Jonas Hallgrimsson

The Lay of Hulda

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No poet I. Yet here is Hulda calling,
hailing me gently, urging me to sing,
to share my song with shadows gently falling
and shepherds driving flocks from pasturing,
while tumbled waters wash the hills' foundations
and wake the elves to nighttime occupations.

My heart is sad. The evening vapors eddy
upward to veil the chilly falls and me.
But soon Flint Mountains' peaks will pour forth steady
pastoral song, like curlews' melody,
flooding the hills and highlands so completely
that Hulda will be wooed to kiss me sweetly.

Oh sunbright lass! my life and soul forever!
Slip from the purple heights where you reside!
Here, far below the lofty cliffs you favor,
linger a moment by your comrade's side!
Your beauty, dewed with dusk, will make me fonder
as daylight fades and ghosts begin to wander.

What must be kept a secret? All our anguish,
which only brings us scorn if poorly hid.
What must be treasured? Lofty aims that languish
unless we cherish them as Eggert did.
He found our monstrous misery so galling
he made "to educate the land" his calling.

Educate! But who thinks of education?
Everyone here is custom's mindless slave.
Dead are the poems that adorned our nation,
now doggerelists and caterwaulers rave ---
sheepsheads who fill the land with fatuous bleating
the foolish people cannot help repeating.

My mocking language makes poor Hulda tearful
and must not soil these verses any more.
But send those wretched rhapsodists some fearful
retribution, Njörður, Freyr, and Thor!
May every god they smirch with gabbling verses
grimace with rage and drown their souls in curses.

Oh sunbright lass! I have no thought of laughter,
looking on one who spread his sails off Skor,
never to know an hour on earth thereafter.
Oh Eggert, have you sought our land once more,
moved to commune with us in our bereavement,
a moral hero armed in bright achievement?

Hulda! The world is life and ghost and glory,
with God in different shapes in different souls,
wherever blossoms chant their blazing story
or battered whales lie dying in the shoals,
wherever souls ascend to truth or near it ---
he saw all this, whom we behold in spirit.1

Eggert! you were your people's proudest treasure,
the peerless light and glory of the land.
Oh blessèd moment! if your footsteps measure
once more the plains along our ocean strand!
Oh sunbright lass, with longing and devotion
he looks around him, salt-stained from the ocean.

Why has this great heroic soul decided
to seek our darkened shores and leave the deep?
When once their daytime dreams have all subsided,
the dead enjoy eternities of sleep.
Yet here is Eggert --- wide awake --- returning
to walk the land for which his soul was burning.

My Hulda! pearls of ardent passion quiver
upon your lashes, glittering through your hair.
Oh sunbright lass, your lustrous gaze has never
looked on a hero more sublimely fair!
Your eyes are fixed with love and admiration
on Eggert, steadfast pillar of his nation.

Eggert! how glorious your gait, your features!
Grievous and long your exile in the sea.
Come to me, father, come to all your creatures,
and kiss our Hulda's soil on bended knee.
Oh sunbright lass, with longing and devotion
he looks around him, salt-stained from the ocean!

Ah yes, you love him. Yet I feel no sorrow.
You are love's deity, and love is free.
But let me sit beside you till tomorrow
when the sun rises from the weeping sea.
Incline your head and let your lustrous tresses
lie on my breast --- and grant me chaste caresses.

He looks around, but all the land is resting.
Our loving Mother stills the hills and fjords,
the fish in drowsing rivers, ravens nesting,
the rich in beds of down, the poor on boards.
He looks and listens, hears the nightwind calling,
the lapping waves, the distant waters falling.

Hulda! restrain your tears, and let your tresses
trail on my breast, exulting, free from pain.
For now we know what all the world confesses:
nothing that Eggert did was done in vain!
A thriving spirit wakes within our nation,
thanks to his work of love and dedication.

With step so still that not a soul can hear it
he strides along. A thousand blossoms smile,
forgoing sleep to gladden Eggert's spirit.
He gazes at them tenderly a while.
The flowers of Iceland found his absence grievous;
"Eggert," they whisper, "stay and never leave us!"


"You star-strewn flowers that flash and shine,
filling the meadows everywhere!
Blue and red daisy --- dandelion ---
what dazzling memories we share!
Long may you deck this gorgeous land
a living God formed with his hand
and set here with its smiling meads
to satisfy all human needs.

"Lights of the moors! the man who strides
among you is your dearest friend.
You were my lodestars, living guides ---
I lingered with you hours on end.
Now I dwell in the icy deep
where dim little beings ooze and creep.
The world is one, and all things bear
witness to life, both here and there.

"Father and Friend of all that lives!
Foster this land in sun and shower,
blessing it, for your blessing gives
beauty and grace to every flower.
Bright little buttercup, go to sleep!
Bundle your leaves up, slumber deep,
drowsing through all the dewy night
in dreams of peace and returning light.

"You star-strewn blossoms, red and blue,
blazing away in every glen,
God has given more than a few
gifts to Iceland! But foolish men ---
treating them with contempt --- do not
tend or improve this garden plot,
loathe to admit, or realize,
they live in an earthly paradise."

Hulda! your clutching fingers clasp me tighter,
quaking in mine. Your tears descend in showers ---
you who make every field in Iceland brighter,
whose elfin home is always red with flowers!
Eggert could never feel that you offended ---
his fields have been most diligently tended.

But look! his image leaves the meadows, gliding
along the fertile plains he knew so well.
Upright and energetic he goes striding,
eager to visit farms where people dwell,
hurrying to behold them and know clearly
how the men live he toiled for so sincerely.

He sees a sight to gladden and astound him:
a smiling farmstead, trim and tidy, where
a kinsman lives, his loving family round him,
leading a model life and free from care,
pattern of trust and patient joy, possessing
the peace of God and every noble blessing.

Realized here in actual operation
are all the hopes the poet once expressed
writing his Rural Cantos for our nation,
his rhapsody of farm life at its best.
Oh sunbright lass! behold the hero faring
home to the farm, with triumph in his bearing!

Orange and opalescent dawn is wheeling
over the highlands, washed by distant seas.
The ocean sends a scented zephyr stealing
softly across the fields, a gentle breeze.
Could earth, our Mother, love her morning clearness
more than I loved my Hulda's nightlong nearness?

Hulda, farewell! Though hidden from me always,
you haunt my spirit every living day.
Farewell! for waves of daylight flood the valleys,
the waterfall is urging you away,
curling its coils of spray around your shoulders,
calling you home to sleep among its boulders.

Hulda! though morn forever mounts the highlands,
making night's phantoms vanish at a bound,
may you not cease to fill the moors and islands
with myriad forms, wherever life is found ---
and death --- those designations framed by creatures
who dream about, but never see, your features.

(going to his flock, singing):

"That was our Eggert Ólafsson,
ardent and young and very wise,
happy with hope when --- summer done ---
hideous blizzards lashed the skies.
Later, when spring's beguiling glow
gladdened the earth and thinned the snow,
he celebrated man and maid
in merry songs that cannot fade.

"He sang of flowers and their flirting words,
the foolish sheep that roam about,
the bashful darting of the birds,
the brisk zigzags of tiny trout;
mostly he sang of sunny farms,
safe from injustices and harms,
where wise old farmers and their wives
watch over others' precious lives.

"That was our Eggert Ólafsson,
honored and loved and truly good;
Iceland has never sired a son
who served her better, or ever could.
Once he abandoned us to woe;
wiser and braver, now, we know
he has reached the port of peace, and trod
paths of light by the grace of God."

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Jonas Hallgrimsson