8. To Mr. Paul Gaimard (Til herra Páls Gaimard)

Portrait of Paul Gaimard, small version.
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Title page of Gaimard expedition's report, small version.
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Paul Gaimard.

The Gaimard expedition's report.

Lithograph of expedition party, small version.
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Lithograph of Mount Hekla, small version.
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Approaching the destination.

Mount Hekla from Selsund.

Color image of pamphlet page, small version.
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"To Mr. Paul Gaimard" (first edition).

To Mr. Paul Gaimard
at a Banquet of Icelanders in Copenhagen

Til herra Páls Gaimard
í samsæti Íslendinga í Kaupmannahöfn

recording available

Standing on Hekla's stony height
you stared at braided rivers gleaming
over the peaceful plains and streaming
out to an ocean broad and bright,
while Loki lurked among the boulders
lying beneath the mountain's shoulders —
were you not awed by Iceland then,
this ancient realm of crag and glen?

Riding a steed of rugged stock
you roamed through many an upland valley,
pausing where tumbling torrents dally
dimly with dwellers in the rock,
while high in steep and stony passes
straggle-haired sheep ate fragrant grasses —
were you not awed by Iceland then,
this ageless land of moor and fen?

Looking on lava's vast extent
along the stream where chieftains hosted
back in the days when Iceland boasted
her proud and ancient parliament
(its towering tents are long forgotten,
their turf foundations wrecked and rotten) —
did you not ache for Iceland then,
openly shamed before all men?

Here, beneath Copenhagen's towers,
a host from Iceland greets you, knowing
Frenchmen will never fail in showing
love for a land as free as ours,
where liberty still laughs and dances
though lamed by tyrannous circumstances,
and all its natives need or want
is nourishment from wisdom's font.

Progress depends on truth and lore.
Patient research, pursued with rigor,
restores a people's stagnant vigor,
bringing them boons unknown before.
Therefore we place supreme reliance
upon the work of men of science,
who toil up pathways never trod
to tend the holy flame of God.

Honor to you, Paul, evermore!
Honor for your immense successes
drawing from nature's dim recesses
puzzles and prodigies galore!
Well-earned renown was never clearer;
never has guest of ours been dearer!
God be your aid in all you do —
Iceland will long remember you

Þú stóðst á tindi Heklu hám
og horfðir yfir landið fríða,
þar sem um grænar grundir líða
skínandi ár að ægi blám;
en Loki bundinn beið í gjótum
bjargstuddum undir jökulrótum —
þótti þér ekki Ísland þá
yfirbragðsmikið til að sjá?

Þú reiðst um fagran fjalladal
á fáki vökrum götu slétta,
þar sem við búann brattra kletta
æðandi fossar eiga tal,
þar sem að una hátt í hlíðum
hjarðir á beit1 með lagði síðum —
þótti þér ekki Ísland þá
íbúum sínum skemmtan ljá?

Þú komst á breiðan brunageim
við bjarta vatnið fiskisæla,
þar sem við áður áttum hæla
frístjórnarþingi frægu' um heim;
nú er þar þrotin þyrping tjalda,
þögult og dapurt hraunið kalda —
þótti þer ekki Ísland þá
alþingi svipt með hrellda brá?

Nú heilsar þér á Hafnarslóð
heiman af Fróni vina flokkur;
við vitum glöggt að anntu okkur,
frakkneskur maður frjálsri þjóð;
því andinn lifir æ hinn sami,
þótt afl og þroska nauðir lami.
Menntanna brunni að bergja á
besta skal okkur hressing ljá.

Vísindin efla alla dáð,
orkuna styrkja, viljann hvessa,
vonina glæða, hugann hressa,
farsældum vefja lýð og láð;
tífaldar þakkir því ber færa
þeim sem að guðdómseldinn skæra
vakið og glætt og verndað fá
viskunnar helga fjalli á.

Þvílíkar færum þakkir vér
þér, sem úr fylgsnum náttúrunnar,
gersemar, áður aldrei kunnar,
með óþreytanda afli ber.
Heill sé þér Páll! og heiður bestur!
hjá oss sat aldrei kærri gestur.
Alvaldur greiði æ þinn stig!
Ísland skal lengi muna þig.

