Halldór Laxness: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Halldór Laxness

Halldór Laxness by Einar Hákonarson, 1984.
Born April 23, 1902(1902-04-23)
Reykjavík, Iceland
Died February 8, 1998 (aged 95)
Reykjavík, Iceland
Nationality Icelandic
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Halldór Kiljan Laxness (Halldor kiljan laxness.ogg ˈhaltour ˈcʰɪljan ˈlaxsnɛs ) (born Halldór Guðjónsson) (April 23, 1902—February 8, 1998) was a twentieth-century Icelandic novelist and author of Independent People, The Atom Station, and Iceland's Bell. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955.


Early life

Laxness was born under the name Halldór Guðjónsson (following the tradition of Icelandic patronymics) in Reykjavik in 1902, the son of Guðjón Helgason and Sigríður Halldórsdóttir. After spending his early years in Reykjavik, he moved with his family in 1905 to Laxnes near Mosfellsbær, a more rural area just north of the capital. He soon started to read books and write stories. At the age of 14 his first article was published in Morgunblaðið under the name "H.G."

Roman Catholicism

In 1922, Laxness joined the Abbaye St. Maurice et St. Maur in Clervaux, Luxembourg. The monks followed the rules of Saint Benedict of Nursia. Laxness was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church early in 1923. Following his confirmation, he adopted the surname Laxness (in honor of the homestead where he had been raised) and added the name Kiljan (an Icelandic spelling of the Irish martyr Saint Killian).

Inside the walls of the abbey, he practiced self-study, read books, and studied French, Latin, theology and philosophy. While there, he also composed the story Undir Helgahnjúk, published in 1924. Soon after his baptism, he became a member of a group which prayed for reversion of the Nordic countries back to Catholicism.

Laxness wrote of his Catholicism in the book Vefarinn mikli frá Kasmír, published in 1927.

He would later leave the Catholic faith, becoming an atheist and a committed communist. He also would leave communism, after knowing better the political situation in the USSR.

Literary career

During his career Laxness wrote poetry, newspaper articles, plays, travelogues, short stories, and fifteen novels.

Later life

Laxness moved to the United States and attempted to make films in the mid-20th century.[citation needed] He returned to Iceland in 1945 and settled in Gljúfrasteinn, Mosfellsdalur, until his death. His house in Gljúfrasteinn is now a museum operated by the Icelandic government.

He was married twice, including his second marriage to Auður Sveinsdóttir. He had four children.

Laxness died in Iceland in 1998 at the age of 95.


The single-volume biography by Halldór Guðmundsson won the Icelandic literary prize for best work of non-fiction in 2004. In 2005 the Icelandic National Theatre premiered a play by Ólafur Haukur Símonarson, called Halldór í Hollywood (Halldór in Hollywood) about the years that Laxness spent in the United States.


The following is a partial list of publications written by or connected with Laxness:



  • 1919: Barn náttúrunnar
  • 1924: Undir Helgahnúk
  • 1927: Vefarinn mikli frá Kasmír (The Great Weaver from Kashmir) Translated by Philip Roughton (Archipelago Books) 2008.
  • 1931: Salka Valka (Part I) - Þú vínviður hreini
  • 1932: Salka Valka (Part II) - Fuglinn í fjörunni
  • 1934: Sjálfstætt fólk (Part I, Independent People) - Landnámsmaður Íslands (Icelandic Pioneers)
  • 1935: Sjálfstætt fólk (Part II) - Erfiðir tímar (Hard Times)
  • 1937: Heimsljós (Part I, World Light) - Ljós heimsins (later named Kraftbirtíngarhljómur guðdómsins)
  • 1938: Heimsljós (Part II) - Höll sumarlandsins
  • 1939: Heimsljós (Part III) - Hús skáldsins
  • 1940: Heimsljós (Part IV) - Fegurð himinsins
  • 1952: Heiman eg fór
  • 1943: Íslandsklukkan (Iceland's Bell, Part I) - Íslandsklukkan
  • 1944: Íslandsklukkan (Part II) - Hið ljósa man
  • 1946: Íslandsklukkan (Part III) - Eldur í Kaupinhafn
  • 1948: Atómstöðin (The Atom Station)
  • 1952: Gerpla (Happy Warriors)
  • 1957: Brekkukotsannáll (The Fish Can Sing)
  • 1960: Paradísarheimt (Paradise Reclaimed)
  • 1968: Kristnihald undir Jökli (Under the Glacier/Christianity at Glacier)
  • 1970: Innansveitarkronika
  • 1972: Guðsgjafaþula


  • 1923: Nokkrar sögur
  • 1933: Fótatak manna
  • 1935: Þórður gamli halti
  • 1942: Sjö töframenn
  • 1954: Þættir (collection)
  • 1964: Sjöstafakverið
  • 1987: Sagan af brauðinu dýra
  • 1992: Jón í Brauðhúsum
  • 1996: Fugl á garðstaurnum og fleiri smásögur
  • 1999: Úngfrúin góða og Húsið
  • 2000: Smásögur
  • 2001: Kórvilla á Vestfjörðum og fleiri sögur


  • 1934: Straumrof
  • 1950: Snæfríður Íslandssól (from the novel Íslandsklukkan)
  • 1954: Silfurtúnglið
  • 1961: Strompleikurinn
  • 1962: Prjónastofan Sólin
  • 1966: Dúfnaveislan
  • 1970: Úa (from the novel Kristnihald undir Jökli)
  • 1972: Norðanstúlkan (from the novel Atómstöðin)


  • 1930: Kvæðakver
  • 1997: Únglíngurinn í skóginum


  • 1933: Í Austurvegi
  • 1938: Gerska æfintýrið


  • 1975: Í túninu heima, part I
  • 1976: Úngur eg var, part II
  • 1978: Sjömeistarasagan, part III
  • 1980: Grikklandsárið, part IV
  • 1987: Dagar hjá múnkum

Popular culture references


His daughter Guðný Halldórsdóttir is an award-winning filmmaker. Her first work, a popular magical realism-ending film adaptation of Kristnihald undir jōkli (Christianity at Glacier) screened at world film festivals and repertory cinemas for many years since, including in the European cites, the USA and in Canada (at least Toronto and Montreal). The film is well known in Iceland.

