5. Gathering Highland Moss (Grasaferð)

Color photo of Öxnadalur, small version.
[larger image/full caption]

View up Öxnadalur from the slope of Landafjall.

Gathering Highland Moss

"Sister! Sister! Do you see what I see?"

It was an evening in spring and we were on our way home from the lamb-pen1 when I said this to my sister, who was fifteen years old, and clapped my hands together in sheer delight.

"I don't have any idea what you're talking about," said my sister, adding immediately: "Just what am I supposed to see?" She had turned round to face me, since I had dropped a little behind and was staring silently down at the ground.

"Just look, it was raining worms in that last shower!2 But that isn't what I had in mind."

"You little smarty-pants," said my sister laughing, "always coming up with something original. We'll discuss these worms of yours later. What am I supposed to see?"

When I was a little boy, I had grown used to her leading me around by the hand. And even now, when I was thirteen years old and fancied myself a bit too big for that, I still liked it quite a lot, and saw to it that it still happened, sometimes, by pulling all sorts of friendly stunts when we were out walking together.

"You'd better hold onto me a little," I said, thrusting my hand into hers, "otherwise you won't be able to see what I was trying to show you. You see that mountain right up there above us? Take a good look at it."

"How could I possibly miss anything so big, little cousin! But is that all you meant? Just the mountain?"

"See those blue streams of water gushing down off Steep Shelf? They're from that last rainstorm. All the brooks are full of water, now, some of them have even turned brown. How do you like the mountain when it looks like that?"

"As much as ever," said my sister. "It's beautiful. And it's starting to have a summertime feel about it. Aside from that it looks perfectly normal. You're going to have to show me something more interesting than this!"

"I'm just trying to keep you in suspense about the best part! See those little grassy gullies way up on the south side of Steep Shelf? They're really pale right now. Remember how they look after a dry spell?"

I said these words so confidently, and with such a knowing air, that it was pretty obvious I thought I was saying something significant. For a moment my sister stared up toward the gullies and then I saw her face light up.

"What a jewel you are," she said, "just the nicest little cousin in the world. Why, it's moss! Tons and tons of highland moss!"3

Now I was beginning to enjoy myself. My sister held me by the hand, straightened my cap, and brushed the hair from my forehead (I shook it right back, of course). I stared up, now at her, now at the pale patches of highland moss, and pleaded with her earnestly not to tell anyone else about them, so that one day she could take me up to Steep Shelf — all by myself — and the two of us could share the glory of this discovery, gathering more highland moss than anyone in the world had ever gathered before. She finally gave me her word and then, in my own eyes, I was happy as a prince, thinking about moss in a mood of sheer joyful expectancy — the kind of intense anticipation that can't possibly be described, and that only young people of my age are lucky enough to enjoy in undiluted form.

My sister (as I called her) was named Hildur Bjarnadóttir and was the only child of the pastor at B——. We had been brought up together from the time I was four years old, when I lost my parents one after the other and Reverend Bjarni gave me a foster home and raised me like his own son. He had been married to my mother's sister, who died when I was a child. Afterward he always got by with just a housekeeper, and from all anyone could tell this arrangement worked perfectly well. He was quite well-off, and necessary supplies reached him from all over the place, so no one but his familiars ever knew if he was hard up for anything.

The housekeeper always liked to make life difficult for me and when I got angry I would call her "Fat Gudda." But I never called Hildur, the pastor's daughter, anything but "sister," or the pastor himself anything but "foster father" (or sometimes "Reverend Bjarni," when I was talking to strangers). He was never strict with me and I don't recall that he ever made me do work that was beyond my strength, whatever I was supposed to be learning or doing. But he had a pretty stern appearance and his speech lacked the warmth and kindliness that might have made me really love him. I was always a little afraid of him, and when I saw him anywhere near me I could never be as cheerful and spontaneous as usual. Even so, I honored him as if he were my real father and wished him well with all my heart.

I was lucky enough to get along with everyone on the farm. Some of them treated me with real kindness and nobody but the housekeeper had it in for me. But I was always happiest with my sister Hildur and was nicer to her than anyone else.

One day just before haymaking season I put on my white breeches and light blue leggings, sewn shut just below the knee. I was lightly dressed on top in a cloth shirt and green vest and was wearing a cap — practically new — that I had swapped for a lamb — and what a gorgeous cap it was! I was standing out in front of the farm with my headband and light-grey sack, well provided with lengths of twine. I had taken my blue sweater along with me and was thinking I ought to tie it and the sack together in a bundle, but had put this off for a bit in order to keep an eye on the door and see if anyone was coming out. By and by my sister appeared carrying a folded-up sack and wearing snow-white mittens embroidered with flowers. Apart from that she was dressed in the ordinary way — in clean clothes, lightweight but warm — so anyone who saw her could tell right away she was planning to go and gather moss.

I called out to her saying: "I get to carry your sack, sister!" And meanwhile I glanced down at myself. Never before had I cut so dashing figure as I did now, in my white breeches, or seemed more full of manly promise.

"Oh, just listen to him!" Fat Gudda suddenly chimed in. "Don't you think you're going to have enough trouble carrying your own precious self? You sure like to make believe you're a grown-up man — you little baby!" She was standing right behind me and I hadn't noticed her until now.

"I've got nothing to say to you," I said in a low voice. Meanwhile my sister smiled and handed me her sack and said she was sure I would carry it with credit and honor — especially if she led me up the slope by the hand.

I was just on the verge of saying, "Yes, that always does make things easier!" But Fat Gudda was standing right next to me, smiling so sarcastically that I bit my lip and finished tying my bundle in silence.

"Don't forget the little favor you're going to do for me," the housekeeper said to my sister. "Bring me a handful of stonecrop when you come home tonight. There's plenty growing on the mountain and it always makes the most marvellous tea!"4

I was just dying to say something rude but didn't dare until I was all set to leave.

"I won't forget, Guðríður," said my sister. "Goodbye, everyone!"

"And I'll bring you a couple of devil's-fingers,"5 I shouted, "or maybe a little vixen-grass!" And I ran off as soon as I said it, since I knew Fat Gudda was going to be mad.

The day was mild and clear but sunless, with clouds scattered all across the sky and crowding together into a thick mass in the east. It seemed as if the countryside was trying to sing in harmony with the weather, it was so still and calm everywhere you looked. The homefields were green, glittering with dandelions and buttercups. The meadows were green, too, but a little paler in color, with bright patches of bog-cotton here and there, white and spotless as newfallen snow. Cows and sheep dotted the hillsides and pastures and the only sound you could hear was the occasional tinkle of a brook or the low murmur of the river in the valley bottom. Sometimes birds flew chirping through the air or sat perched strategically on elevated points, singing for sheer pleasure in the morning stillness. Purple mountains rose in the distance, with splashes of sunlight here and there on their sides, and they lent a cheerful note to everything else, as when the calm days of a good man's life are irradiated by hope.

Or at least that's what my sister said, when we stopped at a certain point on the mountainside to look out across the valley and the landscape below. And she meant what she said, too, for I could see the joy shining in her face. But my mind was occupied exclusively with highland moss and I replied a little impatiently: "Well, that was certainly pretty, what you just said. But I'm going to be mad at that sunshine if it comes here today. I'd prefer a nice, steady drizzle."

"Oh, don't have a fit," said my sister. "It isn't likely that there's so little of your precious moss up on Steep Shelf that we'll only be able to find it in wet weather. And now let me hold your hand for a while, dear little cousin."

Naturally I did what she wanted and took hold of her hand without protest. All the same, I was irked by her calling me "little cousin." She was getting into the habit of doing this quite a bit, now that she had grown so much bigger than me. And it's true that she had become a mature female — she had been confirmed over a year ago! — while I was still nothing but a child, and small for my age, too. I was acutely conscious of all this, which is why it rankled so much when she reminded me of it without even stopping to think.

We kept climbing upward till we were right below Steep Shelf. I was totally exhausted, now, so we sat down on a grassy ledge and gazed out across the valley once again. The sight was even more impressive than before, when we had stopped lower down the slope. Every appearance of unevenness had disappeared from the lowlands beneath us and we could no longer distinguish separate objects, only changes of color. The river was visible for its whole length, now, flowing seaward in twisting and intersecting channels like bright blue threads woven into the most dazzling brocade.

But this time I wasn't paying any attention to the beauties of nature. I couldn't forget that "little cousin." It was making me totally miserable and at last I said, apropos of nothing in particular: "I'm not very big, am I, Hildur. I don't suppose I'll ever grow up to be a real man."

My sister burst out laughing and looked at me so drolly that I didn't know quite what to make of it. I could almost hear an echo in the air of how ridiculously pitiful my voice had sounded. And then my mood suddenly changed — this happens sometimes — and I, too, laughed heartily at myself.

"That was simply the funniest thing I've heard in ages," said my sister. "Be a dear, say it again in exactly that same tone of voice. Go on, say it!"

At first I wouldn't. But in the end everything went the way it always did with Hildur: I couldn't refuse her anything she asked. Not for long, anyway. So I had to try producing an imitation of myself, and though it wasn't terribly successful, it did give us both plenty to laugh about. She was so sweet, she laughed at me so heartily and unmaliciously, it never even crossed my mind to get mad.

When we stood up to go she said (and suddenly she was a good deal more serious): "If you want, I won't ever call you 'little cousin' again. You're going to be grown up yourself soon — if you manage to stay alive! — and once you're big, I'll have to get out of the habit anyway, whether I like it or not."

I was nonplussed, somehow, when the talk took this particular turn. I realized that I wasn't actually very pleased by her promise, and didn't know how to reply.

"Call me anything you want," I said in a subdued voice. "I'm going to keep calling you 'my sister.'" And with that we started climbing up onto the Shelf.

I had plenty to think about, now, and wasn't paying much attention to our route (which wasn't particularly dangerous, anyhow). In one place we found a notch in the face of the cliff and there we were able to get to the top without any trouble. But the going was so tight, in places, that we had to climb up sideways, and it was pretty obvious that we wouldn't be able to come back down by the same route if we collected much of anything in our sacks.

I imagine some of my readers can still remember the first time they ever came upon highland moss in such enormous quantities that they were sure they'd be able to gather a full load with almost no trouble at all. It's typical of people's enthusiasms that they become more intense in the face of uncertainties, which explains the eagerness of hunters, fishers, and others who wrest their livelihood directly from nature. With those who practice the handicrafts, however, the situation is very different: people who merely manufacture things out of raw materials, producing or repairing products, usually know in advance exactly how much they will be able to produce, so the work holds considerably less interest for them. They don't live in a state of constant excitement, breathlessly looking forward to a rich haul from one moment to the next. Well, now I was one of those who are lucky enough to see their wildest hopes suddenly realized — and there's no need to describe my state of mind to anyone who has had a similar experience at a similar age.

We were no sooner up on the Shelf than we realized we hadn't been deceived a bit by those pale-colored patches of vegetation. The whole area was covered with highland moss. It was growing in huge swaths, so thick that not a single blade of grass — and none of the other types of mosses — were scattered in among it. It was obvious that the moss here hadn't been harvested for many years.

