Spring and Fall
Vorið góða, grænt og hlýtt
Brimming springtime brings from sleep
Thrushes warble, throats aglow,
|Date:||March/April 1845 (see KJH3l5).|
|Form:||Two four-line stanzas of alternating four-stress and three-stress lines rhyming aBaB and with the alliteration pattern 22 (ferskeytt óbreytt).|
|Manuscript:||KG 31 b I, a rough draft (facsimile KJH248-9; image) and KG 31 a II, a fair copy (facsimile KJH254; image), neither with a title.|
|First published:||1847 (A215; image) under the title "Vorvísur" ("Spring Stanzas").|
|Sound recording:||Signý Sæmundsdóttir sings "Vorið góða, grænt og hlýtt" (the tune is by Atli Heimir Sveinsson). Source: Atli Heimir Sveinsson, Jónasarlög (Mál og menning MM-005; used with permission). [1:11]|
Commentary: The annual sheep roundup in Iceland (göngurnar) took place in autumn (mid- to late September). It was (and still is) the most important agricultural activity of the fall in rural districts and the most significant social event. Wethers and lambs that had ranged widely in the hills all summer had to be located, herded together, and driven down to the valleys to be sheared and slaughtered. For men and boys who took part in this activity, it meant an adventurous outing in the autumn highlands lasting as long as a week (see 1FEÓ123 and Íþh87sq).
Jónas's poem is an extremely free adaptation of the sixth of the Katharina poems in Heine's Neue Gedichte. Comparison of Heine's original and Jónas's adaptation suggests a good deal about the different sensibilities of the two poets and the very different uses they make of irony. The theme of Heine's poem is how the blossoming and fading of love is synchronized with the seasons of the year:
Der Frühling schien schon an dem Thor
Mich freundlich zu erwarten.
Die ganze Gegend steht im Flor
Als wie ein Blumengarten.
Die Liebste sitzt an meiner Seit'
Im rasch hinrollenden Wagen;
Sie schaut mich an voll Zärtlichkeit,
Ihr Herz, das fühl' ich schlagen.
Das trillert und duftet so sonnenvergnügt!
Das blinkt im grünen Geschmeide!
Sein weißes Blüthenköpfchen wiegt
Der junge Baum mit Freude.
Die Blumen schaun aus der Erd' hervor,
Betrachten, neugierigen Blickes,
Das schöne Weib, das ich erkor,
Und mich, den Mann des Glückes.
Vergängliches Glück! schon morgen klirrt
Die Sichel über den Saaten,
Der holde Frühling verwelken wird,
Der Weib wird mich verraten. (2HHS61-2)
In the first six lines of his adaptation, Jónas borrows various hints about springtime from Heine's first four stanzas, adapts them to Icelandic conditions, and jettisons the love theme. In his last two lines Jónas's attention — like Heine's attention in his final stanza — turns from spring to autumn. Both poems exhibit a Heinesque "change of mood" (Stimmungsbruch) at this point. But whereas Heine thinks of autumn as a sad season because it signals the end of spring (and love), Jónas says he prefers autumn — and prefers it even in the midst of spring. The subject of Jónas's poem is therefore, to a very considerable extent, the familiar human inclination to be dissatisfied with the present, no matter how fulfilling, and to look forward to a future that is altogether the projection of memory. Jónas's irony, here, is obviously of a very different order than Heine's. And we probably do not go astray if we hear, as an undercurrent in Jónas's poem, the even darker irony that finds explicit statement in W. B. Yeats's poem "The Wheel":
Through winter-time we call on spring,
And through the spring on summer call,
And when abounding hedges ring
Declare that winter's best of all;
And after that there's nothing good
Because the spring-time has not come —
Nor know that what disturbs our blood
Is but its longing for the tomb.1
Jónas's poem is often sung to a tune by Mendelssohn. But Bjarni Þorsteinsson prints the first stanza with the following tune
and goes on to say: "I learned this tune in 1897 from the aged Páll Melsteð, who referred to it as the tune to which the poet Jónas Hallgrímsson used to sing his poems [kvæðalag Jónasar Hallgrímssonar skálds]. He said furthermore that it had been known earlier as the 'tune of the men of Eyjafjörður.' Jónas himself was from Eyjafjörður" (see Íþl876 and 574).
1 The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1956), p. 208.