His grandson is known in Iceland as Dóri DNA[1].


  1. ^ Profile in NNDB, access date: 2008-08-24.

Further reading

In Icelandic:

  • Hallberg, Peter. 1970. Hús skáldsins: um skáldverk Halldórs Laxness frá Sölku Völku til Gerplu. Reykjavík. Mál og menning.
  • Hallberg, Peter. 1975. Halldór Laxness. Hið íslenska bókmenntafélag, Reykjavík.
  • Halldór Guðmundsson. 2004. Halldór Laxness. JPV, Reykjavík [1].
  • Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson. 2003. Halldór. Vol. I of Laxness’ biography. Almenna bókafélagið, Reykjavík.
  • Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson. 2004. Kiljan. Vol. II of Laxness’ biography. Bókafélagið, Reykjavík.
  • Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson. 2005. Laxness. Vol. III of Laxness’ biography. Bókafélagið, Reykjavík.
  • Íslenska alfræðiorðabókin H-O. 1990. Editors: Dóra Hafsteinsdóttir and Sigríður Harðardóttir. Örn og Örlygur hf., Reykjavík.
  • Ólafur Ragnarsson and Valgerður Benediktsdóttir. 1992. Lífsmyndir skálds : æviferill Halldórs Laxness í myndum og máli. Vaka-Helgafell, Reykjavík.
  • Ólafur Ragnarsson. 2002. Halldór Laxness : líf í skáldskap. Vaka-Helgafell, Reykjavík.
  • Ólafur Ragnarsson. 2007. Til fundar við skáldið Halldór Laxness. Veröld, Reykjavík.

In English:

  • Hallberg, Peter. 1971. Halldór Laxness. Twayne Publishers, New York.
  • Halldór Guðmundsson, translated by Philip Roughton. 2008. The Islander: a Biography of Halldór Laxness. McLehose Press/Quercus.

External links

In English:


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

1955 photograph

Halldór Kiljan Laxness (born Halldór Guðjónsson) (23 April 19028 February 1998) was a 20th century Icelandic author who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955.



Sjálfstætt fólk (Independent People) (1935)

Translated by J. A. Thompson.

Book One

Part I: Icelandic Pioneers
  • In early times, say the Icelandic chronicles, men from the Western Islands came to live in this country, and when they departed, left behind them crosses, bells, and other objects used in the practice of sorcery . . . In those days there was great fertility of the soil in Iceland. But when the Norsemen came to settle here, the Western sorcerers were forced to flee the land, and old writings say that Kolumkilli, determined on revenge, laid a curse on the invaders, swearing that they would never prosper here, and more in the same spirit, much of what has since, to all appearances, been fulfilled.
  • People who like to display complicated technique in their verse are more given to pride themselves on their work than are those who write for their own solace.
- Einar in "Shepherds' Meet"
  • He swore repeatedly, ever the more violently the unsteadier his legs became, but to steel his senses he kept his mind fixed persistently on the world-famous battles of the rhymes. He recited the most powerful passages one after another over and over again, dwelling especially on the devilish heroes, Grimur Ægir and Andri. It was Grimur he was fighting now, he thought . . . but now an end would be put to the deadly feud, for now the stage was set for the final struggle.
  • Never did these thanes of hell escape their just deserts. No one ever heard of Harekur or Gongu-Hrolfur or Bernotus being worsted in the final struggle. In the same way no one will be able to say that Bjartur of Summerhouses ever got the worst of it in his world war with the country's specters, no matter how often he might tumble over a precipice or roll head over heels down a gully - "while there's a breath left in my nostrils, it will never keep me down, no matter how hard it blows."
  • Nothing was said. And on crawled the little procession in the direction of Summerhouses, men and animals, men-animals, five souls. The pale red sun grazed the surface of the moorland bluffs on this northern winter's morning which was really only an evening. And yet it was midday. The light gilded the clouds of snow flying over the moors so that they seemed one unbroken ocean of fire, one radiant fire of gold with streaming flames and glimmering smoke from east to west over the whole frozen expanse. Through this golden fire of frost, comparable in its magic to nothing but the most powerful and elaborate witchcraft of the Ballads, lay their homeward way.
Part II: Free of Debt
  • Slowly, slowly winter day opens his arctic eye.
  • Never do hymns seem so long as in the days of childhood, never is their world and their language so alien to the soul. In old age the opposite is true, the hours are then too short for the hymns.
  • He wandered away, weeping, away from the farm and up to the rocks at the foot of the mountain, quite overpowered by the evil that seems so often to prevail in life and even to rule it. But what do you think he heard from the rocks at the foot of the mountain? Why, he heard the most delightful singing!
- excerpt from the mother's story in "Of Song"
  • His mother taught him to sing. And when he had grown up and had listened to the world's song, he felt that there could be no greater happiness than to return to her song. In her song dwelt the most precious and most incomprehensible dreams of mankind. The heath grew into the heavens in those days. The songbirds of the air listened in wonder to this song, the most beautiful song of life.
  • "Pray God for guidance, man. It's thirty-odd years since I sold the last copy of Orvar-Odds saga. The country stands on an entirely different cultural footing nowadays. I can recommend the story of King Solomon's Mines there, all about the hero of Umslopogaas, in his own way a great man, and in my opinion no whit inferior to Orvar-Oddur."
"That's rather more than I'm prepared to believe. Some more of that damned modern rubbish, I suppose. And no one is going to tell me that that fellow you mentioned just now could have ever stood up to Orvar-Oddur, and him fully twelve Danish ells in height."
- conversation between Bjartur and the bookseller at Fjord

