2. A Ship Comes In, 1830 (Skipkoma, 1830)

Mayer lithograph of Reykjavík, small version.
[larger image/full caption]

Downtown Reykjavík in 1836.

A Ship Comes In, 1830

Skipkoma, 1830

Lárus and I had been waiting for a ship to arrive and were growing impatient for letters from our friends in Denmark. On the first day of summer I rose early in the morning and saw a merchantman approaching under sail. When I got back home, L. asked whether "the bard" had seen a ship.

Við Lárus biðum skipkomu og leiddist eftir bréfum vina vorra í Höfn. Sumardagsmorguninn fyrsta var ég snemma á fótum og sá kaupfar undir uppsiglingu. Þegar ég kom heim spurði L. hvurt "skáldið" hefði ekki séð skip?

Can the bard descry a schooner
scudding landward, sails expanded?
Hear what's said beside the cod-stacks?
See the merchants strut like peacocks?
"Shorebound breezes shove the weary
ship along! The boys are thronging!
Packs of people crowd the sidewalks!
Perky shop-clerks stop and goggle!"

Sér ei skáldið skip á öldu
skautum búið að landi snúa?
er ei þys við þorskakasir?
þóttast ekki búðadróttir?1
"Harður byr að hafnavörum
húna- rekur -jóinn lúna,
glatt er lið á götustéttum,
glápa sperrtir búðaslápar."

Date:April 1830.
Form:A single strophe of hrynhenda (aka liljulag).
Manuscript:ÍB 13 fol., where it has the title "Skipkoma, 1830" (facsimile KJH224; image).
First published:1847 (A16; image) under the title "Skipkoma 1830."

Commentary:        According to Jónas, the incident giving rise to "A Ship Comes In, 1830" occurred on the first day of summer (which fell that year on 22 April). The poem takes Lárus's prosaic question to Jónas and amplifies it — along with Jónas's reply — into a lively portrait of street life in early nineteenth-century Reykjavík, suggesting the excitement that gripped everyone in town when the first of the "spring ships" (vorskip) arrived from Denmark.

Lárus Sigurðsson (1808-1832), a schoolmate of Jónas's at Bessastaðir, was a young man of exceptional promise. He wrote poetry not only in Icelandic, but Latin and English as well, and Jónas once told Páll Melsteð that he had the makings of a great poet. Lárus graduated from Bessastaðir in 1827, two years before Jónas, and studied theology at Copenhagen University until falling ill with tuberculosis and returning home. When Jónas himself left for Copenhagen on 23 August 1832, one of the last things he did — the morning of his departure — was pay a visit to his bedridden friend Lárus, who died a few hours later (see EPM50-1). Jónas recalled this incident in 1836 in his "Song of Grief" (a collective elegy on various dead relatives and friends):

I beheld the young
hope of our land,
the talented Lárus —
whose trust was in God —
huddled down
on his deathbed,
a living corpse
when I left Iceland.


1 It is not clear from the manuscript whether búðadróttir or búðardróttir is the word intended by the poet.

Copyright © 1996-8 Dick Ringler. All rights reserved.

Jonas' MS flourish for the end of a poem For technical assistance:
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