We didn't even bother tying the sacks around our waists, since it was no distance at all between patches of moss. We yanked up one bunch after another. It all came loose fairly easily and we heaped it together in little piles, until we decided we wouldn't be able to carry any more back with us. This took only a few hours, and when we were done and had finished stuffing our sacks it was still only early afternoon.

"Those are pretty impressive sacks!" I said. "But there's a lot of the stuff left. Why don't you sit down and baste my sweater shut? It will hold quite a bit. And besides, I'll look more manly if I come back home with a pack on my chest, too, in addition to the one on my back."

"Then in the meantime you can tell me a story, since I'm being so accommodating," said my sister as she started sewing shut the openings in my sweater. I was only too pleased to take her up on this suggestion and sit down next to her, turning so I could watch her face: it was always a lot more fun to tell her stories that way.

I remained for a while deep in thought, then asked my sister whether she would like to hear something about Reverend Eiríkur from Vogsósar. Or maybe a story about outlaws.6 But she didn't think stories like that would be very effective in broad daylight and asked me to come up with something a little more appropriate.

I said: "Then you probably don't want to hear about Björn from Öxl, either, or the story of Lalli's adventure when he and the Girl Ghost sat together on a piece of hide and drove from one end of Fnjósk River to the other with the Bull of Þorgeir pulling them — and it was the bull's hide, too! By the way, sister, before I forget to ask, how many girl ghosts are there in Iceland?"

"That's hard to say," she replied. "There used to be one in every part of the country. Two were especially famous, though, as far as I know — the Húsavík Girl Ghost and the White River Plains Girl Ghost. But they're both dead now."

"I know someone who actually saw the Húsavík Girl Ghost," I said. "Do you remember the doctor who told my foster father about the time she threw the seal at Lalli? — But was the seal dead, or wasn't it? I've forgotten that part."

"It's just not possible to hold a normal conversation with you," my sister said impatiently. "You go wandering off in all directions and nobody can ever tell whether you're serious or not."

"Well, I am serious, part of the time! — Anyway, right now I can't think of a single suitable story. You're going to have to settle for some poems. I wrote two of them myself, and the other two are translations."

"Oh, I know all about your poetry," said my sister. "And it's very nice, of course. But I think I'll ask you to recite the two translations first."

"One is from Danish," I said. "It's about this poor young man — an orphan — who has lost everything: wealth, high station in life, even his sweetheart with her blonde hair and big blue eyes. So one evening he sits down all by himself on his mother's grave and this is what he says:

Lullaby, lullaby,
little one,
slumber sweetly,
sleep in peace.
What though your cradle —
and still as death —
stands unrocking
in earth's chill bosom?
Ah, sleep in peace!

Can you hear the storm
howling its savage
elegy over
all I have lost?
Can you hear the greedy
gluttonous worms
feasting with glee
on your fir-tree casket?

Can you hear the notes
the nightingale sings,
chanting her lilting
lovestruck songs?
Once you rocked me,
a weeping child;
now it is I
who need to rock you.

Nourish your heart
with nightingale song —
an ample gift
to ease your pain.
Can you hear the passing-bell
heartlessly tolling
next to the grim
gateway of death?

Unless your heart
is as hard as stone,
look, mother! see
what your son is doing:
whittling from sorrowful
cypress wood
a tuneful pipe
to please your ear.

Its nimble voice
will nourish your heart,
singing lonely
songs in the wild
like winds crying
in winter nights
or wandering lost
through wet branches.

Now I must leave
your lonely cradle;
it is cold here, mother,
so close to your breast!
Nowhere on earth
is there any refuge
to welcome your son
seeking for warmth.

Lullaby, lullaby,
little one,
slumber sweetly,
sleep in peace.
What though your cradle —
and still as death —
stands unrocking
in earth's chill bosom?
Ah, sleep in peace!

"I know that poem," said my sister, "and you haven't done a very good job translating it. You shouldn't have used fornyrðislag, for one thing, and — "

"But there was no other way to do it!" I said with a good deal of warmth, totally losing my composure. "If I had tried to get the meaning across and keep the original meter at the same time, I'd have made a terrible botch of it! And anyway — how did you know it was my translation?"

"Well, you just said so yourself," she replied smiling. "But coming back to what you were trying to say a moment ago, I think a skilled translator could have preserved both the content and the form of the original. When you transpose a poem into a different form, it usually takes on a very different character, even when the content remains the same. There's no question but that this particular poem has lost a lot of its strength, I can't exactly say why. There's a kind of sweet, childlike melancholy about the original — and that's what I miss so much in your translation, cousin. You're setting your sights a little too high, I think, trying to translate poetry of this caliber."

"Well, maybe," I said. "But then I know people who have set their sights even higher. For instance, the other poem I was going to recite. Would you like to hear it?"

She didn't reply but stared down at her sewing as if she hadn't heard what I was saying.

"She knows I'm up to something," I thought to myself. But I gave no sign of this suspicion and began reciting the poem, which goes like this:

Branches are clashing and clouds sweep the skies.
Clad in affliction, the little maid cries.
Billows relentlessly beat on the shore,
blackness surrounds her and thunderclaps roar.
She weeps in the wild, unbefriended.

"All of the world is empty and vain.
Earth is in darkness, my heart is in pain.
Holy One, summon me home! I am faint;
here there is nothing but grief and complaint,
once living and loving are ended."

"Your weeping is wasted: your tears, vainly shed,
will not awaken or bring back the dead.
What can give gladness or grace to a heart
that grief for a loved one is tearing apart?
I'll search for it here, up in heaven."

"Let weeping be wasted and tears vainly shed
that will not awaken or bring back the dead!
Nothing gives gladness and grace to a heart
that grief for a loved one is tearing apart —
nothing but memory and mourning."

My sister was blushing furiously and stitching away with all her might.

"Now that's been rather more skilfully translated, I think," I said. "You've managed to imitate the meter pretty well, too, I can see that, even though I don't understand a word of the original. — You're so lucky to know German, Hildur! Wouldn't it be nice if you could teach me a little? It's real torture for me, not being able to understand a thing they've done — Schiller and those others in Germany!"

"How did you get your little hands on that poem?" said my sister. I could see she was both embarrassed and angry. "I always thought I could trust you not to snitch things behind my back!"

"I didn't, either," I shot back, startled. "You gave me some prunes the other day, remember? And you used this poem to wrap them in. It's only a rough draft, of course, so I thought it would be all right for me to take a look at it — especially since you hadn't gone to any trouble to hide it. I've never recited it out loud before and I haven't told a soul you were translating it."

"Dear cousin, I beg you — don't ever do that, please! I'm not the least bit interested in having it known that I dabble in poetry! It's never been regarded as much of an ornament in women."

"Don't worry," I said as reassuringly as I could. "But look, if you can bring it off equally well next time, I think you ought to try your hand at it again. Why, I'd actually be happy to pass off anything you've written as my own! . . . Well, no, it would be humiliating for me to do that, wouldn't it. I think we'd better drop that idea."

"Don't you worry," said my sister, and now she was once again her own sweet, gentle self. "It's not as if I write poetry so often that it's likely to come between us! But you said you had something you wrote yourself. I think it would be nice to hear it."

"True enough," I said. "Two short little poems. The first one is from summer before last and it's about you. The other was written only yesterday — or the day before — and it's about a plover. They're quite nice little poems, really — especially the end of the one about you!"

"I think I remember hearing some such nonsense from you once before," said my sister. "So let me hear the second poem first."

"No, I want to hear the first one first," I said. "It will be best to do them both."

Hildur couldn't keep from laughing, but I paid no attention and began reciting the poem from two summers ago:

See my sister, kind, well-spoken,
sitting lambs and spinning wool!
Toys? I had a toy-box full —
lately all are lost or broken.

She tells me tales; I dote upon her;
she treats me really, really well;
she gave me, once, a gorgeous shell
for rhymes I wrote to do her honor!

Sunshine sets her free from worry,
silver ringlets hide her ears;
but if the Parish Boss appears
along the lane, just watch her scurry!

"It was certainly a treat watching you then," I said with a wicked grin, then immediately started reciting the other poem — not a particularly outstanding effort, really — which goes like this:

"Dirrindee!" the plover sings,
darting up on little wings
bathed in morning beauty:
"Praise the gifts of God on high,
grassy fields and shining sky —
that's our daily duty!

"Back inside the berry patch
babes of mine eat all I catch,
this and that and the other:
bees and wasps with burnished wings,
bugs and worms and tasty things
brought them by their mother."

Over meadows moist with dew,
moorlands, brooks, the plover flew
home to seek her haven.
Not a word the nestlings said:
each and every one was dead,
eaten by a raven.

"True, true. That's the way of it," said my sister. "Did you really see the plover you wrote that poem about?"

"No, not really," I replied. "But it must have happened that way, or it wouldn't have occurred to me."

"You say such strange things, cousin!" said Hildur. "But look — the sweater's finished. Let's go and fill it with all the moss we can."

We accomplished this in no time at all, stuffing the sweater full of highland moss and tying it to one of the sacks. When this was finished we sat down again. There was sunlight down in the valley beneath us, now, but up where we were sitting everything was in shadow. A gentle, balmy southern breeze was blowing along the mountainside, full of life and warmth. We sat in silence, absorbed in watching shadows drift in shifting patterns across the meadows and pastures below as the clouds broke up and scattered across the sky.

"Wouldn't it be nice," said my sister, "if you weighed so little that you could sit on the prettiest of those shadows, way down there, and float across the countryside from one place to another, seeing everything there was to see?"

"Yes, that would be lots of fun," I replied. "But suppose the cloud up there in the sky dissolved when I got as far north as Slétta! I think its shadow would vanish too, and then I wouldn't have anything to ride home on, back to you."

My sister gave me an odd look, it seemed to me, as if she were somehow trying to figure me out. Then she said very slowly and deliberately: "Well, you could always settle down at Slétta until you were big enough to walk home all by yourself. Wading rivers the whole way."

As you can imagine, I was crushed by this reply.7 I was about to pay her back in her own coin and say something really rude, when all at once we heard a terrible crashing right above us, then another — and another — so that the whole mountain shook and trembled.

"God preserve us!" said my sister. "Look out, cousin! It's a rockslide!"

I leaped to my feet, intending to run, I suppose. But after a single glance upward I threw myself in my sister's lap and whimpered: "Sister, sister! I'm scared of the rocks!"

At that moment an enormous boulder landed right next to us. It bounded high in the air, tore big chunks of turf out of the grassy ledge where we were standing, and disappeared over its edge before you could even blink. Now the crashing sounds doubled in intensity and greyish-blue smoke and the smell of burning rose up from below.8

"What a terrifying noise!" said my sister, holding me tight in her arms. I was still pretty scared, but I could see the boulder had gone on past us and figured it was time to play the man.

"Is that how it sounded — to you?" I said. "Anyway, I think it's safe for you to let go of me now. The noise is all coming from the ledge beneath us. Golly, you were really scared, weren't you!"

As I said this I turned away to wipe the sweat from my face and thank God under my breath. I could see plainly that we had been within an inch of our lives.