Book Two

Part I: Hard Times
  • They were allowed a little touch at each of the books, but only with their fingertips tonight, literature cannot bear dirty hands; first we'll have to back each volume with paper, the covers must not get dirty, nor the spines slit, books are the nation's most precious possession, books have preserved the nation's life through monopoly, pestilence, and volcanic eruption, not to mention the tons of snow that have lain over the country's widely scattered homesteads for the major part of every one of its thousand years.
  • The most remarkable thing about man's dreams is that they all come true; this has always been the case, though no one would care to admit it.
  • It's a useful habit to never believe more than half of what people tell you, and not to concern yourself with the rest. Rather keep your mind free and your path your own.
Part II: Years of Prosperity
  • Come what may and go what may, man always has the memories of his dogs. Of these at least no one can deprive him, though both the prosperity of world war and the fulfilment of important people's ideals have proven to be no more than a cloud of dust that has swirled up to obscure the lone worker's vision.
  • What made Ingolfur Arnarson a great man was first and foremost his ideals, his unquenchable love of mankind, his conviction that the people needed improved conditions of life and better facilities for cultural advancement, his determination to mitigate his fellow men's sufferings by establishing a better form of government in the country . . . Middlemen and other parasites would no longer be allowed to batten on the farming classes. Ingolfur wanted to elevate the farmer's life to a position of honor and dignity, not in word alone, but in deed.
  • Many a man may have his doubts for the moment, but when all comes to all and a long view is taken, one discovers usually that things have been making some sort of forward progress, some headway or other. And a man's dreams have a habit of coming true, more especially if he has made no particular effort to fulfill them . . . It is particularly supposed that when a man has made himself worthy of living in a real house, he will be given a real house to live in; it sprouts out of the earth for him of its own accord, they say; life bestows on the individual all that he is worthy of, and the same is said to be true of the nation as a whole.
  • After Bjartur had become a person of great worth, even he was prone to admit on occasion that life had sometimes been pretty hard in Summerhouses in the old days, but one has to take a few knocks if one wants to get on, surely, and anyway we never ate other folk's bread. Other folk's bread is the most virulent form of poison that a free and independent man can take; other folk's bread is the only thing that can rob him of independence and the one true freedom.
  • "Oh, well, I'm leaving here now," he told her. "They're forcing me to sell up."
"And I'm not surprised," she replied. "It's that dirty old devil again, he who haunts Summerhouses and always has. And always will. Kolumkilli has rarely allowed anyone who lived in this croft to escape scot-free. I say for my part that I have never made this place my home. I have been nothing more than a lodger for the night."
- conversation between Bjartur and Hallbera
Part III: Conclusion
  • A man is not independent unless he has the courage to stand alone.
  • My opinion has always been this, that you ought to never give up as long as you live, even though they have stolen everything from you. If nothing else, you can always call the air you breath your own, or at any rate you can claim that you have it on loan. Yes, lass, last night I ate stolen bread and left my son among men who are going to use pick-handles on the authorities, so I thought I might just as well look you up this morning.
- Bjartur talking to Asta Sollilja
  • Isn't it funny how everyone manages to die except me?
- The Grandmother

Heimsljós (World Light) (1940)

Translated by Magnus Magnusson.

Book One: The Revelation of the Deity

Yes, it is a painful lot to be a poet and to love both God and man by the farthest northern seas!
  • Often the boy was overwhelmed by an uncontrollable yearning to write down in books everything he saw, despite what anyone said—two hundred books as thick as the Book of Sermons, whole Bibles, whole chests full of books.
  • Other children had fathers and mothers and honored them, and they prospered and lived to a ripe old age; but he was often bitter towards his father and mother and dishonored them in his heart. His mother had cuckolded his father, and his father had betrayed his mother, and both of them had betrayed the boy. The only consolation was that he had a Father in heaven. And yet—it would have been better to have a father on earth.
  • He was not quite nine years old, in fact, when he began to have spiritual experiences . . . [H]e felt he saw God's image open before him. He felt the deity reveal itself in Nature in an inexpressible music, the sonic revelation of the deity; and before he knew it, he himself had become a trembling voice in a celestial chorus of glory. His soul seemed to be rising out of his body like frothing milk brimming over the edge of a basin; it was as if his soul were flowing into an unfathomable ocean of higher life, beyond words, beyond all perception, his body suffused by some surging light that was beyond all light. Sighing, he became aware of his own insignificance in the midst of this infinite chorus glory and radiance; his whole consciousness dissolved into one sacred, tearful yearning to be allowed to be one with the Highest and be no longer any part of himself. He lay for a long time on the sand or on the grass, and wept tears of deep and fervent happiness, face to face with the inexpressible. "God, God, God!" he cried, trembling with love and reverence, and kissed the ground and dug his fingers into the turf.
  • He would have died of loneliness and other things if the divine Omnipotence had not called him whenever It had the chance and invited him to become one with the radiant glory of heaven and earth. He tried whenever the opportunity occurred to obey this call and allow his soul to become one with a higher world beyond this world. He did not compose poetry openly now—his first experience at that had taught him a lesson; he resolved not to compose poetry openly until he was grown up and living among good and high-minded men, whom he imagined must exist elsewhere. But that did not stop him composing poetry; he composed just for himself now. Sometimes he scratched out a whole verse on the ice. He committed to memory every scrap of poetry he heard, and absorbed everything to do with knowledge, and was determined to write it all down in books later on—you see, he had the idea that there were too few books in the world, and that somewhere in the world there were people waiting impatiently, hungry for more books to be written.
  • Occasionally he was washed up on the shores of reality, but only for a short spell at a time; he just had time to wonder at how quiet and uneventful everything was in reality. He could not understand how people could live a whole lifetime in this dreary sphere of consciousness called reality, where one thing corresponds to another and night separates the days and everything happens according to the laws of nature, and this is such and such, and that follows this.
  • He stared into the blue for a long time, he was for a time quite oblivious to his surroundings, his soul took part in this divine concert in enthralled gratitude, beyond words; for a moment he felt that he was living the very love of God, everything was perfect and good. He did not come to until Magnína had called his name three times.
  • Thereafter, when he himself was dead, he imagined that his poems would be published in some mysterious way, and the nation would read them for comfort in adversity, as it had read the poems of other poets before him; it was his highest wish that his poems could help those as unfortunate as himself to have patience to endure.
  • The love which demands nothing but beauty itself and lives in selfless worship . . . is the love that no disappointment can ever conquer, perhaps not even death itself (if that existed).
  • [T]ime passed and there was really no romance in life anymore, only the tedious tranquility of marriage without excitement or curiosity, the dull routine of making a comfortable living with nothing to nourish the imagination.
  • In reality, no one had meant anything by talking to the parish pauper, none of them cared at all, no one even thought of carrying him downstairs to let him see the wedding like other folk; he was not allowed to see the wedding that he himself had brought about with his poetic talent—such is the lot of poets.
  • [T]o anyone who weeps, life has some importance.
  • The boy felt now that no injustice could ever be victorious in his life in the future. He would never forget this presence, and even though he might never live to see another happy day, he was now more than ever determined to make his life an unbroken echo of what he had perceived when he was young, and to teach other men in poetry what he had learned in sorrow . . . . It was certainly true—this boy had perhaps become a little disappointed in people, he had instinctively believed that people were more perfect than they actually are; in childhood, one cannot help believing this.
  • Yes, it is a painful lot to be a poet and to love both God and man by the farthest northern seas!

