Swishing, stripping, slashing,
"Let's be glad!" the little
Slashing, stripping, swashing,
All the flowers have fallen,
Fellur vel á velli
Gimbill gúla þembir,
Glymur ljárinn, gaman!
Arfi lýtur orfi,
|Date:||November 1843 or soon afterward (see KJH311).|
|Form:||Four dróttkvætt strophes.|
|Manuscript:||JS 129 fol., where it is entitled "Sláttuvísa" (facsimile KJH152-3; image), and KG 31 b V, where it is entitled "Sláttuvísa!" (facsimile KJH163-4; image).|
|First published:||1844 (7F28-9; image) under the title "Sláttuvísa" ("Mowing Song"); reprinted A139-40 under the title "Sláttuvísur" ("Mowing Stanzas").|
|Sound recording:||Anton Helgi Jónsson reads "Sláttuvísa." [1:39]|
Commentary: Brynjólfur Pétursson read this poem to the Fjölnir Society at its meeting on 9 March 1844 and it was unanimously accepted for publication (33Eim87; BPB46). At its most obvious level it is a celebration of haymaking, one of the characteristic seasonal occupations on an Icelandic farm, when men scythed the grass and women walked behind them raking (for details see Íþh76-83).
But of course the poem has a deeper resonance, since — as Jónas rather broadly hints — the mower is also Death, the "Grim Reaper."1 In Iceland, as in the rest of Europe, he was a familiar figure — and still is. Hallgrímur Pétursson (ca.1614-1674) had described him in some famous lines as
Death the grass-cutter, going
grimly after his prey,
agile and eager, mowing
everything in his way.2
When this dimension of the poem is taken into account, the picture of the little lamb (a male lamb, gimbill), licking his chops over his winter fodder, may well be intended to strike the reader as darkly ironic (and monitory in the best tradition of memento mori). Most male lambs were slaughtered in the fall.
1 "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth" (Isaiah 40:7 [AV]).
2 The lines are from his hymn "On the Uncertain Time of Death" ("Um dauðans óvissan tíma"):
Dauðinn má svo með sanni
samlíkjast, þykir mér,
slyngum þeim sláttumanni
er slær allt, hvað fyrir ber.
See Hallgrímsljóð: Sálmar og kvæði eftir séra Hallgrím Pétursson (Reykjavík: H.f. Leiftur, 1944), p. 227.