"Why you little fox!" said my sister, not knowing whether to laugh or be angry. "First you dive into my lap from sheer terror and then, when the danger's past, you tell me I don't need to be afraid any more and can stop holding on to you!"

I acted as if I hadn't heard this and tried to change the subject.

"Do you know what causes rockslides?" I asked, adopting my most professorial manner. "There are some boulders sitting right at the edge of where the slope starts getting steep, not resting on anything but mud and sand that's been built up around them. When the rain comes, all this mud gets washed away and the boulders come loose and start rolling down. You can understand that."

"Aren't we just unspeakably clever," said my sister. "Obviously it's the rain earlier today that loosened that boulder."

"Or else it was him," I said, pointing up above us. A man was standing on the edge of a protruding crag, silhouetted against the sky.

This gave us plenty to think about — plenty besides rockslides — since we couldn't imagine who the man was, or what he was doing up there among the crags.

"You don't think it's an outlaw, do you?" I said, clasping my sister's arm tightly. "As far as I know, this mountain sits between two settled valleys and doesn't join up with the glaciers or the Desert of Evil Deeds!9 — Come on, sister, hurry, I think we'd better get out of here!"

At that moment the man drew back out of sight as if he had melted into the mountain.

"I think it's safe for you to let go of me now," said my sister mockingly. "Your precious outlaw seems to have gone away!" . . . .


"Systir góð! sérðu það, sem ég sé?"

Það var eitt kvöld um vorið, við komum af stekknum, að ég sagði þetta við systur mína, fimmtán vetra gamla, og klappaði saman lófunum af gleði.

"Ég veit ekki, við hvað þú átt, drengur!" — "Hvað á ég að sjá?" sagði hún rétt á eftir og sneri sér við, því ég var orðinn aftur úr og horfði þegjandi ofan í jörðina.

"Hér hefur rignt ormum í skúrinni, en það var ekki það, sem ég átti við."

"Þú ert skýrleiksbarn," sagði systir mín hlæjandi, "og kemur alltént upp með eitthvað nýtt; við skulum tala um ormana þína seinna; en hvað var hitt, sem ég átti að sjá?"

Ég var einatt vanur við hún leiddi mig, á meðan ég var yngri; en nú var ég orðinn 13 vetra gamall og þótti vera of stór til þess; samt sem áður fannst mér það alltént mesta skemmtun, og vann ég mér það stundum inn með alls konar gamni og vinalátum, þegar við vorum einhvers staðar á gangi.

"Leiddu mig dáltið," sagði ég, og tók í höndina á henni, "annars kostar sérðu ekki það, sem ég bendi þér á — þú sérð fjallið hérna fyrir ofan okkur, gáðu nú að."

"Nei, ég sé ekki fjallið, frændi minn góður! Var það ekki annað en fjallið?"

"Og sérðu bunurnar bláu, sem steypast fram af Bröttuskeið; það er eftir regnið áðan; lækirnir hafa allir vaxið og eru sumir mórauðir. Hvernig líst þér núna á fjallið?"

"Ekki nema vel," sagði systir mín, "það er fallegt og farið að verða sumarlegt; en svona lítur það út á hverjum degi; þú verður að sýna mér eitthvað meira."

"Ég er að draga þig dáltið á því, sem best er; sérðu nú rindana þarna upp á Bröttuskeið sunnanverðri? Þeir eru fagurbleikir; manstu, hvernig þeir eru að sjá í þurrki?"

Þetta seinasta sagði ég svo borginmannlega og með svo miklum spekingssvip, að það var auðséð á öllu, ég þóttist hafa sagt eitthvað merkilegt. Systir mín horfði stundarkorn á rindana, og sá ég, hvernig hýrnaði yfir henni.

"Þú ert mesta gersemi," sagði hún þá, "og besti frændinn, sem ég á — það eru allt saman grös, það er ógn af blessuðum grösum!"

Nú líkaði mér fyrst, hvernig gékk. Systir mín leiddi mig við hönd sér, lagaði á mér hattinn og strauk hárið frá enninu á mér, en ég hristi það jafnótt niður aftur, og horfði ýmist á hana eða tórnar bleiku, og bað með öllu móti, að hún þegði um grösin, og tæki mig svo einhvern tíma einan með sér upp á Bröttuskeið, svo við hefðum bæði tvö sómann af þessari uppgötvun, og grösuðum meira en dæmi væru til. Hún lofaði mér því loksins, og þá var ég í mínum augum sæll eins og kóngssonur, og hugsaði til grasanna með hreinni og vonarfullri gleði. Þess háttar tilhlökkun verður varla lýst, og engum getur auðnast að njóta hennar fyllilega, nema unglingum á mínu skeiði.

Þessi systir mín, sem ég kallaði, hét Hildur Bjarnadóttir, og var einkabarn prestsins á B..... Við höfðum alist upp saman, frá því ég var 4 vetra; þá missti ég foreldra mína, hvort á eftir öðru. Séra Bjarni tók mig þá í fóstur, og ól hann mig upp, eins og ég væri hans sonur. Hann hafði átt móðursystur mína, en missti hana, þegar ég var barn. Frá þeim tíma bjó hann alltaf með bústýru, og bar ekki á öðru, en það færi nógu vel. Hann var líka ríkismaður, og fluttust honum föngin víða að, svo enginn gat vitað, nema kunnugir, þó eitthvað þryti á heimabúinu.

Ráðskonan var alltaf heldur ill við mig, og kallaði ég hana digru Guddu, þegar ég var reiður, en Hildi, prestsdótturina, kallaði ég aldrei annað en systur mína, og prestinn fóstra minn, eða þá stundum séra Bjarna, þegar ég átti tal við ókunnuga. Hann var aldrei harður við mig, og ekki man ég til hann ofbyði mér nokkurn tíma, hvað sem ég átti að nema eða vinna, en heldur var hann strangur í útliti, og aldrei svo blíður eða eiginlegur í máli, að ég gæti fest ást á honum; mér lá alltaf við að hræðast hann, og aldrei var ég eins glaður eða upplitsdjarfur, og ég reyndar átti að mér, þegar ég sá hann einhvers staðar í nánd við mig. Samt sem áður virti ég hann, eins og hann væri faðir minn, og vildi honum vel af heilum hug.

Ég var svo lánsamur, að koma mér vel við fólkið á bænum, og hafði það sumt eftirlæti á mér, en enginn horn í síðu minni, nema ráðskonan. Best féll mér samt ævinlega við hana Hildi systur mína, og henni var ég þægari, en nokkrum manni öðrum á heimilinu.

Það var einn dag fyrir sláttinn, að ég var kominn á hvíta brók og ljósbláa sokka, og saumaði þá upp um mig fyrir neðan hnéð. Að ofanverðu var ég snöggklæddur, á grænum bol og dúkskyrtu, með nýlegan hatt, sem ég hafði keypt fyrir lamb, og þótti mér það vera fallegur hattur. Svona stóð ég úti' á hlaði með hárband og ljósgráan tínupoka, og þar að auki var ég vel útbúinn að snærum. Ég hafði tekið með mér peysuna mína bláu, og var að búa mig til að binda bagga úr henni og pokanum, en dró það samt, og horfði heim til dyranna, hvort enginn kæmi út. Það leið ekki heldur á löngu, fyrr en systir mín kom með samanbrotinn tínupoka og snjóhvíta rósavettlinga á höndunum, en hversdagsbúin að öðru leyti, hreinlega og létt, en þó hlýtt, svo kunnugum var hægt að sjá hún ætlaði í grasaferð.

Ég kallaði til hennar og sagði: "Fæ ég að bera pokann þinn, systir góð!" og leit svo um leið niður á mig, því aldrei þóttist ég hafa verið eins karlmannlegur í vexti, né meira mannsefni að sjá, en núna á hvítu brókinni.

"Heyr á endemi! ætli þér veiti af að bera þig sjálfan?" sagði digra Gudda; "það situr á þér, pattanum, að þykjast vilja láta eins og fullorðnir menn!" Hún stóð rétt fyrir aftan mig, og hafði ég ekki fyrr tekið eftir henni.

"Ég ansa þér ekki," sagði ég í hálfum hljóðum, en systir mín fékk mér pokann sinn brosandi, og sagðist ekki efast um, að ég bæri hann með heiðri og sóma, ekki síst, ef hún leiddi mig upp á móti brekkunni.

"Það er alltént léttara," ætlaði ég að segja, en digra Gudda stóð við hliðina á mér og brosti svo hæðnislega, að ég beit á vörina og hnýtti baggan minn þegjandi.

"Mundu mig um það, Hildur!" sagði ráðskonan, "að færa mér dálítið af helluhnoðra í kvöld, hann vex nógur í fjallinu, og alltént er hann blessaðasta gras að drekka af."

Mig langaði til að svara einhverri óþægð, en þorði það ekki, fyrr en ég var albúinn.

"Ég skal muna til þín, Guðríður!" sagði systir mín, "verið þið sæl öll!"

"Og ég skal færa þér einn eða tvo skollafingur, eða þá dálítið af tófugrasi," sagði ég og hljóp á stað með sama, því ég vissi digra Gudda mundi hafa orðið reið.

Veðrið var blítt og hreint, en ekki sá til sólar, því skýjadrög voru um himininn, og hrannaði austurloftið. Það var eins og sveitin hefði sniðið sér stakk eftir veðrinu: allt var svo kyrrt og blítt yfir að líta, túnin græn og glóuðu í fíflum og sóleyjum; engjarnar líka grænar, en þó nokkuð ljósbleikari, og sums staðar hvítir fífublettir, táhreinir, eins og nýfallinn snjór. Búsmalinn dreifði sér um haga og hlíðar, og ekkert var að heyra, nema einstaka lækjarbunu og árniðinn í dalnum, eða þá stundum fugla, sem flugu kvakandi í loftinu, ellegar sátu á einhverri hæð og sungu sér til gamans í morgunkyrrðinni. Lengra í burtu var að sjá fagurblá fjöll með sólskinsblettum, og það breiddi nokkurs konar gleðiblæ yfir allt hitt, eins og þegar vonin skín yfir rósama lífstund góðs manns.

Þetta sagði systir mín á einum stað í fjallinu, þegar við stóðum við og horfðum yfir dalinn og sveitina; og hún sagði það satt, því ég sá, hvernig hýran skein á andlitinu á henni. En ég var mest að hugsa um grösin, og svaraði heldur óþolinmóðlega: "Ég held það hafi verið fallegt, sem þú sagðir, en illa er mér við sólskinið, ef það kemur hingað í dag; mér þætti miklu betra, að við fengjum duglega skúr."

"Vertu óhræddur," sagði hún, "grösin þín á Bröttuskeið verða varla svo smá, að við sjáum þau ekki nema í vætu; láttu mig nú leiða þig stundarkorn, litli frændi minn góður!"