Book Two: The Palace of the Summerland

Although grace comes from above, that is not to say that everyone has the ability to accept to it.
  • "Really," said the poet, without enthusiasm.
"Mm—you say 'Really,' young man?" said the secretary. "That is undeniably a rather peculiar reply. Might I ask what you mean by that word?"
"I mean that I'm such an insignificant poet that it isn't worthwhile getting me to compose a poem," said Ólafur Kárason modestly.
The secretary gave the poet a stern and searching look and finally said, "I no longer understand young people nowadays. It's as if nothing serious or important makes any impression on young people any longer. The modern craze seems to be to squander money needlessly if possible. But luckily it isn't possible. Even you, young man, who are said to have a poetic bent, yes, and some say you even possess a modicum of intelligence, you just say 'Really' when you're invited to take part in a ceremony which is destined to revolutionize the religious, scientific, and moral life of the nation."

"Really," said the poet.
"Really?" repeated the doctor. "Are you saying Really? What d'you mean? What a damned fool you are, boy. It can cost you dear to say Really, let me warn you. Drink up, or I'll tie you up and pour [this brennivín] down your throat."
  • Although grace comes from above, that is not to say that everyone has the ability to accept to it.
  • He came to a halt in a hollow and got his breath back. He felt himself freed of a great burden by getting out of sight of other people. The previous days and nights had been eventful, and he had lost himself. But now he was sure he would find himself again, like a dead man who finds himself, little by little, in the next world. In spite of everything, and although he was in reality a newborn babe in this new world, it was delightful to be born anew and to own a share of the sun like others instead of having to wait half the year perhaps for one little ray of sunshine . . . . No, there's probably no way of making something cease to exist once it has come into existence. He was no longer afraid of the immortality of the soul, that doctrine which for a time had seemed to him the height of human cruelty. Today it was the many and various abodes of the Creator which enchanted the mind . . . . and death did not exist.
  • The correct understanding of life, let me tell you, is love despite everything. Love despite everything, that is the aim and object of life. Love, you see, is the only thing that pays in the long run, even though it might seem a dead loss in the short run.
- Pétur Þríhross
  • He wrote down everything he saw and heard, and most of his thoghts, sometimes in verse, sometimes in prose. It could take him many hours to write in his diary a survey of one full day: everything was an experience, any noteworthy observation which some nameless person might make was a new vista, any insignificant piece of information was a new sunrise, any ordinary poem he read for the first time was the beginning of a new epoch like a flight around the globe; the world was multiform, magnificent and opulent, and he loved it.
  • Everyone always believes everything nasty of everyone else, and especially if it's a lie.
- Vegmey Hansdóttir
  • And so it went on, day after day. This was not the first time that those who had at first smiled at him turned their backs on him and began to think of themselves isntead of thinking of him. Sometimes it was as if you understood people's souls; a few days later, you understood nothing. One day you were kissed, and it meant everything; next day, you were not kissed . . . . He consoled himself by looking at his exercise books with the poems approaching the thousand total soon, and more. Perhaps the world would some day understand that the heart existed. Some day.
  • Do you know that these mountains you're looking at don't really exist at all? Or can't you see that they belong more to the sky than the earth? All this enchanting blueness which enthralls you is an illusion.
- Örn Úlfar
  • They walked together like that all night, and there was no night, just a slight unreality, a momentary trance, with mist here and there as if the landscape were about to dissolve, and then nothing dissolved and the mist had vanished again. There was a crimson glow on the highest mountain ridges, and shining birds swarming in their thousands over the flame-gilded, mirror-smooth sea. And they went on talking together. Ólafur Kárason had no perception of the passing of time; only that voice with its dark, silk-edged, golden tones reverberated through his consciousness. When a man has lost what he loves most, there is no need to write poetry; the timber of a man's voice expresses all the poetry of life.
  • I came to you a crossbearer on a stretcher and an outcast from humanity, and I went from you a conqueror of life.
- Ólafur talking to Þórunn
I don't know how to lie. But I don't know what truth is, either. I always try to speak the way I think will cause least trouble to God and men.
  • I don't know how to lie. But I don't know what truth is, either. I always try to speak the way I think will cause least trouble to God and men.
- Ólafur talking to Vegmey
  • Oh, it's so good to be dead!
- little Anna
  • In the afterlife, people never forget to feed the dog.
- Friðrik the elf doctor
  • But whoever thinks that beauty is something he can enjoy exclusively for himself just by abandoning other people and closing his eyes to the human life of which he is part—he is not the friend of beauty. He ends up either as Pétur Þríhross's poet, or his secretary. He who doesn't fight every day of his life to the last breath against the representatives of evil, against the living images of evil who rule Sviðinsvík—he blasphemes by taking the word beauty into his mouth.
- Örn Úlfar
  • Was this perhaps life, then?—to have loved one summer in youth and not to have been aware of it until it was over, some sea-wet footprints on the floor and sand in the prints, the fragrance of a woman, soft loving lips in the dusk of a summer night, sea birds; and then nothing more; gone.
  • You should deny facts if they're inconvenient.
- Juél J. Juél
  • There's no creature on earth so despicable and loathsome as a rich man with a conscience.
- Hólmfríður
  • Jesus! My brother! Heave-up!
- Eilífðar-Daði
  • It was not much fun being called a ghost for more than two hundred years, and each time a calf fell into a pool or a cow went dry or the roof fell in on people, it was always that damned ghost.
  • How is one to have any respect for the world where nothing else matters except who can lie the most plausibly and steal the most?
- Þórunn of Kambar
  • I didn't expect you to have learnt to smile yet. When one is born, one only knows how to cry. It's only very gradually that one learns to smile.
- Hólmfríður
  • This summer which was now passing—never had anyone lived such a summer! Nature had given him the happiness of a blossom. She gave him love and a palace, and put precious poetry into his mouth; it was all one long, unbroken romance. And now everything was lost, his poems, his love and his palace, withered, burnt; forlorn and helpless, he faced the desolation of winter.
  • It is both more difficult and more complicated to die than people think. Even though the soul craves for nothing but extinction and oblivion forever, the body is a conservative master which will not give up until the very end.

