the healing of pain, and the wisdom that waiteth no more;
And the lilies are laid on thy brow 'mid the crown of the deeds thou hast done;
And the roses spring up by thy feet that the rocks of the wilderness wore:
Ah! when thy Balder comes back and we gather the gains he hath won,
Shall we not linger a little to talk of thy sweetness of old,
Yea, turn back awhile to thy travail whence the Gods stood aloof to behold?

William Morris (1834-1896)
Morris was excited about finally arriving on the island that he understood to be the unique  treasure-trove of northern European mythology that had been lost everywhere else.

Next I thought of the mythical Japanese-Icelandic movie Cold Fever
in which a secular Japanese businessman is called by his dead parents to make a pilgrimage to Iceland, where he learns about the deep meanings of death and life from a variety of guides and protectors, including Icelandic fairies. Also the movie No Such Thing , which is indescribable!

Next I thought of Iceland's unique geological and geographic position, right on the mid-Atlantic Ridge, where vulcanism makes it possible to power everything with renewable energy, right on the boundary of the "New World" and the old.  Hydrogen technology is taking off there because it can easily be generated from renewable geothermal energy and used to power moving vehicles without any fossil fuel inputs or carbon-dioxide outputs.

And there is the unique subtle energy that seems to arise from the island, which is the reason Yoko Ono placed her Imagine Peace Tower
there. The tower is not a physical tower but a tower of light generated from the renewable geothermal energy, its base surrounded by concrete manifestations of prayers for peace from around the world.

Not to mention the astounding folk, rock and avant-garde music scene there, including Bjork and Sigur Ros in addition to the a-cappella choral tradition that is a thousand years old.

The big question for me is "Why am I not going to Iceland?" It is the obvious place for dreamers of all kinds in this most dream-suppressing of centuries.

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Current Location: Greenville NH USA
Current Music: Stämbandet - Ísland from album Nordic Voices

1 comment or Leave a comment
pirate_moo From: pirate_moo Date: August 30th, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
That poem is beautiful, made me cry! (...though that's no great feat at the moment!!)

I'd love to see the Aurora Borealis, preferably when I'm in Iceland. Though I think I might die/be sick/cry/all of the above when I see it! Haha!

I'm going to order those two films on Monday from the library, to satisfy my Iceland obsession!
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