Date:Mid-January 1839.
Form:Six stanzas, each containing eight four-stress lines rhyming aBBaCCdd and with the alliteration pattern 21122.
Manuscript:Ny kgl. samling 3282 4to, which a note by Páll Melsteð dates to 11 January 1839 (facsimile KJH73-5; image).
First published:16 January 1839 in a pamphlet that had been specially printed for distribution at the Gaimard banquet (image) (facsimile in Chants Islandais); it bears the title "Til herra Páls Gaimard í samsæti Íslendinga í Kaupmannahöfn."
Sound recording:Dick Ringler reads "To Mr. Paul Gaimard." recording available [2:10]

Commentary:        The distinguished French naturalist Paul Gaimard (1793-1858) paid his first visit to Iceland in the summer of 1835 and returned the following summer at the head of a scientific expedition lavishly funded and outfitted by the French government. This expedition — La Commission scientifique de Islande et de Groënland — consisted (in addition to Gaimard himself) of a physicist and cartographer (Victor Lottin), a linguist and literary man (Xavier Marmier), an artist (Auguste Mayer), a geologist (Eugène Robert), a meteorologist (Raoul Anglès) and a depicter of animals (Louis Bévalet). According to Benedikt Gröndal, "Gaimard's expedition is the most famous of its kind ever to visit Iceland" (4BGR299).

Gaimard and his six associates, with 48 horses and numerous Icelandic attendants, set out from Reykjavík on 20 June 1836 and circled the country counterclockwise, arriving back in Reykjavík at the end of August.2

The following spring Jónas and his colleagues published a glowing account of the expedition in the third issue of Fjölnir (3FII/21-5).3 The portions of this account quoted below provide valuable insight into how Jónas and his colleagues viewed the Gaimard expedition, and also illuminate a number of statements in Jónas's poem.

Tómas writes that in the course of their travels around Iceland, Gaimard and his associates

collected specimens of everything that struck them as characteristic or impressed them as being able, somehow, to give a clear idea of the quality, nature, and condition of the country and the customs of its inhabitants in both ancient and modern times. They either carried back to France with them — or else shipped off from market towns along their route — samples of the most important types of soils, rocks, and plants they encountered, as well as household articles, clothing, antiquities, artifacts, and everything else imaginable.

Wherever he came, Dr. Gaimard, who led the expedition, was universally admired, thanks to his kindliness and other endearing qualities. He was extremely adroit at adapting himself to the conditions of our country and making the best of everything: tenacious and full of stamina on the road, capable of dealing with any crisis, and skilled at leading the expedition in such a way that it achieved its aim as fully as anyone could possibly have hoped. He organized everything himself and had total authority and responsibility. It was hard to believe the man ever ate or slept, so utter was his involvement in every aspect of the expedition. Even while riding on horseback he almost always had pen in hand.

"Never before has our land been studied with such sophisticated equipment, such learning, such exactitude," Tómas wrote.4 And he added:

There is absolutely no doubt that we shall soon see published a work about our country that will be more remarkable — not only in content, but in outward appearance — than anything we have ever seen before. (3FII/22-4)

Tómas's expectations were not disappointed. The official report of the Gaimard expedition5 was published in Paris between 1838 and 1852 in eight volumes of text and one of geological illustrations, all in octavo format, plus three large and sumptuously produced folio volumes of lithographs. The first two of these (Atlas historique) contain pictures of the expedition itself and the places it visited, as well as drawings of antiquities and portraits of Gaimard and a number of Icelanders. The third folio volume (Atlas zoologique, médical et géographique) contains pictures of animals, additional portraits of Icelanders (including eight victims of leprosy), and maps of Reykjavík, Skálholt, and Geysir. Voyage en Islande et au Groënland is the most elaborate single work ever published about Iceland: "There will never be another like it," Gröndal thought (4BGR297).

As the expedition made its way around the country in 1836, its official artist, the landscape painter Auguste Mayer (1805-1890), made many sketches of its scenery, its people, and their customs and living conditions. The sketches were subsequently used as the basis for the lithographs published in 1842 in the Atlas historique. These pictures — "genuine works of art," according to Gröndal (4BGR297) — remain today the single most important source of visual information about life in Iceland in Jónas Hallgrímsson's time. A number of them are reproduced in the present work.6

In January 1839 Gaimard, en route from Lapland and Spitzbergen back to France, stopped off in Copenhagen, where the Icelandic community honored him with a banquet on 16 January. Jónas was asked to write one of the four poems composed for Gaimard and sung on this occasion.7 An account of the poem's composition, and its reception both at the banquet and afterward, is given by Gröndal (who says that it is based on the recollections of Páll Melsteð). The day before the banquet, according to Gröndal,

Þorgeir Guðmundsson and another man went round to the Garður to pay a call on Jónas. Páll Melsteð was there at the time. Þorgeir said to Jónas: "We're putting together a banquet for Gaimard tomorrow, so you're really going to have to show what you can do." Jónas made hardly any reply and Þorgeir left.

