Updated: May 27, 2020
Near the birthplace of our beloved poet, K.N. Júlíus, a replica memorial will be created. A committee of interested people has been formed and they are working on this project. Akureyri will celebrate their 150th birthday this summer during the last weekend of August. The unveiling for the project will occur during the weekend.
All interested are asked to kindly donate to make this memorial site a reality. Icelandic Roots has offered to accept donations in North America. Those who live in the USA will receive a tax donation as IR is a 501c3 organization. To make a donation, click the 'Donate' button on the top of this page. 100% of your donation will be spent on the K.N. Project if you designate this on the form. If you have any questions, please contact us.
Kristján Níels Jónsson Júlíus (1859-1936), a satirical poet, was born near Akureyri, Iceland to Jón Jónsson and Þórunn Kristjánsdóttir. His father was a blacksmith. K.N. or Káinn (pronounced like ‘Cow-En’) as he was known at the time, left Eyjafjörður in 1878. K.N's older brother, Jón Júlíus Jónsson, had left in 1876. Two of his younger sisters came to America in later years.
Their mother died when K.N. was 14 years and afterwards, he lived with his uncle, Davið Kristjásson. He lived there until he was eighteen. In 1878, he immigrated to the west. At first, he lived in Winnipeg and then moved on to Duluth. Finally, in 1893, he moved to the Thingvalla area of North Dakota. He never married and had no descendants. His education was mostly self-taught and he had very little formal education before leaving Iceland.
Káinn labored for most of his adult life in the northeast North Dakota rural community called Eyford, which is in Thingvalla Township. Many of the graves in the Thingvalla Cemetery were dug by him and he was the last grave-digger to live in the Eyford community. The following is taken from an old newspaper:
“He went at his task as if he were making up a bed for a tired friend, said his close friend, Dr. Rognvaldur Petursson, and most of those buried there were the poet’s personal friends. Here he, too, rests now on the grassy flat, with a small stone at his head. But at the side of the church stands a stately monument with his likeness carved into it. It was placed there by the friends and admirers of K.N. in the United States and Canada, but designed by the neighbors, who thankfully remember the poet whose gentle humor lightened their burdens and eased their struggles for half a century, brought sunshine into their homes, and was an ever active geysir of fun and easy, original wit. Poor as he was in terms of material possessions, K.N. enriched these communities and set their cultural atmosphere as no other man has.”
K. N. Julius was a unique, beloved poet and humorist. Some of his poems became published in two books. The original book, Kviðlingar, was published in 1920. Kviðlingar og Kvæði (Ditties and Poems) was published in 1945 and edited by Richard Beck. In 1937, a book in Iceland was published called Rabb um K. N. og kveðskap hans by Magnús Gíslason. In 1965, a book called Vísnabók Káins / Kristján Níels Jónsson (K. N.) was produced by Tómas Guðmundsson in Iceland.
In the 14 Aug 1946 edition of the Heimskringla, you can find an advertisement selling New Books by the Björnsson Book Store. K.N.'s book, Kviðlingar, is for sale at $15.85 and is one of the most expensive books listed. That would be over $210 in the 2017 value of the dollar.
A large monument, dedicated to K.N. Julius, was built on the north side of the church in 1936. The inscription on the monument to K.N. reads: In Icelandic:
Kimnisskáldið Fæddur til að fækka tárum. fáir munu betur syngja. Kímnileiftur ljóða þinna, létta spor og hugann yngja. (R. Beck) Svo dremi þig um fríðan Eyjafjörð, og fagrar bernskustöðvar inn í sveit.(K. N.)
The Satirical Poet
Translated by Magnus Olafson
Born to make tears few. The mocking flashes of your verses, Lighten and renew the spirit. So dream about the beautiful fjord, of your beautiful childhood home in the countryside.
The monument was originally built in 1936 and was reconstructed in 1999 in conjunction with the 100th Annual “Deuce of August Celebration.” The celebration was originally called the 2nd of August Celebration.
Now these flags fly above his grave and his monument. It is fitting that the North Dakota flag, the Icelandic flag, and the USA flag fly above the grave of this man who knew two homelands. He lived most of his life in North Dakota in the years from 1893 – 1936.
It would be a great honor to contribute to the K. N. Julius Replica Monument in Akureyri. To make a US Tax-Deductible Donation, click the 'Donate' button on the top of the page. 100% of your donation will be spent on the K.N. Project if you designate this on the form.
To read more about K.N. and his poetry, continue reading below.
About Little Christine Geir Translation by Magnus Olafson
Since the first I saw you near, My need for sunlight dwindled; The light for my life’s path, Is by the light in your eyes kindled.
Síðan fyrst ég sá þig hér, sólskin þarf ég minna. Gegnum lífið lýsir mér ljósið augna þinna.
Anna Geir was a widow with five young children. When Káinn arrived in Pembina County, he was searching for work. He was informed about the family’s situation and he worked on the Geir farm as a farmhand for the remainder of his life. Christine (Geir) Hall was born and raised on the family farm where Káinn lived and worked. K.N did some brick laying work in the community along with digging most of the graves at the Thingvalla Cemetery. He died on the Geir farm of a stroke 25 Oct 1936.
Here is the address given in 1999 by Christine Geir Hall at the rededication ceremony of the monument:
Dakota Sunshine Translation by Gudrun Hanson
When our weary winter yields And spring relives its story, Ah, what a pretty sight to see The sun in all its glory!
And when the wide Dakota fields With ripening wheat are swaying, A pretty sight to see the sun Upon the uplands playing.
When all this tender hay is cut, In sickled-tows reclining, Ah, what a pretty sight the sun Upon the meadows shining.
