Inspired By Iceland: The Poet W.H. Auden

The poet W.H. Auden travelled to Iceland in 1936, which resulted in the travel book, Letters From Iceland. He was travelling to Iceland during a time of great political upheaval around the world. Similar to today, right-wing ideologies were growing in popularity and strength around the globe. Auden shared the 9:00 am bus to the northern lake, Myvatn, with a group of Nazis, who were young and obnoxious, shouting out ridiculous statements as they drove along the highway.

The most famous poem to come out of Auden’s book is “Journey To Iceland.”

Journey To Iceland

Each traveller prays Let me be far from any
physician, every port has its name for the sea,
the citiless, the corroding, the sorrow,
and North means to all Reject.

These plains are for ever where cold creatures are hunted
and on all sides: white wings flicker and flaunt;
under a scolding flag the lover
of islands may see at last,

in outline, his limited hope, as he nears a glitter
of glacier, sterile immature mountains intense
in the abnormal northern day, and a river’s
fan-like polyp of sand.

Here let the citizen, then, find natural marvels,
a horse-shoe ravine, an issue of steam from a cleft
in the rock, and rocks, and waterfalls brushing
the rocks, and among the rock birds;

the student of prose and conduct places to visit,
the site of a church where a bishop was put in a bag,
the bath of a great historian, the fort where
an outlaw dreaded the dark,

remember the doomed man thrown by his horse and crying
Beautiful is the hillside. I will not go,
the old woman confessing He that I loved the
best, to him I was worst.

Europe is absent: this is an island and should be
a refuge, where the affections of its dead can be bought
by those whose dreams accuse them of being
spitefully alive, and the pale

from too much passion of kissing feel pure in its deserts.
But is it, can they, as the world is and can lie?
A narrow bridge over a torrent,
a small farn under a crag

are natural setting for the jealousies of a province:
a weak vow of fidelity is made at a cairn,
within the indigenous figure on horseback
on the bridle-path down by the lake

his blood moves also by furtive and crooked inches,
asks all our questions: Where is the homage? When
shall justice be done? Who is against me?
Why am I always alone?

Our time has no favourite suburb, no local features
are those of the young for whom all wish to care;
its promise is only a promise, the fabulous
country impartially far.

Tears fall in all the rivers: again some driver
pulls on his gloves and in a blinding snowstorm starts
upon a fatal journey, again some writer
runs howling to his art.