Ég þekktist það að sönnu, ok tók þegjandi í höndina á henni, en illa féll mér samt, að hún skyldi kalla mig "litla frænda." Hún var farin að taka upp á því stundum, eftir það hún óx svo mikið yfir mig; enda var hún orðin fulltíða kvenmaður, og fermd fyrir meir en ári, en ég var barn, að kalla, og ekki stór á mínum aldri. Þetta vissi ég allt saman dável, og sárnaði mér því heldur, að hún skyldi svona ósjálfrátt vera að minna mig á það.

Við gengum nú áfram þangað til við komum undir skeiðina; ég var þá orðinn dauðþreyttur, og settumst við niður á grænni tó og horfðum aftur ofan yfir dalinn. Nú var hann enn þá fegri að sjá, en áður, þegar við stóðum lægra í fjallinu; allar ójöfnur voru horfnar á láglendinu, og ekkert var að sjá nema litaskiptin. Áin kom nú öll í ljós, og leið hún fram í bugðum og kvíslum, eins og heiðbláir þræðir, ofnir í fegursta glitvefnað.

Í þetta sinn gaf ég samt lítinn gaum að fegurð náttúrunnar; mér gat ekki liðið úr minni "litli frændinn," það lá hræðilega illa á mér, og loksins sagði ég upp úr miðju kafi: "Ég er ofur lítill, Hildur mín góð! aldrei held ég verði að manni."

Systir mín hló hátt og horfði til mín svo kátbroslega, að ég vissi varla, hvaðan á mig stóð veðrið. Það var eins og ég heyrði óminn í loftinu, hvað aumingjalega skringilegur ég hefði verið í rómnum, og fór það, eins og stundum ber við, að hugur minn komst í aðra stefnu, og hló ég þá dátt að sjálfum mér.

"Þetta var það skrítnasta, sem ég hef nýlega heyrt," sagði systir mín; "blessaður vertu, segðu það aftur í sama róm og áðan; reyndu nú til!"

Ég færðist undan fyrst í stað; en það fór eins og vant var, þegar Hildur var annars vegar, mér var ekki hægt að synja henni lengi um það, sem hún bað; ég varð þá að fara að herma eftir sjálfum mér, og þó það tækist ekki sem best, varð okkur það samt báðum nægilegasta hlátursefni. Hún var þá svo blíð, og hló að mér svo dátt og græskulaust, að mér kom ekki til hugar að fyrtast við það minnsta grand.

Þegar við stóðum upp, sagði hún og var nokkuð alvarlegri: "Ef þú vilt, skal ég aldrei kalla þig litla frænda meir; þú munt líka bráðum vaxa, ef þú lifir, og þegar þú ert orðinn stór, mun ég verða að venja mig af því, hvort sem ég vil eða ekki."

Ég varð einhvern veginn undarlegur, þegar talið snerist svona við; mér fannst nú lítið til þessa loforðs, og vissi ekki vel, hverju ég átti að svara.

"Kallaðu mig hvað sem þú vilt," sagði ég þá heldur lágt, "ég skal kalla þig systur mína samt"—og svona klifruðum við upp á skeiðina.

Ég var að hugsa hitt og þetta, ok tók lítið eftir veginum, hann var ekki heldur mjög voðalegur; við fundum á einum stað klettaskoru, og komumst þar upp, án þess okkur vildi nokkurt slys til; en svo var hún þröng, að við urðum sums staðar að renna okkur á rönd, og sáum við glöggt, að hún varð ekki farin aftur, ef við fengjum nokkuð í pokana.

Ég vonast til, að sumir af lesendum mínum muni til sín, þegar þeir hafa í fyrsta sinni fundið svo mikil grös, að þeir væru vissir um að geta tekið þar byrði sína fyrirhafnarlaust að kalla. Því er svo varið með áhugann, að hann þróast því meir, sem meiri er óvissan, og þetta veldur ákefð allra veiðimanna og annarra, sem afla sér fjár úr skauti náttúrunnar. Með handiðnirnar er allt öðruvísi ástatt: þeir, sem eiga að vinna að því, sem aflað er, og endurbæta það og ummynda, vita oftast nær fyrir fram, hvað miklu þeir muni fá afkastað, og gerir vinnan þeim langtum minni áhuga, en hinum; enda lifa þeir minna á voninni, og búast ekki á hverri stundu við einhverjum feng. Ég var í þetta sinn í þeirra tölu, sem gleðjast við að sjá von sína rætast, og þarf ég ekki að lýsa huga mínum fyrir þeim, sem hafa reynt eitthvað líkt því á mínu reki.

Undir eins og við systir mín komum upp á skeiðina, sáum við, að litaskiptin á tónum bleiku höfðu ekki dregið okkur á tálar; þær voru allar þaktar í grösum, og lágu þau í stóreflis flekkjum, og svo þétt, að ekkert strá og öngvar mosategundir voru vaxnar upp á milli þeirra. Það var auðséð á öllu, að þar höfðu ekki verið tekin grös í margt ár.

Við bárum ekki við að binda á okkur pokana; því ekki þurfti langt að ganga eftir tínunni. Við kipptum þá upp skúf og skúf, en grösin lágu laus, að kalla, og bárum við þau saman í smáhrúgur, þangað til við héldum, að við mundum ekki koma meiru heim. Við höfum varla verið að þessu lengur en svari einu dagsmarki, og þegar öllu var lokið, og við búin að troða í pokana, hefur varla verið kominn miðmundi.

"Þetta eru nógu laglegir pokar!" sagði ég þá, "en ógn verður eftir af grösunum; sestu nú við og saumaðu fyrir peysuna mína, hún tekur þó ekki svo lítið, og það er líka mannalegra, að koma heim með bagga í fyrir."

"Þú verður þá að segja mér sögu á meðan, fyrst ég er svona eftirlát við þig," sagði systir mín um leið og hún fór að þræða saman peysuna. Ég var fús til þess og settist ég við hliðina á henni, en þó svo, að ég sæi vel framan í hana, því þá gekk mér alltént betur að segja frá.

Svona sat ég stundarkorn og hugsaði mig um. Því næst spurði ég systur mína, hvort það ætti að vera eitthvað um hann séra Eirík í Vogsósum, eða þá saga af útilegumönnum. En hún hélt, að lítið yrði úr öllum þess háttar sögum í björtu, og bað mig að finna eitthvað hentugra.

"Þá muntu ekki heldur," sagði ég, "vilja heyra neitt um hann Björn í Öxl, eða þá ferðasöguna hans Lalla, þegar þau Skotta og hann sátu saman á húðinni og óku fram endilanga Fnjóská, en Þorgeirsboli dró, og það var húðin af honum sjálfum. En áður en ég gleymi því, systir góð! hvað eru þær margar — skotturnar?"

"Það á ég bágt með að segja þér," sagði hún; "þær hafa verið sín í hverri sveitinni; þó eru tvær merkilegastar, að ég held, Húsavíkurskotta og Hvítárvallaskotta, en þær eru nú báðar dauðar."

"Þá þekki ég mann, sem hefur séð hana Húsavíkurskottu," sagði ég; "manstu ekki eftir lækninum, sem var að segja honum fóstra mínum frá, þegar hún kastaði selnum í hann Lalla? — En var hann dauður, selurinn? Því er ég nú búinn að gleyma."

"Það verður ekki talað við þig," sagði hún, og heldur óþolinmóðlega; "þú ert með tóma útúrdúra, og enginn maður getur séð, hvort þér er alvara eða gaman."

"Mér er þó alvara stundum, en núna getur mér ekkert dottið í hug, sem vit er í; þú verður að gera þig ánægða með nokkrar vísur; það eru tvö kvæði eftir mig sjálfan, og tveimur er snúið."

"Ég fer sem næst um skáldskapinn þinn," sagði systir mín, "það er sjálfsagt eitthvað fallegt, en þó ætla ég að biðja þig að hafa hinar yfir fyrst."

"Öðru kvæðinu er snúið úr dönsku," sagði ég þá; "það er munaðarlaus unglingur, sem búinn er að missa alla hluti, auð og metorð, og unnustu með glóbjart hár og fagurblá augu; það var um kvöldtíma, að hann settist einsamall á leiði móður sinnar, og þá kvað hann þetta:

Bíum, bíum,
barnið góða!
sofðu nú sætt
og sofðu lengi,
þó að höll
og hægindislaus
og grafkyrr
í grundar skauti
vagga þín standi.
Vertu í ró!

Heyrirðu stynja
storminn úti
yfir mínum
missi þunga
og átfreka
kroppa þína?

Nú kemur hinn hljóðfagri
heyrirðu mjúkan
Var það áður,
er þú vaggaðir mér;
nú skal ég, veslingur!
vagga þér aftur.

Hresstu huga þinn
hans við söng;
allt skal eg þér
til yndis velja;
heyrirðu dimma
við dauðans hlið,
barn mitt! hringja
bjöllu þína?

Sé ei hjarta þitt
hart sem steinn,
sjáðu, móðir!
mína iðju:
eg skal af grátviðar
grein þessari
hljóðpípu smíða
handa þér.

Hresstu hug þinn
við hennar róm,
er hún einmana
úti kvakar,
eins og vindur
á vetrarnótt
villur vakandi
í votum greinum.

Verð eg að víkja
vöggu þinni frá;
kalt er að búa
við brjóst þitt, móðir!
og ég á mér
ekkert hæli
aftur að verma
inni mig.

Bíum, bíum, o. s. frv.

"Ég þekki þessar vísur," sagði systir mín; "en þeim er ekki vel snúið, þú hefðir ekki átt að hafa fornyrðalagið, og. . . ."

"Hitt var ekki vinnandi vegur," sagði ég í mestu ákefð og gleymdi mér öldungis; "hefði ég átt að fara eftir frumkvæðinu og hafa sömu stuðlaföll, þá hefði mér tekist enn verr; en hver hefur sagt þér, að ég hafi snúið því?"

"Nú hefurðu sagt það sjálfur," svaraði hún mér brosandi; "en svo ég gegni því, sem þú ætlaðir að segja, þá held ég leikinn maður hefði getað haldið hvoru tveggja, bragarhættinum og efninu. Þegar snúið er í annan bragarhátt, fær skáldskapurinn oftast nær annan blæ, þó efnið sé reyndar hið sama; og víst er um það, að þetta kvæði hefur dofnað, ég veit ekki í hverju; það er nokkurs konar indæl og barnaleg angurblíða í öllu frumkvæðinu, og hennar sakna ég mest hjá þér, frændi minn! enda tekstu of mikið í fang, að reyna þig á öðrum eins skáldskap, og þessi er."

"Það held ég nú líka," sagði ég; "en þó hef ég vitað suma takast meira í fang; það er nú til að mynda hitt kvæðið, sem ég ætlaði að hafa yfir; má ég lofa þér að heyra það?"

Hún gegndi mér öngu og horfði ofan í saumana, eins og hún hefði ekki heyrt, hvað ég sagði.

