Letters from Iceland – W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice

If I had a fortnight to spend myself I should go to the North-West, as I think it both the most beautiful and the least visited part of Iceland. You come to Isafjördur [sic] by the Icelandic boats from Reykjavik, and move about either by horses or motor-boat. Anyone who does this of going there should get in touch with the British Vice-consul at Isafjördur, My. Joachimsson, who is extremely kind and efficient.

We have been to Iceland twice in the last year, once in the depths of winter, with only 3 hours of full daylight and roads that were covered in snow and ice. The second trip was a hostelling tour, driving on roads which we now could see were gravel. Auden and MacNeice’s tour was much more like the latter, except in 1936 the roads had not yet been developed above farm tracks, and everywhere they went they were obliged to stop in farms and able to hire the farm horses. We also went to Ísafjörður, but these days it is (just about) possible to drive there, and new, single track with passing places, tunnels connect from one fjord to the next, such that cars can connect places.

After hearing this book mentioned in a few different places, I put in a reservation at the library as the county only had 2 copies. Within a fortnight I had a pristine copy waiting for me in the town library.

It is a slightly strange, artistic collection of long poems and letters, reflecting on their experiences in Iceland, and thoughts they have developed there. This includes reflections on the Nazi presence, as during the rise of Nazi Germany, Iceland’s pure history was held up as a good example. Then of course their is Iceland’s geography, which is well worth poetry:

Watched the sulphur basins boil,
Loops of steam uncoil and coil,
While the valley fades away
To a sketch of Judgement Day.

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