Book Three: The House of the Poet

To be a poet is to be a visitor on a distant shore until one dies.
  • Hauling fish from the sea—what endless toil. One could almost say, what an eternal problem.
  • The worth of any deed depends on how it is assessed by the onlookers . . . once you have made yourself look ridiculous, you go on being ridiculous whatever you do, perhaps for the rest of your life.
  • Work on the one side, the home on the other—they were two walls in the one prison.
  • The Voice began to echo at once. It was the same Voice of old. The difference was that when he was a child he thought he knew what it was, and that he understood it, and he gave it a name; but the older and wiser he became, the more difficult he found it to say what it was, or to understand it, except that he felt it called him away from other people and the responsibilities of life to the place where it alone reigned . . . Ah, sweet Voice, he said, and filled his lungs with the cool evening breeze of the north, but he did not dare open his arms to it for fear that people might think he was mad.
  • To be a poet is to be a visitor on a distant shore until one dies. In the land where I belong, but which I shall never reach, individuals have no cares, and that is because industry runs by itself without anyone trying to steal from others. My land is a land of plenty; it is the world that Nature has given to mankind, where society is not a thieves' society, where the children aren't sickly but healthy and contented, and young men and women can fulfill their aspirations because it is natural to do so. In my world it is possible to fulfill all aspirations, and therefore all aspirations are in themselves good, quite unlike here, where people's aspirations are called wicked because it isn't possible to fulfill them.
- Ólafur
  • It's you who are strange. Talking to you is like talking to someone who has no shadow.
- Jórunn
  • Icelanders! You are the descendants of Nordic vikings! Down with Irish slaves!
- The True Icelanders of Sviðinsvík
  • It may well be that fighting is normal, like having something to eat. Peace, on the other hand, is a luxury.
- Ólafur
  • It is justice, not love, that will one day give life to the children of the future. The battle for justice is the one thing which gives human life rational meaning.
- Örn Úlfar
  • Tonight when I listen to our voices in this strange calm which is touched with the presence of death, even though the breeze is rustling so innocently at the door and the roof, I feel as if we were two gods on the clouds of heaven, with mankind dying between us.
- Ólafur
  • You have fettered yourself of your own free will, man—break the fetters!
- Jórunn of Veghús
  • My image will soon be obliterated; it was only an illusion. But even though I may fall, even though my image may be obliterated, there is one thing that will never fall and can never be obliterated, and that is the yearning of those in chains for liberty.
- transcript of Örn's speech to the Laborers
  • They thought I was an Icelander! But I'm no Icelander, s'help me!
- Pétur Pálsson

Book Four: The Beauty of the Heavens

Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
  • Where the glacier meets the sky, the land ceases to be earthly, and the earth becomes one with the heavens; no sorrows live there anymore, and therefore joy is not necessary; beauty alone reigns there, beyond all demands.
  • You can take everything from me except the freedom to look up at the sky occasionally.
- Ólafur
  • "Really," said the poet.
"You say 'Really,' you damned fool?" said the bailiff. "Maybe you'll live to pay for that word in full before we are finished."

"Really?" said the poet.
"D'you say 'Really'?" said the Gentleman. "How dare you day 'Really' here in the south?"
  • The God of the Jews was an absolute God, who believed in other gods himself, to be sure, but forbade me to obey them, contrary to our own beliefs in the North. We have many gods and obey them all, and they us, the god of the sea and the god of the land, the god of thunder and the god of poetry.
- Ólafur
  • When Icelanders were worthy of the name, it was considered an accepted duty to avenge with the sword the sort of crime you have committed against my family. It's a bitter thing to be living at a time when one many not challenge to single combat the man who has disgraced one's family, and carve a blood-eagle on his back!
- Jason talking to Ólafur
  • Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
  • I've never had a grandmother, a great-grandmother, nor a great-great-grandmother. I never even had a mother. I have certainly missed a great deal of love thereby, but fortune has compensated me by not giving me the capacity to hate anyone, neither nations nor individuals. If candlesticks and church bells have been plundered from my ancestors, then I'm only grateful that I'm so ignorant about genealogy.
- Ólafur
  • The Icelanders never got anything in exchange from the Danes except hunger.
- Jason Gottfreðsson
  • The poet felt completely free now as he stood there on the deck in his collar and boots, sailing past new and ever newer districts; even if he did not own this land's resources, he owned its beauty.
  • Once upon a time these two men had been in the same situation; now the difference between them was like the difference between a wish and its fulfillment. The one was what the other had dreamed of, and therefore they did not know one another anymore. He who has wishes yearns for a friend; but when the wishes have been fulfilled, the friends are the first thing we forget.
  • Was all human endeavor then, even the beautiful of the world, of so little consequence compared with murder?
  • If I have a face that rejoces in God's grace, my brother, it is because I have learned more from those who have lived within these [prison] walls than from those who live outside them. I have learned more from those who have fallen down than those who have remained upright.
. . .
Some people are long-winded about Jesus; some are brief. But it really doesn't matter, and you mustn't despair simply because some people are long-winded about Jesus. The main thing is to speak about Jesus neither briefly nor at length, but to yearn for Him in silence; to have a place for Him in one's house; and to be glad.
- the cathedral pastor visiting Ólafur
  • Over us human beings there hangs an awful sword of justice.
  • Ólafur Kárason had always kept to himself and did not interfere in other people's affairs; it sometimes also happened that he was not very familiar with his own affairs.
  • Every transgression is a game, every grief easy to bear compared with having discovered beauty; it was at once the crime that could never be atoned and the hurt that could never be assuaged, the tear that could never be dried.
  • As a child he stood by the seashore at Ljósavík and watched the waves soughing in and out, but now he was heading away from the sea. "Think of me when you are in glorious sunshine." Soon the sun of the day of resurrection will shine on the bright paths where she awaits her poet. And beauty shall reign alone.

