Updated: Jul 17, 2021
Written by Elin de Ruyter
Icelanders are a poetic people.
Looking back through the ages, it was the art of creating verse that kept Icelanders not only entertained during the cold dark days of winter and through the monotonous chores of the times, but it was a way to express emotions that were otherwise bottled deep in the soul.
Kristján ‘Fjallaskáld’ Jónsson (IR# I309246) was and is still today considered one of Iceland‘s national poets. He was given the name Fjallaskáld referring to the mountains in the north where he worked as a farm labourer.
Kristján was born into a poor farming family in 1842 at Krossdal, Kelduhverfi in Norður Þingeyjarsýsla, Iceland. He sadly lost his father young, but his mother remarried and it was the troubled relationship with his new stepfather that pushed him to leave home at the tender age of 12 years old. He went on to work at various farms in the Öxafirði region and from the years 1859 to 1863 Kristján was a vinnumaður (workhand) at a farm in the Hólsfjöll district.
In 1861 at the age of 19 his poems were published by Icelandic newspapers, the first two "Haust" and "Skarphéðinn" and the much acclaimed "Dettifoss" bringing him the love of the Icelandic people and the title as one of Iceland´s national poets. The people of his district managed to collect enough money to send him to the College in Reykjavík, but he withdrew from his studies early and went to Vopnafjörður where he became children's tutor.
Like many, Kristján took to poetry young, perhaps as an outlet for the emotional scars he carried within. Though his work was well liked, he was a tormented soul, said to be a product of the times, having grown up with poverty and hardship. He suffered from poor health, alcoholism and depression, leading to an early grave. His poems were collected into a book after his death on the 9th of April 1869. He was only 26 years old.
His poem "Dettifoss" is still to this day considered one of the most beautiful poems written in Icelandic and is an example of some of his best work.
Some other poems by Kristján Fjallaskáld Jónsson include: Delerium tremens eða: Veritas in vino, Þorraþræll, Tárið, Haust, Kveðið á Sandi, Staka, Dettifoss, Ekki er allt sem sýnist, Gröfin, Vonin. Click here to read these poems in Icelandic:
Watch the video below to hear his poem Kveðið á Sandi sung:
Watch the video below to hear his poem Þorraþræll sung: