Polyolbion reminded me about the prograamme on BBC$ tonight about the sagas. It’s part of the Iceland season, which I’m really looking forward to. So here’s a poem I wrote about my trip to Iceland some years ago. It first appeared in Northwords Now in 2008, I think.
Hekla, ‘the hooded’, stands on the skyline.
She broods over a sorcerer’s country,
her bitter, burning malice cloaked in snow.
She is the origin of the sulphur reek,
the cinder tracks, the clouds of dust,
the streams which run ice-blue and steaming,
and the thin soil, bound with roots of lupins
like cobalt flames among the knee-high pines.
She is the gate of hell. When she erupts,
she fills the air with ash and poison
and, for months, the sounds of souls in torment.
She buried Gaukur’s house at Stong
metres deep in tephra. Yet her fields are green.
The hills above the whale-backed sea are curved
as softly as the flanks of sleeping cats.
They chalice sun and wind like wine.
Her wiles ensnared Gunnar Hamundarson.
The witch betrayed him to a hero’s death
with strands of Hallgerd Longlegs’ golden hair –
that’s how they tell it now. The saga says
Hlidarend was too beautiful to leave.
His horse stumbled, and he looked back
at golden cornfields and the new-mown hay.
I’m going home,” he said. “I will not go away.”
The afternoon I stood at Hlidarend
below the church, and looked out at the sea,
I thought of Gunnar singing in his grave,
and understood. My heart roots in this place.
I long for Hekla’s country in my dreams.
I keep a piece of tephra on my shelf,
and sometimes sniff my jacket seams for dust
that smells of sulphur, rock and Iceland.