Íslandsklukkan (Iceland's Bell) (1946)

Translated by Philip Roughton.

Part I: Iceland's Bell

The fire's hottest for the one who burns himself.
  • There was a time, it says in books, that the Icelandic people had only one national treasure: a bell . . . When the king decreed that the people of Iceland were to relinquish all of their brass and copper so that Copenhagen could be rebuilt following the war, men were sent to fetch the ancient bell at Þingvellir by Öxará.
  • Jón Hreggviðsson said that he himself never read except when he was forced to do so, though he had learned from his mother all the necessary sagas, ballads, and old genealogies, and he claimed to be descended from Haraldur Hilditönn, the Danish king, on his father's side. He said that he would never forget such excellent ancients as Gunnar of Hlíðarendi, King Pontus, and Örvar-Oddur, who were twelve ells high and could have lived to be three hundred years old if they hadn't run into any trouble, and that if he had such a book he would send it immediately for free to the king and his counts, to prove to them that there had indeed once been real men in Iceland.
  • These people, who have since antiqui possessed the most distinguished litteras in the northern part of the world, choose now to walk upon calfskin or to eat calfskin rather than to read the old words written upon calfskin.
- Arnas Arnæus
  • It's an honor to be beheaded. Even a little churl becomes a man by being beheaded.
- Hólmfastur Guðmundsson
  • The raven is the bird of all the gods. It was the bird of Odin and the bird of Jesus Christ. It will also be the bird of the god Skandilán, who has yet to be born. Whomever the raven rends attains salvation.
- the poet at the Ölfus River
  • He wandered for a long time along the canals and over the bridges . . . Steam rose from one boat where men were heating their tea water. He shouted to them and asked them to give him some tea. They asked who he was and he said that he was from Iceland, where Hell is. They invited him out to the boat and gave him something to drink and questioned him about Mount Hekla. He said that he was born and raised at the foot of the mountain and for that reason was called van Hekkenfeld. They asked whether a man could see down into Hell from the summit of Hekla, through the swarm of noxious birds that hovers eternally, shrieking and quarreling, over the crater. He said no, but added that he'd once caught one of these birds with a hooked pole that he'd brought with him up onto the mountain; they were similar to ravens, he said, except for their claws and beaks, which were iron. They asked whether such birds could be eaten and he laughed at their foolishness, but said on the other hand that one could use the claws for hooks and the beak for a pick.
  • The fire's hottest for the one who burns himself.
- Jón Hreggviðsson
  • Gold is precious because it resembles the sun. Silver has the light of the moon.
- the blind man at the Ölfus River
  • Because there are indeed women in Iceland, it will now be proven to you, you ugly wench, that there are also men in Iceland!
- Jón Hreggviðsson

Part II: The Fair Maiden

  • He called out for the others, but they were nowhere near. He tried to run, without knowing which way to go, but his legs were sluggish and the earth stood on end; in the next instant he found himself lying horizontal, his cheek in the dirt, without having felt himself fall. Then the earth tilted away from him again. He tried to walk steadily, but the earth continued to surge. Finally he sat down beneath a house-gable, leaned his back against the wall, and waited until the earth settled back in its place. He drooped his head and mumbled about his forefathers . . . In the end all he could do was start to sing the sad passion-hymns and death-prayers his mother had taught him in his youth.
  • You Danes really are a sorry lot if you think that the day will dawn when you'll get hold of Snæfríður, Iceland's sun.
- Þórður Narfason
  • The truth displayed in a good life is the fairest of images.
- Reverend Sigurður
  • When I was in Bessastaðir I had a jug of water—and an ax. A well-sharpened ax is a fine tool. On the other hand I've never been fond of the gallows, and never less than when I wrestled a hanged man.
- Jón Hreggviðsson
  • I've never known justice to be used for anything other than the taking of poor men's lives. That's why I'm begging you, since you know how to speak to great men, to protect Jón Hreggviðson from justice.
- Jón talking to Snæfríður
  • All creation complains and moans, my dear lord Commissarius. Complaint is its distinctive sound.
- the bishop of Skálholt
  • When I was young and walked along Breiðafjörður I never would have thought that such a wide variety of people inhabited the world. Here were many folk from the numerous city-states and counties of Italy: Milanese, Napolese and Sicilians, Sardinians, Savoyards, Venetians and Tuscans, along with the Romans themselves; here one could see the peoples of the six Spanish kingdoms: the Castilians, Aragonese, Catalans, Valencians, Majorcans, and Navarrans; gathered here were envoys from the different nations of the Empire, even from the nations that had adopted Luther's reforms: Bavarians, Germans and Croatians, Franconians, Westphalians, Rhinelanders, Saxons, Burgundians, Franks, Walloons, Austrians, and Styrians . . . I saw people from nations I knew nothing about, their countenances, the textures of their clothing, their grimy faces and their eyes filled with passion and tenacity. Most often, however, I found myself thinking about their countless feet, bare or in shoes, mostly certainly tired, yet somehow lively and hopeful; and the old crusade-dance that resounded through their musica: 'Fair are the fields, cloudless God's sky.' And suddenly I realized that Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir was gone. Not a single Icelander remained.
- Arnas describing a procession in Rome
  • It's both ludicrous and embarrassing to recall one's youth.
- Snæfríður
  • A man's conscience is an unsteady judge of right and wrong.
- Arnas Arnæus
  • If there's one thing I despise, it's brennivín . . . [T]here no longer exists within me a single spark of longing for brennivín.
- Magnús Sigurðsson
  • When has human fortune ever been regarded as something better than a crime, or been enjoyed in any other way than in secret, directly contrary to the laws of God and man?
- Arnas Arnæus
  • Dear Snæfríður, is it not clear to you how disastrous your words were, when you said just now that you do not fear the eye of God watching over you?
- Reverend Sigurður
  • A long time ago they brought me here eastward over the heath, along with one Jón Þeófílusson from the Westfjörds, who was burned after the devil testified against him. And I've got one thing to say about that: a ladies' man like him, who could sit up in the gables an entire night holding on to a Blusterer while his girl was in bed with another man, didn't deserve any better, and that's why I told him so many times in the black pit, 'You'll definitely be burned.'
- Jón Hreggviðsson