"Hana grunar eitthvað," hugsaði ég með sjálfum mér, en lét samt ekki á mér bera og fór að þylja kvæðið. Það var svona:

Dunar í trjálundi, dimm þjóta ský —
döpur situr smámeyja hvamminum í;
bylgjurnar falla svo ótt, svo ótt;
öndinni varpar á koldimmunótt
brjóstið af grátekka bifað:

"Heimur er tómur og hjartað, það deyr;
hvergi finnst neitt, að eg æski þess meir.
Heilaga! kalla mig heim, ég er þreytt,
hef eg þess notið, sem jörðin fær veitt,
því eg hefi elskað og lifað."

"Tárin að ónýtu falla á fold,
fá hann ei vakið, er sefur í mold.
Segðu hvað hjartanu huggunar ljær,
horfinnar ástar er söknuður slær;
á himnum þess hygg eg að leita."

"Tárin að ónýtu falli á fold,
fái' hann ei vakið, er sefur í mold;
mjúkasta hjartanu huggun það ljær,
horfinnar ástar er söknuður slær,
hennar að minnast og harma."

Systir mín sat kafrjóð og kepptist við að sauma.

"Þessu er, held ég, betur snúið," sagði ég þá, "og þú hefur náð bragarhættinum dável; það hef ég séð, þó ég skilji ekki sjálft kvæðið. Þú átt gott að geta skilið þjóðverskuna, og það væri vel gert af þér, að kenna mér dálítið líka. Mér er kvöl í að skilja ekkert af því, sem þeir hafa gert, hann Schiller og aðrir á Þjóðverjalandi."

"Hvar hefurðu náð þessum vísum," sagði systir mín, og sá ég hún var bæði sneypt og reið; "ég hef alltaf haldið mér væri óhætt að trúa þér, og þú mundir ekki taka neitt í leyfisleysi."

Mér varð bilt við þetta. "Það hef ég ekki heldur gert," sagði ég og var stuttur í svari; "þú gafst mér um daginn nokkrar sveskjur, eins og þú líklega manst, og vafðir kvæðinu utan um þær; það var að sönnu uppkast, en ég hélt mér væri leyfilegt að lesa það, fyrst þú leyndir því ekki meir en svona. Ég hef aldrei haft það yfir fyrr en núna, og því síður hef ég sagt frá, að þú hafir snúið því."

"Blessaður! ég ætla að biðja þig að gera það ekki heldur. Mér er ekki mikið um það breiðist út, að ég sé að fást við þess háttar; það hefur aldrei þótt mikil prýði á kvenfólki."

"Vertu öldungis óhrædd," sagði ég svo blíðlega, sem ég gat; "en takist þér ekki verr í annað sinn, held ég þú ættir að bera það oftar við; ég skal hjartansfeginn eigna mér allt, sem þú gerir — en það er samt reyndar skömm; þessu ráði verð ég að sleppa."

"Þér er það held ég óhætt," sagði systir mín, og var nú orðin eins hýr og áður. "Ég yrki varla svo mikið, að okkur verði vandræði úr skáldskapnum mínum. En þú hafðir eitthvað eftir sjálfan þig, það held ég verði gaman að heyra."

"Já, það er satt," sagði ég; "það voru tvö smákvæði; annað er síðan í hittifyrra, og það er um þig, en hitt gerði ég um lóu, í gær eða fyrradag; það eru nógu falleg kvæði, sér í lagi endinn á þínu."

"Ég held ég muni úr þér bullið," sagði systir mín; "lof mér samt að heyra það seinna."

"Mig langar til að heyra hitt fyrst," sagði ég; "það er best ég fari með þau bæði."

Hildur gat ekki gert að sér að hlæja, en ég gaf mig ekki að því og fór að þylja kvæðið það í hittifyrra:

Sáuð þið hana systur mína
sitja lömb og spinna ull?
Fyrrum átti ég falleg gull;
nú er ég búinn að brjóta og týna.

Einatt hefur hún sagt mér sögu;
svo er hún ekki heldur nísk:
hún hefur gefið mér hörpudisk
fyrir að yrkja um sig bögu.

Hún er glöð á góðum degi —
glóbjart liðast hár um kinn —
og hleypur, þegar hreppstjórinn
finnur hana á förnum vegi.

"Gaman hafði ég af þér þá," sagði ég kankbrosandi, og byrjaði undir eins á hinu kvæðinu; það var reyndar ekki merkilegt; það er svona:

recording available

Snemma lóan litla í
lofti bláu "dírrindí"
undir sólu syngur:
"Lofið gæsku gjafarans!
grænar eru sveitir lands,
fagur himinhringur.

Ég á bú í berjamó,
börnin smá í kyrrð og ró
heima í hreiðri bíða;
mata ég þau af móðurtryggð,
maðkinn tíni þrátt um byggð
eða flugu fríða."

Lóan heim úr lofti flaug,
(ljómaði sól um himinbaug,
blómi grær á grundu)
til að annast unga smá —
alla étið hafði þá
hrafn fyrir hálfri stundu.

"Það er nú svo," sagði systir mín; "sástu til lóunnar, sem þú gerðir þetta um?"

"Það trúi' ég ekki," svaraði ég henni, "en svona mun það hafa farið samt, annars hefði mér varla dottið það í hug."

"Þú talar svo undarlega, frændi!" sagði Hildur; "en nú er peysan búin; við skulum fara og tína í hana, allt hvað við getum."

Þetta starf var skjótt af hendi leyst; við fylltum peysuna með grös, bundum hana við annan pokann, og að svo búnu settustum við niður aftur. Þá var komið sólskin niður um dalinn, en uppi hjá okkur bar skugga á; hægur blær á sunnan rann um fjallið og flutti með sér líf og yl. Við sátum þegjandi og skemmtum okkur við að sjá skuggana, sem liðu í ýmsum myndum yfir engjar og haga, eftir því sem skýin losnuðu og bárust á burt um himininn.

"Vildirðu ekki vera svo léttur," sagði systir mín, "að þú gætir sest á einhvern fallegasta skuggann þarna niður frá, og liðið svo yfir landið, sveit úr sveit, og séð það, sem fyrir ber?"

"Ekki væri það óskemmtilegt," svaraði ég; "en ef skýin þarna uppi eyddust, þegar ég væri kominn norður á Sléttu, þá færi, held ég, skugginn líka, og svo hefði ég ekkert að sigla á aftur heim til þín."

Systir mín leit við mér einhvern veginn skrítilega, að mér þótti, eins og hún væri að virða mig fyrir sér, og sagði heldur seint: "Þá gætirðu sest að á Sléttunni, þangað til þú ert orðinn nógu stór til að geta gengið heim aftur og vaðið árnar á leiðinni."

Þetta svar sárnaði mér, eins og von var til, og ætlaði ég mér að borga það með einhverjum meinyrðum; en í sama bili heyrðum við voðalegan dynk, rétt fyrir ofan okkur, og síðan hvern af öðrum, svo fjallið skalf og titraði.

"Guð varðveiti mig!" sagði systir mín; "varaðu þig, blessaður! það er grjóthrun."

Ég rauk á fætur og ætlaði, held ég, að flýja, en þegar mér varð litið upp, fleygði ég mér í fangið á henni, og sagði með öndina í hálsinum: "Ég er hræddur við steininn, systir góð!"

Í þessu vetfangi flaug stóreflis bjarg fram hjá okkur; það hófst í háaloft og hjó upp torfur úr rindanum, þar sem við stóðum, og fyrr, en augað eygði, var það horfið fram af skeiðinni, en dynkirnir ukust nú um allan helming og gráblár reykur og eldlykt gusu upp.

"Tarna eru óttalegar skruðningar," sagði systir mín og hélt fast utan um mig; en þó ég raunar væri hræddur, sá ég samt, að steinninn var floginn fram hjá, og fór mér þá að sýnast ráðlegast að bera mig karlmannlega.

"Heyrist þér það?" sagði ég; "en þér er samt óhætt að sleppa, því þær eru allar í skeiðinni fyrir neðan okkur—þú varst býsna hrædd."

Í því ég sagði þetta, sneri ég mér undan um leið, til að þurrka af mér svitann og lofa guð í hálfum hljóðum; því ég sá glöggt, að við höfðum verið í lífshættu.

"Þarna ertu kominn!" sagði systir mín, og vissi ekki, hvort hún átti að fyrtast eða hlæja; "hleypur fyrst í fangið á mér af hræðslu, og segir svo ég skuli vera óhrædd og mér sé óhætt að sleppa, þegar hættan er um liðin."

Ég lét eins og ég heyrði ekki þetta, en bar mig að snúa talinu við.

"Veistu þá af hverju grjóthrunið kemur?" sagði ég, og var býsna spekingslegur; "það eru sumir steinar, sem sitja framan í brekkunni og tolla ekki á neinu, nema leir og sandi, sem runnið hefur í kringum þá. Nú þegar regnið kemur, skolast allur leirinn í burtu, og þá losnar steinninn og fer á stað, eins og þér gefur að skilja."

"Alltént ertu nógu skýr," sagði systir mín; "það hefur sjálfsagt verið regnið í dag, sem losaði bjargið áðan."

"Eða þessi þá," sagði ég, og benti upp fyrir okkur; þar stóð maður á klettasnös, og bar við himininn.

Nú fengum við nóg að hugsa um annað en grjóthrunið. Við gátum ekki giskað á, hvaða maður þetta gæti verið, og hvað hann væri að gera upp um tinda.

"Það getur varla verið útilegumaður," sagði ég, og fór að halda mér í handleggin á systur minni; "fjallið hérna liggur milli sveita, og er ekki, svo ég viti, áfast við jöklana eða Ódáðahraun. Viltu' ekki koma, systir góð! við skulum flýta okkur á stað!"

Í þessu bili fór maðurinn aftur á hvarf, eins og hann hefði gengið til fjalls.

"Þér er, held ég, óhætt að sleppa," sagði systir mín, og hermdi eftir mér; "útilegumaðurinn þinn er farinn" . . . . . .

Form:Prose with four intercalated poems (on the form of the individual poems, see below).
Manuscript:None surviving.
First published:1847 (9F9-24; image) under the title "Grasaferð" ("A Highland Moss Expedition").
Sound recording:The Ríó Tríó sings "Heylóarvísa" ("Plover Song"), the fourth of the poems, to a tune collected by Bjarni Þorsteinsson in Þingeyjarsýsla, where it was accounted a folksong (though Bjarni himself did not think it was very old [Íþl665]). For the notation see Íþl664. Source: Ríó Tríó, Á þjóðlegum nótum (Steinar STCD 008; used with permission). recording available [1:47]

Commentary:        This piece is generally regarded as marking the beginning of prose fiction in modern Iceland. It was left untitled by Jónas and received its usual title, "Gathering Highland Moss" ("Grasaferð"), when it was published posthumously in 1847 in Fjölnir, where it was also given the subtitle: "A Fragment."10

Is it really a "fragment"? The question raises tantalizing questions about Jónas's intentions and achievement.

In his book about the origins of the Icelandic novel, Steingrímur J. Þorsteinsson disagreed with the assessment of the 1847 editors, writing: "It is the first Icelandic 'short story' in the modern mode. Indeed, it represents such a remarkable innovation that Konráð Gíslason did not even recognize that it is a fully-developed work and labelled it a 'fragment.'"11 On the other hand, a good deal of internal evidence suggests that Konráð was not speaking haphazardly. And of course we will never know whether he had any external evidence to go on, since Jónas's manuscript has not survived.

