I. About This Collection

2.Navigating this site
3.Technical background

1. Introduction

This Web site is intended to make available, through interactive technology, a wide range of materials that will enable interested persons to familiarize themselves with the work of the Icelandic poet and natural scientist Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845) and to have at their fingertips resources contributing to an understanding and appreciation of that work. Jónas is generally acknowledged to be the most important and influential Icelandic poet of modern times. In addition he has a secure place in the annals of Icelandic science and of his country's cultural and political history.

The Web site was opened to the public on 16 November 1997, the 190th anniversary of Jónas Hallgrímsson's birth.1 It was frozen in final form in June 1999. As errors are brought to our attention, they will either be corrected silently (in the case of obvious typographical errors) or listed in a change log of all modifications made to this site between its opening and its completion. For purposes of scholarly citation and reference it should be identified as: Jónas Hallgrímsson, Selected Poetry and Prose, <http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/Jonas>, tr. and ed. Dick Ringler (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison General Library System, 1999).2


The site contains fifty works by Jónas Hallgrímsson in parallel text format, forty four of them in verse (including two poems originally written in Danish) and six in prose. These works are arranged in the order in which they were written (to the degree that this can be ascertained). Poems have been selected to exemplify the range of forms employed by Jónas, both old (fornyrðislag, ljóðaháttur, and hrynhenda) and new (sonnet, triolet stanza, and "Heine-stanza"). The selection has also been made with an eye to giving readers a sense of the wide range of subjects embraced by Jónas in both poetry and prose.

In the case of each of the fifty works, images of all surviving manuscripts3 and of the first published version are available on the site. The latest text to which Jónas is known (or surmised) to have put his own hand is used as the basis of the edited Icelandic (or Danish) text;4 thus texts printed in Fjölnir or Skírnir are privileged over surviving manuscripts, and manuscripts are privileged over A. The spelling of edited texts, both Icelandic and Danish, has been modified to conform to standard orthographical practice in the two languages. However the punctuation of Jónas's originals is generally allowed to stand, provided it does not hinder understanding.5 In editing (and translating) Jónas's prose, the long paragraphs of the originals have been broken down into more flexible and readable units, with the original paragraphing indicated by line-skips.

The aim of the translations of Jónas's poems is threefold: (1) to convey their essential meaning with reasonable fidelity and as clearly as possible,6 and at the same time (2) to suggest the complexity of their formal features and the virtuosity of Jónas's technique,7 and (3) to do all this using a relatively simple and straightforward English poetical lexicon and unforced, idiomatic syntax.8 It goes without saying that verse translations of poetry are the product of many compromises.

Commentaries and notes on individual texts are designed to supply rather full information (often fresh information), thereby enabling readers to understand these works in their historical, literary, cultural, and geographical/geological contexts. A good deal of this explanatory background material is provided for the benefit of non-Icelanders who are unfamiliar with the history, literature, culture, and physical characteristics of the country. The many reproductions of graphic material also have the aim of illuminating Jónas's texts and their background.

In addition to the parallel texts, commentaries, and notes, the site contains a Biographical Sketch of Jónas Hallgrímsson, an extended essay on the Formal Features of Jónas's Poetry, and The Jónas Tour (a reproduction of Björn Gunnlaugsson's 1849 map of Iceland containing direct links to works in the collection that deal with specific geological and geographical sites).

Finally the site contains a number of sound recordings of poems read in Icelandic, Danish, or English, and also several sung in Icelandic.9 These can be accessed via links (indicated by the symbols spoken recording and music recording ) in texts and commentaries.

Site visitors may find it convenient to have the following direct links to agencies, institutions, and businesses in Iceland:


2. Navigating this site

Each page of this site contains navigation bars to help you move through it as efficiently as possible. Links are provided for sections of the current page (Up to: Down to: ), the previous and next pages in a series (e.g., to move from one poem or manuscript page to another: <-- -->), the next and previous major divisions of the site (<-- -->), and parent pages in the site's hierarchy (Up to: Up to: ). Hraundrangi icon You can return to the Home page at any time by clicking on the icon of Steeple Rock (Hraundrangi) that appears at the top of every page.


3. Technical background

It is intended that the encoding of this collection should enable its use for a variety of purposes in as wide a range of technical environments as possible. The text of the present site has been marked up and validated using the XHTML 1.1 DTD; no browser-specific markup has been used. There has been some use of tables to optimize the arrangement of text on the page, for example to place the English and Icelandic texts side by side. Most of the formatting, however, has been done with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). We have also prepared a parallel XML edition of the text using the DTDs created by the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI).

