41. Moon Island (Ég uni mér ekki' út í Máney)

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

Moon River and the Moon River Islands.

Moon Island

Ég uni mér ekki' út í Máney

recording available

I just don't enjoy Moon Island,
jolly though it can be
when boisterous breakers wallop
the beach right next to me.

Farther away, wee fledglings
flop in the sea and drown:
surf makes the sea-cliff shudder
and sends eggs pattering down.

I hate it here on Moon Island,
but I have to stay, you see,
with my ribcage ripped to pieces
when the rockslide fell on me.

Ég uni mér ekki' út í Máney,
og er hún þó skemmtileg;
brimaldan ber þar og lemur
bjargið á annan veg.

Og hins vegar ungar hrjóta
úr hreiðrum með nef og stél,
og eggin velta' öll oní grjótið,
af því hún hristist svo vel.

Ég uni mér ekki' út í Máney
og á þó að dveljast hér;
því ég er bringubrotinn
úr bjarginu hrundi að mér.

Form:Three stanzas, each containing four three-stress lines with the rhyme scheme AbCb and the alliteration pattern 22.
Manuscript:KG 31 a II, where it has no title (facsimile KJH278; image).
First published:1847 (A236; image) under the title "Máney" ("Moon Island").
Sound recording:Norman Gilliland reads "Moon Island." recording available [0:31]

Commentary:        There is no Moon Island (Máney) in Iceland. But there is a Moon River (Máná) on Tjörnes in the north and two islands called the Moon River Islands (Mánáreyjar) five sea miles off its mouth. Jónas never visited these islands. But he will have seen them from shipboard, presumably fairly close up, when leaving Akureyri in September 1837 (2E285) and again when approaching it in June 1839 (2E316). In the latter summer he spent several days travelling on Tjörnes (2E317) and no doubt glimpsed the islands again.1 Both islands are very rich in bird life, and in his parish description (1842) Rev. Þorgrímur Arnórsson says that large numbers of puffins are netted there in the spring (ÞSs188, 192).

It may have been the name of these islands, and their remoteness and isolation, that kindled Jónas's imagination.2 Although his own observation could have furnished him with all the details in the poem, it is worth noting that in one of the earlier accounts of Iceland with which he was closely familiar — Ólafur Olavius's Oeconomisk Reise (1780) — he will have come across the following passage about Horn Crag (the subject of the second of the twelve poems in By Land and Sea):

The few farmers [who live nearby] cannot possibly gather all the birds and birds' eggs that are found in these two enormous sea-cliffs, Hornbjarg and Hælavíkurbjarg — Hornbjarg by itself is a mile and a half long [one Danish mile = about 7.5 kilometers] — and they are even less able to take advantage, at the same time, of all the birds lying dead on the beach below the cliff, killed by the "stone-shower," i.e., by rocks falling down from above. There is so much of this falling rock that men have to be constantly on the alert for it, even when they are out in boats a little way offshore. (ÓOF168-9)

In Icelandic folklore, there are many accounts of people who have "lost their lives in tragic accidents, dying of exposure, or drowning, or meeting their end in some other way, unknown to their fellow men. Such persons not infrequently appear to relatives or friends in dreams and describe — usually in poetry — what caused their deaths or what the present condition of their bodies is" (1Íþs221; see also ibid. 221-6 and 522, 3Íþs302-6, and 6Íþm366). For example a farmer who froze to death one evening in a blizzard appeared at his wife's window later that night to complain (in a skáhend ferskeytla, no less):

Troll winds blow and tumbling snow
turns my marrow rotten.
I see, today, why proverbs say:
"How soon a man's forgotten!" (1Íþs223 and 4Íþs110)

The sardonic world of "Moon Island" is very different from the lyrical world of "The Lay of Hulda," where benign Nature presides over life and death while behind her stands the God who loves and cares for his creatures. On Moon Island, nature is savagely spendthrift of life, both man and beast, and the God whose "eye is on the sparrow" seems very far away indeed.


1 The suggestion that he had the Danish island of Mön in mind (see 46TMm426) seems most unlikely, since all the other poems in By Land and Sea deal with Icelandic locales.

2 No one was more aware than Jónas of the plasticity of place names and the stories associated with them. He had invented both names and stories before, when it suited his purpose.

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

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