9. A Toast to Iceland (Íslands minni)

Title page lithograph from Gaimard atlas, small version.
[larger image/full caption]


A Toast to Iceland

Íslands minni

Our land of lakes forever fair
below blue mountain summits,
of swans, of salmon leaping where
the silver water plummets,
of glaciers swelling broad and bare
above earth's fiery sinews —
the Lord pour out his largess there
as long as earth continues!

Þið þekkið fold með blíðri brá,
og bláum tindi fjalla,
og svanahljómi, silungsá,
og sælu blómi valla,
og bröttum fossi, björtum sjá
og breiðum jökulskalla —
drjúpi' hana blessun drottins á
um daga heimsins alla.

Date:Late April 1839.
Form:One stanza of alternating four-stress and three-stress lines rhyming aBaBaBaB and with the alliteration pattern 2222 (the translation rhymes aBaBaCaC).
Manuscript:JS 402 4to (facsimile KJH76; image).
First published:26 April 1839 on a single sheet for distribution at the banquet in honor of Þorgeir Guðmundsson (see below); it bears the title "Íslands minni."

Color image of pamphlet page, small version.
[larger image/full caption]

"A Toast to Iceland" (first edition).

Commentary:        The poem was composed to be sung at a banquet held on 26 April 1839 in honor of Reverend Þorgeir Guðmundsson (1794-1871).1 Þorgeir was one of the senior members of the Icelandic community in Copenhagen, where he had been living for almost twenty years. As president of the Copenhagen Division of the Icelandic Literary Society between 1831 and 1839, he had supported the development of Björn Gunnlaugsson's great map of Iceland in the face of considerable opposition (ÍbS40-1); he had also acted as publisher of some of the most important contributions to Icelandic cultural, spiritual, and political life: works that had a deep effect on the development and thought of Jónas Hallgrímsson. Among the most important of these works were Jón Þorláksson's translation of Paradise Lost (1828) and Baldvin Einarsson's journal Ármann á alþingi (1829-32). Þorgeir had recently published an Icelandic translation of J. P. Mynster's Reflections on the Principal Points of Christian Faith which he had commissioned from Jónas, Konráð Gíslason and Brynjólfur Pétursson. He had also been directly responsible, two months previously, for the composition of one of Jónas's most important poems, "To Mr. Paul Gaimard".

Þorgeir was leaving Copenhagen, now, to take up his new duties as pastor of Gloslunde and Græshave on the Danish island of Lolland. As a token of his esteem and affection, Jónas composed no fewer than three poems to be printed and sung at the banquet in his honor. The three constitute a sort of triptych, varying widely in tone and emphasis: "The Icelanders' Farewell to Reverend Þorgeir Guðmundsson" (not translated here) is a lilting, lyrical, highly personal address to the man it celebrates, full of warmth and affection. The present poem, "A Toast to Iceland," is a soaring hymn to the country and its natural beauty. And "Table Hymn" is a sharp and racy — but good-humored — attack on the faults and foibles of Jónas's fellow Icelanders. It would be interesting to know in what order the three poems were sung at the banquet.

"A Toast to Iceland" has always been very popular as a song in Iceland and Matthías Þórðarson was of the opinion that it — and not Matthías Jochumsson's "Lofsöngur" ("Song of Praise") — ought to be the country's national anthem (5DXC).


1 Konráð Gíslason and Brynjólfur Pétursson stated mistakenly that the poem was written to be sung at the banquet for Paul Gaimard (see A176), but Matthías Þórðarson showed it was intended for the banquet for Þorgeir Guðmundsson (1D336).

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

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