Approached as a self-contained and "fully-developed work," "Gathering Highland Moss" can be interpreted as a perceptive and sensitive psychological portrait of a precocious, imaginative boy, poised between childhood and adolescence, torn between desires for dependence and independence, and obsessed with his small stature, lack of masculine credentials, and uncertain position in the great world's pecking order. The piece is also a delicate and moving account of the intimate relationship between two children of the opposite sex, first cousins, whose childhood relationship is now trembling on the verge of — and is perhaps in some sense threatened by — adolescent sexuality.

But the reader is repeatedly aware of loose threads and narrative initiatives that go nowhere. One is struck, for instance, at the beginning of the work, by what seems a leisurely effort to begin filling in a large canvas about life on an Icelandic farm. But nothing comes of this. And the ending of the piece is not only suspiciously abrupt but leaves a number of expectations unfulfilled: (l) our expectation that the presence of the mysterious figure on the mountain will be explained (and perhaps related causally to the rockslide);12 (2) our natural expectation that a narrative about an excursion or expedition will not end without an account of the return journey; (3) our (related) desire to find out how the narrator and his "sister" will manage to get back down from Steep Shelf with sacks full of moss (we have already been warned that they cannot take the route they came up by, and this sets up a problem which we expect to see addressed and solved); and (4) our wish to learn how the two protagonists and their lordly loads of moss will be received back at the farm, especially by Fat Gudda and dour Reverend Bjarni.

What is puzzling about "Gathering Highland Moss" is that — by the time it ends — the "inner story" of the two protagonists' complex relationship has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion, whereas the "outer story" of their expedition up the mountain has been left hanging. Was this puzzling lack of narrative closure a conscious, deliberate choice on Jónas's part?13 Or are we dealing here not with a "short story" but something much more ambitious, perhaps even the beginning of a novel (some kind of precocious Icelandic Bildungsroman)? Or with something that had begun as a novel but was then abruptly pulled together and terminated when Jónas lost patience with it?

As regards Jónas's achievement in this piece, Guðmundur Finnbogason's words from 1907 can hardly be bettered:

I doubt that a piece of short fiction has been written in Icelandic that equals or surpasses it, so sensitively has Jónas traced the finest and most delicate lineaments in the souls of the youngsters he is describing. We find here childish love just waking to consciousness of itself, and also the precarious balance of youth: the boy is not grown up, yet he is no longer a child, so that he hardly knows which side of the divide he stands on. . . .

This story shows what an accomplished writer of fiction Jónas might have become had he been granted longer life. He is the first person to write modern Icelandic prose fiction — and he is instantly a master of it. (81Skí319-20)

Another, separate issue: In the absence of any direct evidence, it is difficult to know to what degree "Gathering Highland Moss" is autobiographical. Its fictional element is evident, since Jónas's mother outlived him and he had two blood sisters. On the other hand, the geographical indications in the narrative suggest that Steinsstaðir — where he grew up — is in his mind's eye. To the degree that this is true, the mountain climbed by the two young poets must be Landafjall, which rises behind Steinsstaðir to the south, "extremely steep and girt all round at the top with cliffs, from which rockslides sometimes fall to damage homefields and meadows" (ESs158 [1839]). Steep Shelf (Brattaskeið) is said to be visible high up on the side of Landafjall.14 What is said in the story about sun and shadow agrees with the situation of this mountain, and clouds driven by a south(west) wind would certainly move from there to Slétta (= Melrakkaslétta) in Þingeyjarsýsla, the northernmost peninsula of the Icelandic mainland.

For an excellent analysis of Jónas's innovations in narrative structure and prose style in "Gathering Highland Moss," see Ísf496-8.

Jónas has incorporated four poems into his prose text. The first two form an elegiac pair and relate to each other as complementary halves of what can only be thought of as a kind of literary joke.

The first is a translation of a hypersentimental poem by the Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850), first published in 1805 as a song in his verse drama Aladdin, eller Den forunderlige Lampe (where it is sung by Aladdin sitting on his mother's grave and pretending to rock her cradle). Oehlenschläger's poem consists of eight stanzas of four-stress lines rhyming aBaB:

Visselulle, nu Barnlil!
       Sov nu sødt og sov nu længe!
       Skiønt din Vugge stander stil,
       Uden Duun og uden Giænge.

Hører du den dumpe Storm
       Sukke ved hvad jeg forliste?
       Mærker du den sultne Orm
       Pikker paa din Fyrrekiste?

Sov, Barnlille! ved min Sang,
       Intet skal din Glæde mangle.
       Hører du den muntre Klang,
       Hist i Taarnet af din Rangle?

Nattergalen nærmer sig.
       Fryder dig dens blide Klukke?
       Du har ofte vugget mig,
       Nu skal jeg dig atter vugge!

Hvis dit Hierte ey er Steen,
       Mærk min Idræt, Moder kiere!
       Her af denne Hyldegreen
       Vil eg dig en Fløite skiære.

Ved dens Toner fryd dit Sind!
       Hvor den klager svagt og ene,
       Som en vildsom Nattevind
       I de vaade Vintergrene.

Ak! nu maa jeg fra dig gaae;
       Det er koldt i dine Arme,
       Og jeg eyer ingen Vraa,
       Hvor jeg mig igien kan varme.

Visselulle da, Barnlil!
       Sov nu sødt og sov nu længe!
       Skiønt din Vugge stander stil,
       Uden Duun og uden Giænge.15

Jónas has rendered this in eight fornyrðislag strophes, the first and last expanded. The translation is, if anything, even more sentimental than the original and fails to reproduce its only redeeming quality, what Hildur calls its "sweet, childlike melancholy." On the other hand, choosing to translate this poem about a poor, self-pitying orphan boy is appropriate enough on the part of Jónas's narrator, who is also a poor, self-pitying orphan boy. Indeed, it is not impossible that Jónas made the translation — half tongue-in-cheek — in order to throw additional ironic light on the character of his narrator. No manuscript of the poem survives and it was not published until 1847 as part of "Gathering Highland Moss," where it is untitled and without attribution to Oehlenschläger (9F16-8).

The second poem, by implication, pokes fun at Hildur. If Jónas's thirteen-year-old narrator is ridiculed because of his fascination with morbid (and very adolescent) graveyard maunderings, his fifteen-year-old "sister" is amusingly shown as inspired to translate a sentimental poem about the love-tragedy of a "little maid" like herself. The poem in question is "Des Mädchens Klage" (1798) by the German poet Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). Schiller's poem consists of four stanzas, each pair of which is linked by final-line rhyme, i.e., AbCbddE FgHgiiE JkLkmmN JkOkmmN (or alternatively, if we take the first four lines of each stanza as constituting two structural units: aabbC ddeeC ffggH ffggH).

       Der Eichwald brauset,
Die Wolken ziehn,
Das Mägdlein sitzet
An Ufers Grün,
Es bricht sich die Welle mit Macht, mit Macht,
Und sie seufzt hinaus in die finstre Nacht,
Das Auge von Weinen getrübet.

       "Das Herz ist gestorben,
Die Welt ist leer,
Und weiter giebt sie
Dem Wunsche nichts mehr.
Du Heilige rufe dein Kind zurück,
Ich habe genossen das irdische Glück,
Ich habe gelebt und geliebet!"

       Es rinnet der Thränen
Vergeblicher Lauf,
Die Klage sie wecket
Die Todten nicht auf,
Doch nenne, was tröstet und heilet die Brust
Nach der süßen Liebe verschwundener Lust,
Ich, die himmlische, wills nicht versagen.

       "Laß rinnen der Thränen
Vergeblichen Lauf,
Es wecke die Klage
Den Todten nicht auf,
Das süßeste Glück für die traurende Brust,
Nach der schönen Liebe verschwundener Lust,
Sind der Liebe Schmerzen und Klagen."16

In her translation of this poem, Hildur has imitated Schiller's rhyme scheme closely with one striking exception: aabbC ddeeC ffggH iijjK. In other words, her rhyme scheme collapses just at the point it should not: the climactic final rhyme of the poem. In this respect Hildur's poem — and remember, she is ostensibly setting out to demonstrate that "a skilled translator [can preserve] both the content and the form of [her] original" — is something of a failure, and her little companion's lavish praise may well be tinged with irony. The point is that the rhyme-failure at the end of Hildur's poem was deliberately engineered by Jónas: he himself never printed a poem under his own name in which anything even vaguely like this was permitted to occur.17 And indeed, when he published a revised version of this poem in Fjölnir in 1843 as part of a large selection of his own poetry, he "corrected" the false rhyme and made the poem end as flawlessly as Schiller's original.18 (It is, of course, "Hildur's translation" — not Jónas's later revision of it — that is translated and imitated above.)19 No manuscript of Jónas's poem, in either of its versions, survives.

Intercalated with the two young cousins' translations of Oehlenschläger and Schiller is their discussion of the theory of poetic translation. This is no doubt a little tongue-in-cheek; it reads like a good-humored parody of the discussions of translation methodology that are likely to have taken place in Sveinbjörn Egilsson's classroom at Bessastaðir20 and that continued to occur regularly in Copenhagen among Jónas and his Fjölnir colleagues.21 Moreover Jónas was undoubtedly on familiar terms with Þorleifur Guðmundsson Repp (1794-1857), an Icelandic philologian and polymath who settled permanently in Copenhagen in 1837 — just about the time Jónas is thought to have written "Gathering Highland Moss" — and who was an authority on the aspect of translation theory discussed so earnestly by Jónas's protagonists. In 1823 Repp had written a prize essay on the set theme of "whether a poem in translation ought to replicate the verse form of its original."22 Repp was well-known to the Fjölnismenn, who published a sequence of poems by him in the last issue of their journal (9F81-6).

The third and fourth poems in "Gathering Highland Moss" are originals — not translations — and may have been composed by Jónas expressly to occupy their present positions in the narrative. The third suggests the hero's poetic skills two summers ago when he was eleven. Its major themes (the loss of childhood innocence, as represented by the lost and broken toys, and the deep affection for his "sister" coupled with readiness to make fun of her discomfiture), obviously complement those of the main prose narrative. The poem consists of three stanzas of four-stress lines with the rhyme scheme AbbA (a variant of the redondilla, originally a Spanish form; Jónas may have known it from Heine [see Bbk55-8; 171Skí347-8]); the alliteration pattern is 211. No manuscript of the poem survives and it was not published until 1847 as part of "Gathering Highland Moss."