Illustrations have been saved almost exclusively as JPEG files in two resolutions: thumbnails which appear in the text, linked to mid-sized graphics on separate pages. Source attributions will be found beneath the larger images. Manuscript pages are provided in enlarged formats for better legibility on computer screens. Smaller images such as graphical elements are provided as transparent GIFs.

Sound recordings have been prepared as MP3 files to ensure compatibility with as many platforms as possible.


4. Acknowledgments

The editor is pleased to acknowledge the assistance he has received from many persons and institutions in Denmark, England, Iceland, and the United States.

Without the encouragement and assistance of Halldór Halldórsson, he would never have paid a three-month visit to Iceland in the summer of 1964, with long-lasting personal and professional consequences. Nor would he have met — that same summer at Hólar in Hjaltadalur — Helgi Tryggvason and Ástríður Sigurmundardóttir, who introduced him to the poetry of Jónas Hallgrímsson. He was incapable, at the time, of making much of it. But their devotion was obvious and their enthusiasm contagious.

He is also deeply indebted (this was many years later) to John E. Johanneson for reawakening his interest in Iceland after it had slept, for a time, while he devoted all his effort to the peace education movement in the United States.

His old crony Sverrir Hólmarsson is in a very real sense the "onlie begetter" of the present work. Sverrir saw its potential at the outset and encouraged and nourished it throughout, critiquing much of it and advancing the project in many ways.

The editor has benefitted enormously from conversations and correspondence with Sveinn Yngvi Egilsson, who put an extensive knowledge of Jónas and of metrical and poetic technique at his disposal.

And he thanks Terry G. Lacy for having looked over many of these materials with her one English and her other Icelandic eye.

Friends and colleagues who have discussed the ins and outs of Jónas's life and poetry with him, who have provided him with inspiration and information, who have accompanied him on numerous forays into the hinterlands of Iceland to visit places mentioned in Jónas's poetry, or who have helped in a variety of other ways, include Bjarni E. Guðleifsson, Bolli Gústavsson, Bo Elbrønd-Bek, Gunnar Kristjánsson, Jens Ólafur Sigurðsson, Jón Atli Árnason, Kristján Árnason, Kristján Sæmundsson, Kristjón Kolbeins, Magnús Einarsson, Niels Ingwersen, Páll Valsson, Ragnar Pálsson, Salvör Jónsdóttir, Sigurður Ólafsson, Steingrímur Jónsson, and Vésteinn Ólason. For help of a similar kind — and much, much more — he thanks Áslaug Sverrisdóttir and Vilhjálmur Lúðvíksson; his debt to them is too long-standing and too various to be expressed in words.

Among those who have read and commented on the English translations, frequently improving their poetic quality, are Laurence T. Giles, Judith Strasser, and Ron Wallace.

Persons who have kindly sent corrections or made suggestions for improving this Web site include Gunnar J. Briem, Kristín Indriðadóttir, and Bob Speckman.

The editor's wife Karin went through it all with him — trips, troubles, translations — and her responses to the latter, when read aloud in draft after draft after draft, were unfailingly helpful. And it was his son Thor who came up with the idea for The Jónas Tour.

He is indebted to the following institutions and their staffs for help and services of various kinds. In Iceland: to Landsbókasafn Íslands - Háskólabókasafn (especially Einar Sigurðsson, Kristín Bragadóttir, and Þorsteinn Hallgrímsson); Ríkisútvarpið (especially Jón Karl Helgason); Stofnun Árna Magnússonar á Íslandi (especially Stefán Karlsson); and Þjóðminjasafn Íslands. In Denmark: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab; The Royal Library (especially Grethe Jacobsen); and Landsarkivet for Sjælland, Lolland-Falster og Bornholm. In England: The British Library.

He is indebted to the American Council of Learned Societies for a study grant to the University of Iceland (1965-6) that enabled him to lay the foundation for subsequent teaching and study in this field; to the Fund for the Promotion of Icelandic Literature (Bókmenntakynningarsjóður) for a grant that greatly encouraged him in the early stages of the present work; and to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (and his Department Chair Kim G. Nilsson) for making it possible for him to take a leave of absence with pay for six months in 1996.