Part III: Fire in Copenhagen

  • Icelanders are grateful to meet foreigners who have heard of their country. And even more grateful to hear someone say it deserves better.
- Arnas Arnæus
  • It was a rather beggarly set of authorities that reinstated the charges against Christ's tenant two days later at that dreary place, Þingvellir by Öxará. Even the Danish proxy's booth was a shambles, as if the royal power no longer gave any thought to protecting its image of authoritarian splendor against Iceland's storms of wind and rain, which were so inseparable from its folk, crooked and frostbitten pieces of timberwood in the shape of humans. Iceland's weather was a mill that left nothing unpulverized but for the country's basalt peaks. It uprooted and demolished all human works, wiping away not only their color but also their form . . . The high court was convened in the dilapidated cottage that had once been called a courthouse. Its roof had been torn off, giving wind and rain free range throughout the hall. Mire that had run from the turf walls onto the rotten floorplanks hadn't been mucked out. Inward along the floorboards hobbled Jón Hreggviðsson from Rein, gray-haired, groaning, and puffing.
  • As a rule, the only way that anyone could escape from the castle of Bremerholm was through a dead-end opening: namely, the grave.
  • When's there ever been a decent saint who didn't start out as a thief?
- Jón Hreggviðsson
  • Over verdant lowlands cut by the deep streamwaters of the south hangs a peculiar gloom. Every eye is stifled by the clouds that block the sight of the sun, every voice is muffled like the chirps of fleeing birds, every quasi-movement sluggish. Children must not laugh, no attention must be drawn to the fact that a man exists, one must not provoke the powers with frivolity—do nothing but prowl along, furtively, lowly. Maybe the Godhead had not yet struck its final blow, an unexpiated sin might still fester somewhere, perhaps there still lurked worms that needed to be crushed.
  • Misdeeds that are repented no longer exist.
- Reverend Sigurður
  • Why won't the king of Denmark leave us our names? We have done nothing against him. We deserve no less respect than he does. My forefathers were kings of land and sea . . . Our skalds composed poetry and told stories in the language of King Óðinn himself, who came from Ásgarður when Europe still spoke the language of slaves.
- Snæfríður
  • The glimmer continued to play about the vault of heaven. To the west one could see the roofs of nearby mansions and the tower of Our Lady's Church silhouetted against the dull red glow of embers in the darkness of the night.
  • Night. Two Icelandic Jóns stagger waywardly through a burning city. The learned Grindavíkian is bawling like a child. The farmer from Rein plods silently behind. The fire of Copenhagen is at their heels, driving them on in the direction of Nørreport. The sea of flames turns terrified folk into frantic silhouettes, fleshly phantoms.

Atómstöðin (The Atom Station) (1948)