Things become more serious in the fourth poem, which (according to its young author) is his most recent composition. He is older and wiser, now; perhaps the darker aspects of life are beginning to weigh on his mind. The poem starts off in a buoyant bucolic vein, only to take an unexpectedly tragic turn at the end, when joyous pastoral suddenly turns into a grim portrait of the predator preyed upon ("nature red in tooth and claw"). All this is framed in an ironic doxological context. According to Icelandic folk tradition, the golden plover (Pluvialis apricaris) had been created by Jesus Christ himself in one of his childhood miracles. The cry of these birds is "'dýrrin' or 'dýrrindi' because they are singing dýrð ['glory']" (2Íþs5-6), i.e., their song is a sort of perpetual hymn of praise and gratitude to God. To know this is to appreciate the depth to which Jónas's tragic irony strikes in this poem.23 It is all quite in the manner of Heinrich Heine, who may in fact be the poem's godfather: Jónas and Konráð Gíslason had written a piece about Heine in the first issue of Fjölnir (1835), the year before this poem was published in the second issue, and what they say about Heine is perfectly descriptive of Jónas's poem: "[Heine's] poetry is not all of a piece, for just when he is at his most naive and childlike, he is likely to burst out suddenly into berserk fury, and when he is playing innocently around and seems to be nothing but pure sensibility, you never know but what he will become ironic and callous" (1F141). Jónas's poem consists of three six-line stanzas, each of which consists of two four-stress + one three-stress + two four-stress + one three-stress lines; it shows the 2121 alliteration pattern of ljóðaháttur (the alliteration pattern in the last three lines of the translation — 12 — is anomalous). No manuscript of the poem survives. When published in Fjölnir in 1836 it was given the title "Plover Song" ("Heylóarvísa"). Benedikt Gröndal very amusingly points out that some contemporary readers of Fjölnir — conservatives, of course — wanted to believe that every poem in it "portended some political revolution — even 'Plover Song'!" (4BGR324). There is a prior English translation ("The Golden Plover") by Watson Kirkconnell (NAB22-3).

It is not known when "Gathering Highland Moss" was written. Hannes Hafstein claimed in 1883 that it probably dates from about 1836, noting that the fourth poem had appeared unchanged in that year's Fjölnir: "and since it seems obvious that Jónas would not have inserted into the story a poem already in print, it appears likely that the story itself was written at about that date" (B398). This argument is confirmed by the fact that the story not only includes a translation from Schiller, but pointedly mentions Schiller as the German poet the young narrator most regrets being unable to read. Jónas's interest in Schiller was at its height in 1836-7. Both his other adaptations of Schiller, "The Lament of Dagrún" ("Dagrúnarharmur") and "The Vastness of the Universe" ("Alheimsvíðáttan"), seem to date from the summer of 1837 (see KJH309). Furthermore there is a close connection between Schiller's "Des Mädchens Klage" (and its translation in "Gathering Highland Moss") and Jónas's poem "Mother Love" ("Móðurást"), which is known to have been written in 1835-7 (and was published in 1837).24 Matthías Þórðarson speculated that the story was written in the winter of 1835-6 (5DLXX).

Bibliography:       Svava Jakobsdóttir has compared "Gathering Highland Moss" with Milton's Paradise Lost (which Jónas knew in the famous Icelandic translation by Jón Þorláksson) and has suggested that in addition to its literal meaning, Jónas's story has an allegorical dimension: "Steep Shelf with its inexhaustible supply of highland moss is the Earthly Paradise" (330); "the climb up the mountain is a symbolic journey to Paradise in the manner of traditional, widely-familiar religious poetry" (323); Hildur, as the boy's guide, plays the role of the Virgin Mary (322); and the figure who appears so ominously at the end of the story, while "greyish-blue smoke and the smell of burning rose up from below," is none other than Satan himself: the Great Outlaw in person (336); see 167Skí311-62. The article is interesting and contains a number of arresting insights. But one can entertain serious doubts about whether a doctrinaire Christian narrative allegory of the type proposed would have held much appeal for Jónas Hallgrímsson.

For an interesting pair of articles, one of which contains a feminist reading of "Gathering Highland Moss" and the other a vigorous rejection of its approach, see Helga Kress, "Sáuð þið hana systur mína? Grasaferð Jónasar Hallgrímssonar og upphaf íslenskrar sagnagerðar" (163Skí261-92) and Kolbrún Bergþórsdóttir, "Jónas Hallgrímsson á tímum Júlíu Kristevu" (52TMm27-41).


1 The "lamb-pen" (stekkur) was a special sheep corral in which lambs were kept separate from their mothers during the night so they would be unable to drink their milk, which could then be collected in the morning for human use. The period in the spring during which lambs accompanied their mothers during the day but were segregated from them at night was known as "lamb-pen season" (stekkjartími) and lasted from late May to mid-June (see Íþh167-9). In Öxnadalur, the valley in northern Iceland where Jónas Hallgrímsson grew up, this separation of ewes and lambs "most often takes place nine weeks after the beginning of summer [i.e., in mid- to late June], and after that most of the women go gathering highland moss" (ESs153).

2 These worms are the first hint of the young narrator's obsession with folklore and folk-beliefs. Jón Guðmundsson "the Learned" (1574-1658) also knew about "the big worm with twelve legs. . .that falls from the air in summer in rainstorms from the south" (15Isl22).

3 Highland moss (fjallagrös) is the collective name for various members of the species Cetraria islandica. These plants grow in the Icelandic highlands, are very rich in vitamins, and were highly prized in earlier days as food, usually mixed with skyr to make a kind of porridge but also as an additive in bread or sausage (see Íþh39). They were also used as a source of vermilion and yellow dye (ibid. 27). A reference to gathering highland moss occurs as early as Jónsbók, a law code from 1280. Weather conditions of mist or light rain were regarded as optimal for gathering the moss, since the leaves of the plant expand and spread out when it is damp, becoming pale in color and easily identifiable, whereas they shrivel and grow dark in dry weather. Moss-gathering expeditions were very common in Jónas's day, especially in the north where he grew up; their procedures and utensils are described in detail by Jónas Jónasson (Íþh64-6; see also 1FEÓ106-9).

4 Stonecrop (helluhnoðri; Latin Sedum acre) is a moss-like plant with pungent, fleshy leaves and yellow flowers that bloom in August. According to an Icelandic herbal from 1770 it "cleans out mucus from the chest, relieves difficulty in breathing, cures jaundice, heals gallstones, and helps with dysuria" (1D409).

5 According to Eggert Ólafsson, devil's finger (skollafingur) "grows on mountainsides and is not good for anything at all" (1FEÓ117).

6 Accounts of these and the other folklore figures mentioned in the following paragraphs can be found in Jón Árnason's Icelandic Folktales (Íslenskar þjóðsögur).

Reverend Eiríkur Magnússon í Vogsósum (ca.1638-1716) was a celebrated white magician about whom numerous stories were in circulation (see 1Íþs543-65).

Outlaws (útilegumenn) were one of the staples of the folklore tradition and enormous numbers of stories are recorded about them (see 2Íþs159-293). Outcasts from society, they inhabited remote places in the interior of the country. They were still taken fairly seriously in Jónas's day (see IVG244-9 and 3221) and were regarded as a special threat to moss-gathering expeditions into the highlands, where they would lie in wait to snatch the young women; there are several well-known stories about this, all from the north of Iceland (2Íþs189-94, 197-201), and they have certain features in common with Jónas's piece. There were places in Iceland where people were so worried about outlaws that they never set out to gather highland moss in groups of fewer than 10-20 people (Íþh65).

Björn from Öxl (Axlar-Björn), a notorious serial-killer from Snæfellsnes, was executed in 1596. He had murdered some 18-20 people with an axe and hidden their bodies here and there around his farm. (There is a good, coherent account in IVG230-5; see also 1Íþs543-65.)

Lalli, his Girl Ghosts, and the Bull of Þorgeir were all revenants from the north of Iceland where Jónas had grown up.

Lalli (Húsavíkur-Lalli), a well-known ghost of the 18th century, haunted the farm Húsavík in Þingeyjarsýsla, sometimes in human form, sometimes in the form of a grey cat. He and the Lake Mývatn Girl Ghost (Mývatns-Skotta) would sometimes get together to wrestle or make love (1Íþs388). But Lalli's most celebrated adventure, recounted in stories from the north of Iceland, took place in the company of the Eyjafjörður Girl Ghost (Eyjafjarðar-Skotta): they "got together with the Bull of Þorgeir and drove from one end of Fnjósk River to the other. Lalli and the Girl Ghost were sitting on the bull's hide and the bull was pulling the whole caboodle with his tail like a sled" (1Íþs338). The Bull of Þorgeir (Þorgeirsboli) was named for its "author," a wizard from Fnjóskadalur named Þorgeir Jónsson, who created this monster early in the 18th century by flaying a calf in such a way that ever afterward it dragged its bloody hide along behind it by its tail (1Íþs336-8; 3Íþs401-2).

There were numerous girl ghosts (skottur) in Iceland, among them the Húsavík Girl Ghost (Húsavíkur-Skotta; 1Íþs362) and the White River Plains Girl Ghost (Hvítárvalla-Skotta). The latter had been raised in the late 17th century to haunt Sheriff Sigurður Jónsson and his descendants. Reports from Jónas's day suggest that she had ceased to be much of a menace: "she has got to be very old and is so disabled that — according to her own account — she can only get about by crawling on her knees; and indeed, she has lived well beyond the ordinary life-span of ghosts, normally 120 years" (1Íþs348-51; KMÍ331-2). It is no wonder, then, that Hildur in Jónas's story — speaking about 1820 — thinks she is dead.

7 Hildur has used some of the boy's chief preoccupations (his anxiety about his small physique, his desire to act strong and manly, his love of folklore) to deal him a crushing blow. It was legendary "macho" figures like Grettir the Strong and Mighty Hjörleifur — no doubt two of the boy's heroes (and well-known to Jónas himself) — who were in the habit of travelling on foot wherever they went and wading all the torrents in their path (see 7Ífr210-ll and 2Íþs151).

8 Eggert Ólafsson writes, in words that apply to many parts of Iceland: "Rockslides are common during the summer and even more common in spring and fall when it has been raining steadily. Huge boulders become dislodged from the slopes and tumble down into the valleys along with mud and rock debris. During the other half of the year there is danger of avalanches and this keeps people in a state of perpetual anxiety. . . . Every year rockslides and avalanches in Iceland cause enormous damage to people, buildings, livestock, and grassland" (1FEÓ2). Rockslides of this kind were very common in Öxnadalur, the valley in northern Iceland where Jónas grew up (see 2ÓOF15, ESs160).

Friction among large boulders colliding during a rockslide not infrequently produces effects of the kind described by Jónas in this passage. Rev. Markús Jónsson, describing the farm Hvammur in Rangárvallasýsla in 1845, writes: "Fiery flashes of light are often seen there in the cliffs, no doubt the result of rockslides" (RSs33). And note the following comically exaggerated account from one of Halldór Laxness's novels: "As he started climbing the scree slope, large and small rocks came tumbling down toward him, striking against one another in their flight, accompanied by sparks, smoke, and the smell of burning" (Halldór Kiljan Laxness, Gerpla, Önnur prentun [Reykjavík: Helgafell, 1952], p. 86).