Then he who yearns to catch a fish Goes to the river streaming. A pretty sight to see the pike In sunny water gleaming.
When in the morn the farmer milks, His brow with pleasure showing, A pretty sight to see the sun On all the cattle glowing.
If one can get a bit of gin, At best by illness hinting Then ’tis a pretty sight the sun Upon the bottle glinting.
And now it seems to be the trend To dress in latest styling, And ’tis a pretty sight the sun On lovely dresses smiling!
And if you long to go to church, Your gladdened faith aligning; Then ’tis a pretty sight the sun Upon the preacher shining!
And though the ‘take’ is very small The man’s surprise be showing; It is a pretty sight the sun Upon the platter glowing.
But if I had to go to church, My need for succour pining, I would as life the sun itself Refused to go on shining.
And when I’ve passed beyond this place, My bones to dust decaying, ’Twill be a pretty sight the sun Upon my tombstone playing.
This next poem is about the Icelandic celebration in our area called ”The 2nd of August” and also known for over 50 years as ”Deuce of August.” This is one of KN’s famous drinking poems. He talks about Reverend (Séra) Hans Thorgrímsen who is one of my favorite pioneers. Séra Hans was a highly respected pioneer pastor and he probably did not find KN´s drinking poems very funny. Séra Hans was very much against drinking and local stories say that he had not attended the party alluded to in the poem and he was very angry about this poem. North Dakota was a dry state at this time.
Many left in drunken sail Everywhere flows beer and ale; Whisky? No one lacked a bit, Cause Swain and Dor were selling it. Women served their coffee swill; Men ranted speeches at their will; There was singing, there was dance. There was I with Reverend Hans.
Margur þaðaan fullur fór Freyddi á skalum malt og bjór Brennivin þar brast ei neinn, Þvi báðir seldu, Dóri og Sveinn. Kvennfólk var með kaffisull Karlmenn fluttu ræðubull Þar var söngur, þar var dans Þar var ég og Séra Hans.
Séra Hans was the pastor in Pembina County from 1883-1886 and then again from 1901-1912. Káinn came to Thingvalla Township in 1893 when Reverend Fríðrík Bergmann was the pastor. So, this poem, ”Annar ágúst” (August Second), was most likely written between 1901-1912.
The very short version about the ND alcohol law is as follows: North Dakota was approved for statehood 22 Feb 1889 (4 years before Káinn arrived). A clause was proposed at the 1889 North Dakota constitutional convention that summer to prohibit the sale and manufacture of liquor. The clause was voted on by the people of ND and was approved at the October 1st vote. Saloons, liquor sales, and alcohol manufacturing were outlawed, beginning July 1, 1890.
Finally, in 1932, ND voted to repeal state prohibition. Alcohol could be manufactured, bought, and sold legally for the first time since North Dakota became a state. Káinn was still alive to see prohibition repealed but Séra Hans was the pastor in Grand Forks at the time. I suppose that Káinn could have written this poem when Séra Hans was working in Grand Forks and maybe even after prohibition was lifted in 1932. If anyone knows the actual date this poem was written, please let me know.
I am glad this is one of the poems on the panel. Some told me it was not appropriate as part of the church memorial. I believe it helps to tell the story of our ancestors and it brings us some humor. Something that seemed important to Káinn and to his honor, this storyboard panel was designed.
Bjorn Olgeirson is quoted in the Lögberg-Heimskringla newspaper 24 Sep 1999:
Björn Olgeirsson knew K.N. well in his youth. “He was a bit unusual,” Björn said, “but he did not drink as much as he is rumoured to have done. He only made the occasional trip to town and got a bit cheerful. Then he walked back, making poetry on the way. He was a great humorist who made many interesting poems.”
A few other poems that have been translated into English are as follows:
So dream about your lovely island fjord And childhood haunts upon the upland run;
Where nowhere do the colors of the land Shine fairer in the glory of the sun.
As shepherds halloo from the mountain passes, Their flocks descending to the the valley grasses.
In The Barn
One day when all was quiet I heard the moo-cows bawl; I think that they were holding A “Ladies Aid” for all.
For everyone was yapping; But none were understood They talked of all and nothing, But most concerning food.
“Yes, we’re full and chubby, And we have lots of feed; Like corn and ground up barley, And stacks of hay with seed.”
“It’s not my business really, and I don’t care, ’tis true, But by the way, dear Spottie, What is the date you’re due?”
“Come has the time for supper, What will we get for treat? Be damned! Here comes that K.N., And brings us straw to eat!”
Is It Any Wonder?
No wonder that he dabs in rhymes, And likes to chase the chicks; No wonder that he drinks a lot, And has a yen for tricks;
No wonder that he steals a bit, And is a liar too; No wonder when he hangs around With such a rascal crew!
I attended a dance there one evening, I’d been feeling so lonely and low; I wanted to go and observe it, And watch how the evening would go.
There youth celebrated its hour. I felt a familiar fire. I sat til the daylight was dawning, In the swirl of hypnotic desire.
The glorious maidens kept dancing With spiffy admiring guys. I sat in a corner unbothered, Alone there with curious eyes.
They bared both their arms and their bosoms, Their ringlets asway and aglow; Such goddesses filled with a power To rouse all the sick with their show.
The blood in my veins was aboiling, My lips were a flammable red; My eyes with the fires of passion Were popping right out of my head.
The fires ignited my body, And burned at my heart-strings too; They singed a part of my jacket, Eventually burning it through!
To make a US Tax-Deductible Donation, click the 'Donate' button on the top of the page. 100% of your donation will be spent on the K.N. Project if you designate this on the form.
Preserving our history for future generations is so important. Thanks for helping to share the story of ancestors.