A Confession

Mamma ætlar að sofna

Seztu hérna hjá mér,
systir mín góð.
Í kvöld skulum við vera
kyrrlát og hljóð.

Í kvöld skulum við vera
kyrrlát af því,
að mamma ætlar að reyna að sofna
rökkrinu í.

Mamma ætlar að sofna.
Mamma er svo þreytt.
-Og sumir eiga sorgir,
sem svefninn getur eytt.

Sumir eiga sorgir,
og sumir eiga þrá,
sem aðeins í draumaheimum
uppfyllast má.

Í kvöld skulum við vera
kyrrlát og hljóð.
Mamma ætlar að sofna,
systir mín góð. 


Mommy is going to sleep

Sit here with me,
good sister.
Tonight we shall be
silent and still.

Tonight we shall be
silent therefore,
mommy is trying to sleep
in the darkness still. 

Mommy is going to sleep.
Mommy is so tired.
-And some people have sorrows,
only sleep can settle. 

Some have sorrows,
and some have desires,
that only the dreamworld
can fulfil.

Tonight we shall be
silent and still.
Mommy is going to sleep,
my good sister.  

I always loved Davíð Stefánsson frá Fagraskógi. He tells wild, wonderful stories in his poetry, stories that I started liking almost as soon as I could read. I snuck into my grandmothers books, books that are now in my possession, and I read his poetry. Everything about the elves, love, deep dark secrets and haunted castles enchanted me. He was a romantic poet, if there ever was one, and a brilliant one if you ask me. 

This poem was never one of my favourites though. I never understood it. This little story of the the little boy (You can tell it’s a boy already in the first verse as the last line would read “kyrrlátar og hljóðar” had it been two girls) making sure his little sister stays quiet while their mother gets some sleep and how acutely this little boy is aware of his mother’s sorrows and longings, whatever they are. 

I can admit that I was always a bit judgmental towards this woman who slept while her little boy took care of his little sister. Why would a grown woman need to sleep while her children were awake? 

I had no problems putting myself in the shoes of the man who walked the wilderness and found a grandly haunted castle and was never the same again. I had no problems understanding the wild Abba-Labba-Lá who trolled the men and did what she wanted and not what society wanted of her. I revelled with the witch who had been so greatly wronged that she saw no other solution than to seek vengeance and I loved with all the lovesick hearts (and there are many in his poems) and even at a young age I understood the need for an Elves Hill where you could rest your head and call home. 

But I didn’t understand this woman. 

Not until I after I had become her and regained my posture did I understand. It didn’t really hit me until I had kids, and had some grown-up sorrows of my own, what kind of tiredness he talks of in this poem. And now I do. And now I understand why my grandmother thought so highly of this poem.  

I sometimes pick up his books and read a few poems. They always remind me of my youth, they remind me of my grandmother and another great woman, my aunt. Both of them have passed away but it’s nice to have an “Elves Hill” in these books, a place I can crawl into, lay my head, rest and remember. 

He must have been such a great judge of character, this poet who could so very well put himself in other people’s shoes – even the tired mother, who may be happy in her life, but still has sorrows she is not willing to share with the world, but sometimes must rest from. 

I apologise for the appalling translation. I’ve tried translating poetry in the past and it’s a relentlessly hard thing to do – this time I only wanted to relay the meaning of the poem, as I knew it is completely impossible for me to relay the beauty of the language and rhythm in the Icelandic poem. He wrote such outstanding poetry and I wish I could share it all with you and though this may not be one my favourite poems even now, I do now understand and I almost feel like I should apologise for my former transgression.   

It’s fun to realise what sticks with you through the years. And these books always will. And I do believe that the pride in my grandmother’s eyes when I chose one of his poems to read in school as a child is one of the reason I love literature as much as I do. 

There is magic in poetry, real magic.

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