Vitality Brook

Excerpts translated by Philip Roughton

Chapter 1

This was in the days when the life of the Icelandic nation hung by a thread. midsummer in the year of our Lord 1783, the earth’s crust tore open at Skaftárjökull Glacier, west of the great Vatnajökull glacier, and filled the nearby settlements with a mass of molten lava; the fiery fissure belched blasts of pumice and ash that obscured the sun. Flames spouted high into the sky, and it was said that the fire could be seen from a distance of a six- or even seven-days’ journey, despite the air being shrouded in a gray haze. Due to the ash-spewing character of these convulsions, these calamitous times became commonly known as the “Haze Hardships”. Another characteristic of these eruptions was their unparalleled longevity; the earth continued to spew fire and ash for almost an entire year, leading many to believe, the longer they went on, that this time the fires would never go out.

A hard, slushy-yellow and copper-colored mass covered the land, hindering the growth of grass in the south and elsewhere; in the east, people battled fire and flying rocks, while prevailing southerlies covered the countryside to the north with pumice and ash, choking vegetation; people fumbled their way through smoke. The following season was cold, and the sunlight was black, as it says in an old poem.

These particular eruptions, however, were far from extraordinary at this point in Iceland’s history— in fact, news of them often prompted some simply to mutter “so it has begun burning there, as well.” Earlier that century, the Grímsvötn volcano itself erupted — the earth kindled where it was wettest— and starting in 1717, tumultuous eruptions


took place in the Eastern glaciers, darkening the sky and spewing sand over the Þingeyjar district and Eyjafjörður. Four years later, a tremendous eruption occurred at the Kötlugjá gorge, one of the mouths of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, producing a dense, sandy cloud, thick smoke and fiery blasts, and a terrible flood of water over the Mýrdalssandur plain, causing severe damage and hardship. Three years later, Krabla, as it was then written, erupted, and, for a period, much of Lake Mývatn dried up. That eruption continued for a long time, either in Krabla, Leirhnjúkur, or Bjarnarflag.

As these events were taking place, the Öræfajökull glacier burst in a violent outbreak, rolling chunks of ice the size of small mountains out onto the surrounding lowland, followed by fiery blasts. These calamities commenced again in the middle of the century, when Mýrdalsjökull burst once more, releasing huge amounts of water in glacial floods and a cloud of toxic gas from the mouth of the Kötlugjá gorge. The earth jolted, cracked, and quaked, and fire blazed from the fissure, shooting molten projectiles over the nearby districts. Ten years later, in 1766, Mount Hekla began burning, causing the same sort of damage as Katla: farms were abandoned, and people and livestock fell dead on the pumice-covered earth, producing puffs of ash upon falling, as the sun shone blood red through the smoke and sandy haze. The damage was greatest in the Húnavatn and Skagafjörður districts, where the southerlies carried most of the ash fall. The same year that the Haze Hardships began, an eruption took place off the Reykjanes peninsula, raising an island from the sea, which our King, Christian VII, named, straightforwardly, Nýey— New Island. A surviving royal edict urges Chamberlain Levetzow and Magnús Stephensen to attempt to land there and “claim the island for the king,” which was in fact impossible due to the ongoing eruptions. It was considered exceptional that the Danish king had expanded his territory without waging war. Some time later, the previously mentioned Skaftá Fires began, inspiring that curious statement, heard widely, that it had begun burning there as well— but what no one could have predicted was the magnitude and length of these eruptions, which outdid all previous ones.

This is not to say, however, that the aforementioned eruptions were the only calamities suffered by the Icelanders at that period in history. Here, in fact, the old adage fits best, that rarely is one wave not followed by another. Great floods washed over the lowland settlements, up to 1,500 fathoms onto dry land, while sea ice lapped at the land for much of the winter, which was so cold that the sea froze. People could walk from Reykjavik straight over to Akranes without wetting their clothes, as they did from one Breiðafjörður island to the next. As a result, there was a general failure of fishing catches from the Feast of the Cross in the fall of 1783 until the end of the year, on top of the utter devastation of livestock. Scientists of the time kept surprisingly accurate records, still preserved, of the numbers of dead, both humans and livestock. The shortage of grass led horses to consume dead horses, as well as the walls, posts, and paneling of abandoned farms, while sheep ate their own wool; both sickened and died. People had nothing to eat but old horse carcasses, after which, they sickened and died, while cattle died mainly of starvation and internal maladies, or from failed respiratory systems. The biography of a priest who did not flee the Skaftá area states that in densely populated areas, corpses were piled coffinless in mass graves and covered over with earth.

This was called “holing” people.

The figures tell the story. In 1784, the number of Icelanders decreased by 4,289, horses by 28,000; cattle were reduced by 11,461, and sheep declined by 190,488. These are astonishingly precise figures; in its own way, it is remarkable how much information about Death and his victims was preserved, considering the scope of the catastrophe.

To crown the devastation, one of the worst outbreaks of the Great Pox (smallpox) ever recorded harried the country at that same time, in addition to dysentery, scurvy, streptococcus, and mumps, while infants died mainly of asthma and cough, pox, gastritis, and measles. Then there was pneumonia, which followed hard in the wake of the Great Pox. The number of lepers grew rapidly, due mainly, in the opinion of our Physician General Bjarni Pálsson, to remissness and uncleanliness. All of these calamities were carried aboard foreign ships to this country’s harbors; although the ships’ wares saved some people from starvation, they actually killed far more.