Finally he is immensely grateful to the University of Wisconsin-Madison General Library System for conceiving the idea — and underwriting the cost — of producing this Web site. Dennis A. Hill first suggested it; Kenneth Lee Frazier authorized and encouraged it; and Peter C. Gorman (with the assistance of Curran Riley) made it a virtual reality. Peter, especially, made the project a labor of love; put many, many hours into it; and even travelled to Iceland to scan some of the materials.

Color photo of author and developer, small version.
[larger image/full caption]

Dick Ringler, Peter C. Gorman, and friend.



1 The Web site is an abridgement of a much longer unpublished collection: Jónas Hallgrímsson, "Selected Writings in Poetry and Prose." The latter contains a great many additional translations and a much fuller set of annotations. Copies of this work can be consulted in the National Department of the National and University Library of Iceland, the Fiske Icelandic Collection of Cornell University Library, and the Department of Special Collections of Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In cases where the text of the translations on this Web site differs from that in the unpublished collection, the latter are to be regarded as definitive.

2 Cataloging information has been included in the encoding of the Home page using the Dublin Core metadata elements; you can view this information by using your browser's "View Source" feature. In addition, all structural elements of the text (e.g., divisions, paragraphs, figures) have been assigned ID attributes which can be used (in lieu of page numbers) to reference specific portions of the site.

3 Images of manuscript pages are reproduced from Kvæði Jónasar Hallgrímssonar í eiginhandarriti [abbreviated KJH], Einar Ól. Sveinsson og Ólafur Halldórsson sáu um útgáfuna (Reykjavík: Handritastofnun Íslands, 1965). Manuscript versions of two poems ("At an Old Grave, 1841" and "The Style of the Times") and one prose piece ("The Queen Goes Visiting") not included in KJH are also found on the site. In all images of manuscripts and early published versions, entire pages are shown.

4 Jónas often revised his works extensively, and texts surviving in multiple manuscripts not infrequently show several stages of revision. ("The Sog" is a good example; see the analysis of the evolution of this text in the commentary to the poem.) Once Jónas published a piece, he generally regarded the published text as definitive and final, and destroyed prior manuscript copies. As a rule, therefore, autograph manuscripts survive only in the case of (1) the large number of unpublished (and often unfinished) works found among his effects after his death, and (2) copies given to friends (or sent to them in letters) prior to a work's publication.

5 The punctuation used by Jónas and his Fjölnir colleagues — especially in prose — is a good deal heavier than that of modern Icelandic editors. It is retained here because it often facilitates understanding and oral reading through its clear demarcation of clauses and breath-groups.

Italics in the Icelandic texts represent both manuscript underlinings and italics or widely-spaced letters (gleiðletur) in early printed editions. Italics in the English translations sometimes reproduce those in the Icelandic texts and are sometimes added for rhetorical emphasis.

6 "A translation perfectly close is impossible," William Cowper wrote in 1791. "But i[f] we cannot be unimpeachably faithful, that is no reason why we should not be as faithful as we can." (The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper, ed. James King and Charles Ryskamp [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979-86], III, 562.)

7 The form of Jónas's originals is usually imitated as closely as seemed possible or desirable in English. On this whole question see the essay on "Formal Features of Jónas's Poetry."

8 No attempt is made to imitate the poetic language or style of Jónas's contemporaries in England, e.g., Browning (b. 1806) or Tennyson (b. 1809), or the great "Romantic" poets of the previous generation (e.g., Wordsworth, Keats). Indeed, this is avoided like the plague, as is all conscious and deliberate reference to any poetry written in English.

9 Musical settings exist for over forty poems (or parts of poems) by Jónas Hallgrímsson. Some of these are ancient Icelandic folk melodies, others are tunes by well-known European composers (e.g., Gluck, Mendelssohn) that have been appropriated as settings for Jónas's poems. The lion's share, however, are original tunes by 19th and 20th century Icelandic composers.

Many sung versions of Jónas's poems have been recorded on phonograph records, cassette tapes, and compact disks.

It was decided not to provide references in the present work to all the relevant portions of this material, but to limit such references to the traditional tunes associated with Jónas's poems by Bjarni Þorsteinsson in his Íslenzk þjóðlög (Íþl) and a few other exceptionally well-known examples (e.g., Ingi T. Lárússon's setting of "Ég bið að heilsa" ["I Send Greetings"]). For a complete tally of musical settings of works by Jónas, consult Gegnir (the on-line catalogue of the National and University Library of Iceland).

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

Jonas' MS flourish for the end of a poem For technical assistance:
Library Technology Group
University of Wisconsin-Madison
General Library System