Later Jónas began pacing the floor, muttering to himself. (Páll was paying hardly any attention.) Suddenly Jónas sat down, dashed off the first three stanzas [of the poem], then flung down the pen with the words, "Damned if I can write any more!"

But by the middle of the next day the poem had appeared from the print shop in published form. (4BGR299n)8

Gröndal thought it "one of the loveliest poems ever written in the Icelandic language" (4BGR299). It was sung for Gaimard at the banquet and Páll Melsteð translated it into Latin for him:9

He was greatly moved, and tears of pleasure and delight came to his eyes when he realized the honor he was being shown. . . . Jónas's poem quickly made its way out to Iceland, where people memorized it almost involuntarily and it was sung everywhere, because it stirred everyone to the soul. . . . It is unquestionably one of the poems that have done most to awaken the people of Iceland. (4BGR300)

When composing "To Mr. Paul Gaimard," Jónas seems to have had in mind the dramatic account of Gaimard's ascent of Hekla published in Paris, only a few months after it had taken place, by the expedition's literary scholar and chief publicist, Xavier Marmier (1809-1892).10 Marmier says that from the moment he and the other members of the expedition arrived in Iceland, climbing Hekla had been their most cherished ambition ("notre rêve le plus beau").11 The actual ascent (on 28 June) proved very challenging, exhausting the group's most experienced climbers. When they reached the summit, with Gaimard in the lead, it was snowing and the view was obscured by clouds (2VIG214). But suddenly the clouds parted and the sun broke through. Marmier ratchets excitedly into the present tense:

At our feet the plain rolls away far into the distance, with lakes of crystal water scattered across its green robe like diamonds and two rivers meandering through it like garlands. In the midst of the valley is the blue mountain near Geysir, and in front of us — on the horizon — we behold the open sea, coruscating with light like a belt of gold, and the Westman Islands.

We were overcome by feelings of inarticulate awe in the presence of so sudden a spectacle. It was the springtime of this desolate nature. It was the fiat lux of this night of chaos.12

It is this dramatic moment, remembered from Marmier's account, and deliberately echoing Marmier's language, that Jónas wished to conjure up in the first stanza of his poem.

It is hard to imagine a more satisfactory opening for the poem than its portrait of Paul Gaimard standing atop Mount Hekla. It flattered Gaimard (appropriately enough) with memories of that triumphant moment and also served to introduce Jónas's central theme. For "To Mr. Paul Gaimard" is a hymn to the scientific spirit and scientific achievement — and what better symbol could Jónas have found for the triumph of science over ignorance and superstition, than the ascent of Hekla? Surely he remembered, when he composed the poem, that the first known ascent of Hekla had been made in 1750 by his own hero and alter ego Eggert Ólafsson, whose climb had been motivated — at least in part — by a desire to plant the flag of science on Hekla's summit and thus confound the widespread ancient superstition that regarded this volcano's crater as one of the mouths of hell.

And there is still another dimension to this complex poem. Benedikt Gröndal was convinced — no doubt rightly — that it showed the influence of Sigurður Breiðfjörð's "Fjöllin á Fróni" ("Hvað fögur er mín feðrajörð"). Gröndal points out that Sigurður's piece had been printed only two years before Jónas composed his poem for Gaimard, was sung to the same tune, and showed considerable convergence in subject matter.13 It also uses the same stanza form and rhyme scheme (aBBaCCdd). Nothing shows more clearly the remarkable gifts of diction, tone, and fluidity that Jónas brought to Icelandic verse, than a comparison of these two poems in the original.14


1 The reading here in both manuscript and first publication is "hjarðir kátar" (with "kátar" in the manuscript written above cancelled "feitar"). In 1847, however, after Jónas's death, his friends Brynjólfur Pétursson and Konráð Gíslason printed "hjarðir á beit" (A173), explaining, "we knew the author had made this change" (ibid, IV). Jónas must have been bothered by the metrical anomalousness of his original line, which begins with the pattern  /  ⏑  /  ⏑ , whereas in the rest of the poem only  ⏑  /  ⏑  / or  /  ⏑  ⏑  / are permitted.