9 These were some of the favorite haunts of outlaws; see 2Íþs161-2.

10 Helga Kress has argued that there is "no way of knowing whether the label 'A Fragment' is the work of the editors or whether it might have stood in Jónas's manuscript and been a note of his own about the incompleteness of the story" (163Skí261). The second alternative is very unlikely. Jónas was not in the habit of writing "A Fragment" at the head of unfinished pieces, whereas it was a label with which Brynjólfur Pétursson and Konráð Gíslason were very generous when publishing his work posthumously. See especially A246 and 257, where they have inserted it in two places where its absence in Jónas's manuscripts can actually be verified (see KJH214, 132).

11 Jón Thoroddsen og skáldsögur hans (Reykjavík: Helgafell, 1943), I, 205.

12 In Icelandic folklore, feuding individuals sometimes deliberately trigger rockslides in order to destroy one another (2Íþs87) and evil characters are sometimes buried beneath rockslides that have been set off by white-clad figures (angels) who strike the mountain above them with a wand (2Íþs45). Devils could engage in the same behavior, and there is a story from the north of Iceland that parallels Jónas's account at a number of interesting points. A certain Reverend Magnús is riding alone after dark across Hvammsheiði (Hollow Heath):

He came to a place where there was a narrow defile between some cliffs. The moonlight came and went. First he heard a sound in the scree slope above him, then rocks came flying down. He paid no attention and kept riding. Finally he came to a place where everything suddenly turned pitch dark around him, the air became so thick he could hardly breathe, and at the same time there rose such an overwhelming stench that he had never experienced the like before. (3Íþs475-6)

13 Some have argued that the story's lack of closure corresponds to its opening in medias res (a technique which is also not in accord with the traditions of Icelandic storytelling; see Ísf496-7). One could also argue that the story ends just where it should end, and that the "leisurely" opening, which sketches in the boy's orphan background and his touchy relationship with his foster father and Fat Gudda, is intended to suggest some of the factors that have been important in determining his psychological makeup.

14 Guðmundur Finnbogason wrote in 1907:

I was riding down along Öxnadalur, once, with a farmer who lived in the valley. "Isn't there a place called Steep Shelf somewhere here in the mountains?" I asked. . . . "Yes, there it is," he said, pointing. This occurred very near Steinsstaðir. (81Skí320)

15 Text from Oehlenschlæger, Poetiske Skrifter, udgivne af H. Topsøe-Jensen, 5 vols. (København: Holbergselskabet af 23. September/G. E. C. Gads Forlag, 1926-30), II, 169-70.

16 The text printed here (from 1SWN434) is that of the first publication of Schiller's poem (in the Musen-almanach für das Jahr 1799, pp. 208-9 [see 2IIASWN657-8]). The stanza layout which Schiller adopted there was subsequently followed in all integral texts of the poem printed before 1845.

In 1800, however, Schiller had included the first half of the poem (i.e., its first two stanzas only) in his play Die Piccolomini (Act III, Scene vii), and there the layout was as follows (note also the two small verbal changes in the first stanza):

Der Eichwald brauset, die Wolken ziehn,
       Das Mägdlein wandelt an Ufers Grün,
       Es bricht sich die Welle mit Macht, mit Macht,
       Und sie singt hinaus in die finstre Nacht,
       Das Auge von Weinen getrübet.

Das Herz ist gestorben, die Welt ist leer,
       Und weiter gibt sie dem Wunsche nichts mehr.
       Du Heilige, rufe dein Kind zurück,
       Ich habe genossen das irdische Glück,
       Ich habe gelebt und geliebet. (8SWN130)

Toward the end of his life Schiller toyed with the idea of adopting the Piccolomini layout for the whole of "Des Mädchens Klage" (see 2IIBSWN148-9), but this rearrangement does not seem to be reflected in printed texts of the poem prior to 1845 (see SW36n150, especially the reference to Schillers sämmtliche Schriften, ed. Karl Goedeke, XI [Stuttgart: Verlag der J. G. Cotta'schen Buchhandlung, 1871], 290).

Bjarni Thorarensen, who was a great admirer of Schiller, made an Icelandic translation of the two-stanza Piccolomini version of "Des Mädchens Klage". It survives in fragmentary form in a single manuscript, apparently a draft, and was not printed until 1935 (2BTL100). It reproduces Schiller's Piccolomoni stanza layout and reflects its two small verbal changes:

......................far er um ský,
......................svo hrygg reikar í,
[bylgjan vi]ð hamrana brotnar svo hart,
en baugaþöll kveður við náttmyrkrið svart,
       [og] hvarmaregn hrynur af augum.

Tómur er heimur, en hjartað er dautt,
í hönum að girnast er framar ei neitt,
þú heilög! því barnið þitt heimta í vist,
eg hefi nú veraldar lukkuna gist,
       því eg hefi elskað og lifað. (1BTL91)

Bjarni left the last words of his two stanzas unrhymed (augum/lifað), perhaps on the assumption that Schiller, too, had done this (i.e., that Schiller's impure rhyme getrübet/geliebet) was no rhyme at all).

In 1824 Bjarni produced two original poems imitating the meter of Schiller's "Des Mädchens Klage," first "Kötlukvísl" (1BTL127-9), then "Vorvísa við leiði Geirs Vídalíns" (1BTL133-4; on the relative dating of the two poems see 2BTL140, 144.) In both poems he follows the stanza layout of the Piccolomini version. In "Kötlukvísl" he rhymes the final lines of stanza pairs; in "Vorvísa" he does not.

Jónas, too, adopts this stanza layout in the translation of Schiller's "Des Mädchens Klage" that he attributes to Hildur in "Gathering Highland Moss," even though — since he translates the entire poem, not just the two Piccolomini stanzas — he must have been aware of the fact that he was departing from the layout of Schiller's original. When Jónas read the translation aloud to the Fjölnir Society on 4 February 1843, he noted that his poem had been "directly translated from Schiller" ("beinlínis útlagt eftir Schiller"), "but he said that the form had been altered slightly on the model of Bjarni [Thorarensen]" ("en bragarhættinum sagði hann að breitt væri nokkuð 'ad modum' Bjarna Amtmanns" [32Eim270]). It seems likely that what Jónas is referring to here is his decision to adopt Bjarni's stanza layout, probably as exemplified in the famous "Kötlukvísl." It is a good deal less likely that — as Jónas's most recent editors have thought (see 1D394, 4E122) — he is referring to the fact that in his first two lines he deliberately echoes the first two lines of "Kötlukvísl" ("Drynur und' fjallsrótum, dimm eru ský / döpur er sunna, en náfölum í" etc.), since what is at issue here is form (bragarháttur) and not content.

17 As will be seen from what is said in the preceding note, it might conceivably be argued that Hildur's rhyme failure is a deliberate imitation of what Jónas (like Bjarni) took to be a defective rhyme in Schiller (or perhaps even an imitation of Bjarni's practice in "Vorvísa"). If this is so, however, it is odd that the rhyme failure in Hildur's poem occurs not between the first pair of stanzas, which is where it occurs in both Schiller's poem and Bjarni's translation, but between the second pair — where it is totally disastrous, since the full rhyme between the first pair sets up a strong expectation of full rhyme between the second.

18 Here is the text of the revised version (which also contains a number of other changes that serve to make it more sophisticated and "literary" than Hildur's version):


(Frumkvæðið er eftir Schiller: "Der Eichwald brauset.")

Dunar í trjálundi, dimm þjóta ský,
döpur situr smámeyja hvamminum í;
bylgjurnar skella svo ótt svo ótt,
öndinni varpar á koldimmri nótt
brjóstið af grátekka bifað.

"Heimur er tómur or hjartað er dautt,
helstirnað brjóstið og löngunarsnautt.
Heilaga1! kalla mig héðan í frá,
hef eg þess notið sem jarðlífið á,
því eg hefi elskað og lifað."

""Tárin að ónýtu falla á fold,
fá hann ei vakið er sefur í mold;
segðu hvað hjartanu huggunar fær,
horfinnar ástar er söknuður slær;
guðsmóðir vill þér það veita.""

"Tárin að ónýtu falli á fold,
fái' hann ei vakið er sefur í mold.
Mjúkasta hjartanu hugganin er,
horfinnar ástar er söknuður sker,
á harminum hjartað að þreyta." (6F34)


1) María, guðsmóðir. [Jónas's note]

19 Hildur downplays her activity as a poet and does not want word of it to get around: "I'm not the least bit interested in having it known that I dabble in poetry! It's never been regarded as much of an ornament in women." The widespread (and arrogant) male prejudice she alludes to here does not seem to have been shared by the Fjölnismenn. It is interesting to note (and perhaps relevant) that Guðný Jónsdóttir frá Klömbrum (b. 1804) died in the summer of 1836, about the time when Jónas's story may have been written. Tómas Sæmundsson, in his "Review of the Year 1836" printed in the third issue of Fjölnir, says: "It is our duty to remember one woman among the various individuals who died this year, for although little notice was paid to her (as is generally the fate of women), both her lot in life and her talent deserve more consideration than is usually the case in Iceland. . . . In order to demonstrate her talent, nothing more is necessary than this poem, which she composed. . .shortly before her death." Here Tómas cites the eleven stanzas of Guðný's moving "Endurminningin er svo glögg" (3FII/30-2), which is thought to be the second poem by an Icelandic woman ever printed. It is highly significant that the Fjölnir circle should have recognized and publicized Guðný's merit.

20 See RGL8.

21 See the society's minute-book (as printed in 32 and 33Eim), passim.

22 I.e., "hvorvidt det er nödvendilegt, at et Digt oversættes i samme Versart, hvori det er skrevet." Repp's essay was published in 1824 as En undersögelse henhörende til metriken og den empirische sprogphilosophie. See Andrew Wawn, The Anglo Man: Þorleifur Repp, Philology and Nineteenth Century Britain, Studia Islandica 49 (Reykjavík: Bókaútgáfa Menningarsjóðs, 1991), 40-7, 231, 260.

23 It is possible that Jónas is thinking of the second canto ("Náttúrulyst" ["Joy of Nature"]) of Eggert Ólafsson's Búnaðarbálkur (Rural Cantos), a poem with which he was thoroughly familiar. One of Eggert's main themes, there, is how God "the giver" (gjafarinn) provides for all his creatures and how they express their gratitude. As his central example, related at considerable length, Eggert takes the birds. "Food and drink are set on their table and each of them loudly sings his table-hymn (borðsálmur)." "They praise God who gave them food." "Oh, those beautiful feathered beasts! Happiness and delight abide with them," Eggert's narrator sighs. "Oh, that I lived in such bliss, pure and innocent as those feathered creatures, free from sorrows and adversity."

Jónas may have felt that this was a somewhat Panglossian view of the life of birds and set out to correct it. He was always extremely conscious of the difficulties facing birds, from an early poem like "A Hard Spring" (1829) to the late and extremely bleak "Moon Island" (1845).

24 Matthías Þórðarson reports that in a now-lost manuscript there supposedly stood a statement to the effect that Jónas's translation of "Des Mädchens Klage" was made on 10 March 1841 (1D393). Since it is not known whether this putative manuscript was written in Jónas's own hand, nor whether its text agreed with the version of the translation in "Gathering Highland Moss" or the version published in Fjölnir, it is not possible to determine its bearing (if any) on the date of the prose piece.

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

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