Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir (b. 1942) is one of the most versatile Icelandic authors: poet, journalist, translator and theatre director. She was Chairman of the Icelandic Writers' Union from 1994 to 1998.
Her poetry surprises our senses with its concrete, passionate, sensual directness. Her language is never artificial, and her use of irony is restrained. Her poems are dense; emotion, temper and ardour pulsate in them: an unconcealed stand. Bridges between our inner life and outer reality. Her words resound for a long time in the forest of our associations.

Born in Norway of Hungarian parents and attending the French School in Oslo, I grew up in a multilingual and multicultural environment. This also included literature, as I read Balzac, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Hamsun, Mikszáth and others, in French, Norwegian, Hungarian, and later on, English.
Already as a youngster I enjoyed re-reading the same book in another language, as each language had for me its own association-pattern, making each reading a new experience. At length, when encountering some especially captivating part (be it a Dostoyevskian philosophical discussion or a Balzacian portrait), I couldn’t but start wondering how the small nuances that are the essences of these fine lines could be rendered in another language.
And so, after reading Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir’s poems (at first in Ferenc Mervel’s Hungarian translation), I somehow felt I had to translate some of them to English, so that others also could enjoy and get to know them.

Dávid Kunszenti-Kovács (b. 1985)

Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir:


Snow settles on my fears

The white snow
of forgetting
settles on my fears

till I wake up.


Times are getting unsafe:

no one watching
by the rudder in coal-black
nights no one
where to steer

the days
unknown depth
screaming proximity
- in the ship
full of fear.


Your eyes gently smile at me
in dark moments
and your memory rises high
out of the depths of time

as a hand softly caressing
on pale cheek

your memory shines bright.


While the town is asleep
rises from the sea the land
with high peaks

it rises from the grey water
white and blue and green
to kiss the red sun

I take my hands
to yours my white land

but then the town wakes
and my homeland sinks slowly
in the grey water.


There was the perfume of dew-wet coppice
and the scent of dim-green pine
and the sun was shining
but I was there alone
for you of course were far away



The house we are building
is made of rock
it's a stone house.

The house we are building
is an investment in good luck
a security in case of a decrease
in our marital happiness.

The house we are building
shall give us cover
ere the outbreak of the storm
thence we shall look
upon the world through a keyhole
and so the world will become
narrow as a keyhole.

The house we are building
is made of stone
huge stones.


Where is that island
green and ever green
with high palms
and white sand
yellow sun
and hot moist wind?

She rises from the sea
green and ever green
at the roll of drums
with red earth
fragrance of roses
and soft warm tones

She still smells sweet
green and ever green
in my dreams
the island of delights
bright and dim
and red and sky-blue.



I tell you nothing of the land
I sing no homeland-lay
about the boulders, waterfalls, pools
eagles and cattle
about the struggle of the people
and their strain in this wicked world.

But stand by my side
in the dark. Breathe deeply
and feel it flow

then say:
Here I am at home.



Once the night was so near
warm and the darkness so soft
and the moon just shining
on naked skin and on the surface of the sea
and you in the night close
warm as the darkness
soft but now
other times have come.


When all has been said
when the matters of the world have been
weighed pondered and settled
when eyes have met
and hands been shaken
in the solemnity of the moment
-there comes always a wife
to clear the table
sweep the floor and open the windows
to let the smoke out

That never changes.



Wandering in life
from morning till evening
from the washing machine to the typewriter
robot-like in my electric life
I stumble from time to time upon children saying:
I dreamt of death
I dreamt he flew in
through the windows
and wanted to get hold of me
but I was smarter Mum
I shot him
and now he won't
ever come back.

Wandering in life
I seldom think of death
- good you shot him, good
he won't come back
I say absent-minded
and continue my journey
from the washing machine to the typewriter
from the oven to the vacuum cleaner
from morning till evening.


She went through her life
and found it slowly
falling apart
under her feet

ash grey and scattered
across the starless space

she searched cautiously
in the mirror

black and empty
were the eyes in the wall
and slowly falling apart
- so excessively slowly


When love died
it was as if nothing
had happened

The funeral went on in silence
payed for by the relatives
flowers and wreaths
nowhere to be found

People went on
running to and fro
over streets and markets
as if nothing had happened.



  © All rights belong to the authors or their heirs. 2004.