Translated by Magnus Magnusson.
One of the first things I had been taught as a child was never to believe a single word that was written in newspapers.
  • My job was to keep the house clean, get the children off to school, help the cook-housekeeper, and serve at table. The house was much more perfect than the sort of gilt-bordered Christmas-card-Heaven that a crooked-nosed woman would sacrifice everything to attain in the next world: it was an all-electric house, with machines being plugged in and started up all day long; there was no such thing as a fire; heat came from hot-springs underground, and the glowing embers in the fireplace were made of glass.
  • You have a faint education look about you. An educated girl never has an educated look. I cannot stand an educated look on women. It's Communism. Look at me, I passed my University entrance, but I don't show it.
- Madam Dulla
  • I have always felt that I was different from others. I felt it when I was small. I felt that there was a soul in me. I saw the world from a height of many thousand meters. Even when I was thrashed it was of no concern to me; I could tuck Rekjavik under my arm and go away with it.
- Brilliantine
  • One of the first things I had been taught as a child was never to believe a single word that was written in newspapers.
  • How much can one sacrifice for the sake of one's pride? Everything, of course—if one is proud enough.
  • I stood in the middle of the room and began to study the pictures in the house. I had often looked at these ten- or even twenty-centimeter mountains which seemed to have been made sometimes of porridge, sometimes of bluish sago pudding, sometimes a mash of curds—sometimes even like an upturned bowl with Eiriks Glacier underneath; and I had never been able to understand where I was meant to be placed, because anyone who comes from the north and has lived opposite a mountain cannot understand a mountain in a picture in the south.
  • The reason a man talks is to hide his thoughts.
- the self-conscious policeman
  • In actual fact, no man is honest when sober; in actual fact, you cannot believe a single word that a sober man says. I wish I were drunk myself.
- Bui Arland
  • I swear—swear—swear: by everything which is and has been sacred to this nation from the beginning: Iceland shall not be sold.
- the Prime Minister
  • Suicide—masturbation multiplied by itself!
- the organist
  • I could best believe that love was some sort of rubbish thought up by the romantic geniuses who were now going to start bellowing like cows, or even dying; at least, there is no mention of love in Njal's Saga, which is nevertheless better than any romantic literature. I had lived for twenty years with the best people in the country, my father and mother, and never heard love mentioned. This couple begat us children, certainly; but not from love; rather, as an element of the simple life of poor people who have no pastimes. On the other hand I had never heard a cross word pass between them all my life—but is that love? I hardly think so. I think love is a pastime amongst sterile folk in towns, and takes the place of the simple life.
  • To walk home alone at night is a disaster, in novels. Some girls confuse the state of being in love and being lonely, and think they are the former when in fact they are the latter; in love with everyone and no one, just because they are without a man.
  • Thank the Lord, we subsidize our own debauchery first of all before we subsidize the debauchery of others.
- Bui Arland
  • So hopelessly incapable was I of understanding better folk that I did not even know how to keep a servile tongue in my head. In a flash there appeared before my mind the difference between the two worlds in which we lived, this woman and I; although I was staying under her roof we were such poles apart from one another that it was only with half justification possible to classify us together as human beings; we were both vertebrates, certainly, even mammals, but there all resemblance ended; any human society of which both of us were members was merely an empty phrase.
  • There is no such thing as morality—only varingly expedient conventions. What to one race is a crime, is virtue to another; crime in one era is virtue in another; even a crime in one class of society is at the same time and in the same society virtue in another class . . . It makes no difference whether people are called good or bad; we are all here; now; there is only one world in existence, and in it there prevail either expedient or inexpedient conditions for those who are alive.
- the organist
Flowers are immortal. You cut them in autumn and they grow again in spring—somewhere.
  • It's a common saying that the children of children are fortune's favorites.
  • He who weeps does not die; weeping is a sign of life; weep, and your life is worth something again.
  • Dear darling Americans, Jesus let them come with the atom bomb quick.
- Cleopatra
  • To explain God would be to have no God, my little one.
- Ugla's father
  • One of the loveliest and most magnificent events that can happen in the country is when ponies take fright, particularly in a herd. A meadow-pippit has flown past. The ponies' fear is at first blended with play, even with mockery, amusement touched with a shudder, not unlike the behavior of the mentally ill. They trot as if they were retreating from a slow-moving stream of fire, but with lightning in every action, storm in every nerve; swinging their heads everywhere as if the front of their necks were made of elastic, gracefully flirting their tails. They can even pause for a moment, and start biting and boxing, with those romantic mating cries of theirs. Then all at once it is as if the fire has started flowing right under these strange creatures, they charge away like a storm incarnate over scree and bogs and landslides, dipping the tips of their toes for a fractional moment into the furnace that blazes beneath their hooves, cutting across waterfalls, gullys, and boulders, galloping steeply for a while until they stand trapped at last on some ledge high in the mountaintops, there to die and be eaten by birds.
  • After further consideration, the herd of ponies had left off being frightened at all and had calmed down, and were now grazing in the home pastures, on the grass fields and gravel banks or in the home meadow close up to the farm. I stood at the window in that autumn light that makes the dead and the living more sharply discernible than the light of any other season. Yes, what a well-sculptured creature the pony is, so finely carved that even if there were no more than half a chisel stroke extra the workmanship would be ruined; that curve from neck to rump, and all the way down to the fetlock, is in actual fact a woman's curve; in the oblique-set eyes of these creatures lies buried a wisdom that is hidden from men but blended with the mockery of the idols; around the muzzle and the underlip hovers the smile that no cinema shark has ever been able to reproduce; and where is the female star who smells as wonderful as the nose of a pony?
  • When the peace of autumn has become poetic instead of being taken for granted, the last day of the plover become a matter of personal regret, the pony become associated with the history of art and mythology, the evening ice-film on the farm stream become reminiscent of crystal, and the smoke from the chimney become a message to us from those who discovered fire—then the time has come to say goodbye . . . I had long begun to count the days until I could once again leave home, where I felt an alien, and go out into the alien world, where I was at home. But still I paused for a while over my thoughts of departure, and listened to the silence that had robbed the gods of sleep; and dusk sank slowly over the ponies.
  • Dust, who is not dust? I am dust. But I am your Member of Parliament, nevertheless.
- Bui Arland
  • The words themselves say least of all, if in fact they say anything; what really informs us is the inflection of the voice (and no less so if it is restrained), the breathing, the heartbeat, the muscles round the mouth and eyes, the dilation and conctraction of the pupils, the strength or the weakness in the knees, as well as the chain of mysterious reactions in the nerves and the secretions from hidden glands whose names one never knows even though one has read about them in books; all that is the essence of a conversation—the words are more or less incidental.
  • All that you ask for, you shall have.
- Bui Arland
  • Sell the country, bury bones. What else?
- the unself-conscious policeman
  • Flowers are immortal. You cut them in autumn and they grow again in spring—somewhere.
- the organist

Brekkukotsannáll (The Fish Can Sing) (1957)

Paradísarheimt (Paradise Reclaimed) (1960)

Kristnihald undir Jökli (Under the Glacier/Christianity at Glacier) (1968)

Translated by Magnus Magnusson.
  • History is a fable, and a poor one at that.
  • History is always different to what has happened.
  • The difference between a novelist and a historian is this: that the former tells lies deliberately and for the fun of it; the historian tells lies in his simplicity and imagines he is telling the truth.
  • Perhaps one gets closest to the creation of the world in mathematical formula...
  • To create is to destroy. To induce life is to destroy life.
  • All gods are equally good except the god that answers prayers, because he is nowhere.
  • In the depths of our souls we are naked peasants...
  • Luke recorded the acts of the apostles, but it doesn't say what he had to eat the while.
  • Those who deck themselves out in stolen gods are not viable.
  • Poetry is being written about those who have neither the nature nor the sense to understand it, but other folk never hear a friendly word spoken to them.
  • War has always been the chief amusement of mankind. Other amusements are a surrogate for war.


  • In literature, a hero is as much of a coward as the poorest beggar of the street.
  • When we stop caring for our independence and are swept into some superpower’s ocean of nationhood, when the last old women who can recite an Icelandic verse is dead, then the world has become poorer. And the superpower who might have swallowed us would not be any the richer for it.
    • As quoted in a speech by Mr. Valdas Adamkus, President of Lithuania

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address