2 Two of the expedition's members (Lottin and Marmier) accompanied it only as far as Breiðabólsstaður in Fljótshlíð, then returned to Reykjavík to spend the rest of the summer in research there (2VIG219).

3 This account was written by Tómas Sæmundsson, who played host to Gaimard and his companions at Breiðabólsstaður on 1-3 July, a few days after their ascent of Hekla (2VIG218-22).

4 For a more negative assessment of both Gaimard and his expedition, see 3242-51.

5 Voyage en Islande et au Groënland exécuté pendant les années 1835 et 1836 sur la corvette La Recherche, commandée par M. Tréhouart, Lieutenant de Vaisseau, dans le but de découvrir les traces de La Lilloise, publié par ordre du roi sous la direction de M. Paul Gaimard, président de la Commission scientifique d'Islande et de Groënland, 12 vols. (Paris: Arthus Bertrand, éditeur, 1838-52).

6 And all of them can be found reproduced in ÍmM.

7 For a detailed contemporary description of banquets of this kind, including information about who was invited, what expenses were incurred, and — most relevant of all — how poems were procured, accompanied, and sung, see Hafnarstúdentar skrifa heim, Íslenzk sendibréf IV, Finnur Sigmundsson bjó til prentunar (Reykjavík: Bókafellsútgáfan, 1963), pp. 12-3.

8 Like so many anecdotes about Jónas reported by his contemporaries, there is something a little fishy about this one. In the first place, neither Jónas nor Páll Melsteð was living at the Garður in 1839 (though they had indeed shared a room there between 1834 and 1836). In the second place, the anecdote claims that the poem was composed the day before the banquet, i.e., on 15 January. But Páll Melsteð's note in the surviving manuscript states that Jónas wrote it (the manuscript) on 11 January (KJH75), and a letter from Jónas to Finnur Magnússon shows that he knew about the banquet — and was marginally engaged in preparations for it — on 10 January (2E19). All one can say, really, is that while the anecdote probably contains some grains of truth, there is no doubt that it also contains some chaff of fiction. (see further 2NH113-8.)

9 It is worth recording that when Bishop Þórhallur Bjarnarson (1853-1916) was a student in the 1870s, he heard Páll Melsteð say about lines 5-6 of the fourth stanza that Jónas "originally composed the passage this way: 'For the spirit is always one and the same, though the Danes paralyze our vigor and progress [Því andinn lifir æ hinn sami, þótt afl og þroskir Danir lami],' but he changed it before it was recited" (7Nk261).

10 X. Marmier, "Lettres sur l'Islande. II. Le Geyser et l'Hécla," Revue des deux mondes, Quatrième série, Tome septième (15 September 1836), 697-711. Jónas was familiar with this article of Marmier's, which he cites in his Icelandic translation of its account of Geysir and Strokkur (see 4E442-4). If he had not already read the article in Copenhagen soon after its publication, he is likely to have come across it the next summer (1837) when he stayed with Tómas Sæmundsson at Breiðabólsstaður: Tómas was a regular reader of Revue des deux mondes (see TSÆ243). Gaimard and Marmier had enjoyed the hospitality of Breiðabólsstaður for three days in the summer of 1836 and it would have been only natural for Tómas and Jónas to discuss their visit a year later. On the whole subject see further Chants Islandais: Íslenzk kvæði og ræða flutt í veizlu til heiðurs Paul Gaimard í Kaupmannahöfn 16. janúar 1839, Finnbogi Guðmundsson annaðist útgáfuna og ritaði formála ([Reykjavík]: Bókaútgáfan Örn og Örlygur hf., 1986), p. [4] f.

On Marmier's life and his Scandinavian interests and literary connections — which were extensive — see Poul Høybye, H. C. Andersens franske ven Xavier Marmier, Studier fra Sprog- og Oldtidsforskning, Nr. 214 (København: Branner og Korchs Forlag, 1950). Marmier plays an important role in a humorous poem ("Íslendingurinn ætla ég sé") attributed to Jónas by Hannes Hafstein (B389).

11 Marmier, op. cit., 709. Hekla is a famous and still highly active linear strato volcano in south central Iceland. Its eruptions are usually accompanied by violent earthquakes, hence the image (in Jónas's first stanza) of Loki lurking beneath the mountain is intended to suggest its quiescent but still potentially dangerous state when climbed by Gaimard and his party. Jónas derives the image from a famous passage in the Prose Edda, where Snorri Sturluson tells how the gods, to punish Loki for his role in the death of Baldur, seized him and bound him above some rocks in a cave:

Skaði took a poisonous serpent and hung it over his head so that venom from the snake would drop onto his face. Loki's wife Sigyn stands next to him holding a basin to collect the drops of poison. But when the basin is full she goes away to empty it, and meanwhile venom drips in his face. When this happens he writhes so violently that the whole earth trembles. This is what men call "earthquakes." He lies there bound until ragnarök.

See also a passage in "On the Nature and Origin of the Earth".

12 Marmier, op. cit., 711. It is pleasant to report that the Frenchmen, to celebrate their arrival on top of Hekla, popped a bottle of champagne (which they shared with their Icelandic attendants) and sang the Marseillaise. Then they placed a message recording their triumph in the empty bottle and stuck it in the snow at the highest point of the crater (2VIG216).

13 Gröndal is undoubtedly referring to its publication in Ljóda smámunir af Sigurdi Breidfjörd (Poetic Trifles by Sigurður Breiðfjörð) (Kaupmannahöfn: A. O. Thorlacius og Br. Benedictsen, 1836). But as Sigurður himself points out in a note to the poem in this edition, it had in fact been printed earlier ("a bit mangled") as an addendum to his Rímur af Svoldar bardaga (1833).

14 Here, to facilitate such a comparison, is the text of Sigurður's poem, reprinted from Sigurður Breiðfjörð, Ljóðasafn, Sveinbjörn Sigurjónsson sá um útgáfuna, 2 vols. (Reykjavík: Ísafoldarprentsmiðja h.f., 1951-3), I, 69-71:

Fjöllin á Fróni

Hvað fögur er mín feðrajörð,
Fjallkonan gamla, kennd við ísa,
hvar tindar hátt úr hafi rísa,
hvítfölduð teygja jökla börð,
standa und' hettum kristallskláru,
sem kempur, er gyllta hjálma báru,
gnapa fram yfir gljúpan sjá.
Þau geislum hellir sólin á.

Þá Ásaþór sá Íslands fjöll,
á Snæfellsjökli tók hann sæti.
Þau fylltu hetju hug með kæti
og sér til himins otuðu öll.
Sér fram af tindum vötnin veltu,
vina rödd Þór í eyrun helltu.
Þá gengu kempur hans á hönd,
því hetjuöld stóð um Norðurlönd.

Þá vissi eg heyja hildar þrá
hamremmistryllta Íslendinga,
bláklæddir stóðu í brynjum hringa
Gunnar og sterki Grettir þá.
Menn festu konu, en fyrir hana
fengu tíðum á hólmi bana.
Deyjandi munnur orti óð,
þá oddur spjóta í hjarta stóð.

Fornaldarsögu og fræðiljóð
fram þuldu menn í háttum vöndum.
Þar stóðu skáld með hörpu í höndum,
hvar fjandmanns dundi dauða blóð.
Þá voru kvæði í kóngahöllum
kærust metin af leikum öllum.
Vér geymdum þeirra vísnasöfn
um vorra feðra hreysti og nöfn.

Enn grær á vorri ættarjörð
atorka sönn hjá traustum hölum.
Enn er glaðvært í grænum dölum,
hvar gæfusæl sér leikur hjörð.
Enn sjáum lax og silungs fansa
í silfurelfum ljósum dansa.
Fögur er sönglist fugla nóg
um fjörðu, eyjar, dali og skóg.

Í sveitabóndans auga enn
eg ægishjálm hinn sama þekki,
fyrr sem um hætta Hildar stekki
ógndjarfir hvesstu afreksmenn.
Kæta mig augun bláu og blíðu
bændadætranna heima fríðu.
Eins og þá Bragi Iðunn sá,
þær ástir kveikja skáldi hjá.

Heill sé þér, kæra feðrafrón.
Fjöll þín í gegnum eilífð standi.
Þó vötn og eldar veröld grandi,
þau gleðji þinna sona sjón.
Ginnunga upp úr gapi óholla
gráhærða réttu fjallakolla,
svo vér frá Gimli getum sjá,
hvar gamla Ísland forðum lá.

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

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