Nor may it be forgotten that as early as 1781, poverty compelled the general population to buy cheap barley from the Danish Chamber of Revenue’s Compagnie, which was obligated to send so-called “famine grain.” Due, however, to delirium and malnutrition, as well as a general lack of information from the Royal Mercantile Company, people made the mistake of eating the barley whole— bristles, husks, and all — leading to widespread dysentery and other stomach ailments, and consequent loss of life. Immoderate consumption of Greenland shark killed numerous people in the western and northwestern parts of the country— mainly due to a shortage of brennivín (aquavit), which is a necessary drink with this sort of food, particularly if it is eaten straight from the pile being cured. Worms got to the little vegetation that managed to grow in spite of the ash and pumice in 1784, wiping out the birch copses. Fruit trees died. Attempts to cultivate grain bore no results, and no one gave a thought to the tobacco plants, which seemed to be the only thing that could endure the ash and smoke. Whale strandings were small comfort; these carcasses heat up on the inside as decay sets in, and the intestines burst and spoil the flesh. Thus, many good people lost their lives to washed-up whales— people who thought that their lives were saved for the time being.

While the hardships caused by these natural disasters did away with most of the paupers and wastrels, decrepit old folk, the marginalized and filthy rabble, the profligate and the sick, horse eaters, sluggards, and landlopers— perhaps most tragic was that the pestilence killed the most promising members of society, in the blossom of their youth, those who were strongest and had endured the worst of the depravations.

In itself, life simply could not thrive.
It was impossible— to live.
Word of the conditions in our little land spread widely, not least in the many

different countries that found themselves subject to the dark ash cloud that settled over the world’s Northern Hemisphere from Siberia to Alaska and south to Italy, where grapes failed to develop fully due to the cold. The crop failures and resulting hardships in the northerly regions of the European continent are said by some to have contributed to subsequent major revolutions.

A man by the name of George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, wrote of the Icelanders’ tribulations in his Histoire naturelle, mentioning Hekla’s oppressive suspirations, the earthquakes and poison-spewing volcanoes, and Voltaire remarked on

Icelanders’ hardships in his writings. These texts reached Leopardi the Italian, il poeta dolore, the poet of pain. In his book Operette morali, Leopardi depicted nature as a merciless, cold-tempered giantess of stone. In this work, Nature says that it is all the same to her if she were to destroy mankind— she would not even bat an eye. She is concerned with all else but the good of mankind; here it appears that the good Father who had previously kept his eye on our labors was beginning to be erased from the clouds— but enough about that.

In Leopardi’s text, cold-hearted Nature addresses an Icelander; a poor Icelander fleeing Nature becomes the poet’s mouthpiece. If it is to be understood that life is futile and nature merciless, then it is most so in Iceland, and thus, the philosopher is able to lay the foundation for his attitude toward life with fresh examples of disasters from our little land. And it ought not be forgotten that Leopardi was not interested in making a mockery of human destiny with his satires. Later, respected philologists and philosophers agreed that beyond all else, Leopardi was sympathetic toward men’s lot, and although the above example does in fact display a certain sympathy for all mankind, it cannot be denied that in this example, at least, the greatest sympathy is for us Icelanders. It may thus be said that the natural disasters in our little land both provided food for philosophical speculation far beyond our borders, and occasioned a certain compassion.


People were disagreed as to whether God or the Devil was behind these things, or whether the two were perhaps working in cooperation; in other words, the one deciding to reef the sails of mercy due to men’s bad behavior, and thereby giving the other free rein to unleash his worst. Yet now there were those who claimed that neither of them was behind these things— men who wrote that churches that were blown off their foundations or buried in lava were “redundant,” and did not mourn. These were men of the new era, who blew like a fresh wind through our part of the world; this was the new man, who was going to overcome nature with the strict hand of science and tame it with his inventiveness and intuition according to the laws of the great clockwork of the Lord. Everything could be measured, understood, and separated into purpose-made categories, and when the correct niche had been found for each thing, as the great scientific revolutionary Descartes taught, the task of science was to probe the nature of the thing in and of itself, and not in relation to other things, because the older “signatura” doctrine was now viewed as obsolete, monkish error— into which those waded who sought the designs of the Lord in the work of creation but did not understand the laws behind it, and concocted remedies for head ailments from walnuts due to the nuts’ resemblance to the human brain. People were not to believe anything without having empirical evidence for it; they were to doubt all the old ideas and ways that had been followed without critical thought. The new men thought; those who did not think or question— did not exist, in their own way.

Monkish error, monkish stories, monkish metaphors, and papist error were terms that were very often on the lips of the new men; they called the old forms of thought alchemy- and signature nonsense or astrology-fiction, imbued with the darkness of

superstition and sorcery. Science, having finally reached maturity, had to be stripped of all vestiges of superstition— yes, of all forms of belief. Science was not to address what men believed, but rather, base itself on instrumental measurements and research, in which all hypotheses were to be proven by means of scientific experiments enlightened by the radiant light of science. This spirit ought to be focused on what was true and beautiful, to raise man’s nobility to a higher plane and make him master of his own destiny.

Although certain outlines of God in a silvery peruke could still be detected in the clouds, as a kind of supreme master of science and great smith, that image was fast fading; the Lord took an ever-diminishing part in the hubbub down on Earth, according to the new men.

These new men stated: “Neither God nor the Devil are behind this; these are disasters of blind nature!” Volcanists asserted that the Earth had torn open as if from internal tension, and its fiery lava had poured out like blood from a deep abrasion; down below, it was all one burning pit of molten lava. There was no mouth of Hell on Mount Hekla; rather, it was an opening into the same fire that burns below and bursts out through the scales of the Earth’s crust. It was her nature and laws, and her blind powers were never a respecter of persons. Or how might it be explained that the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen burned to ashes while the brothel next door stood there unscathed? For poverty and misery, man had only himself to blame; natural disasters were the fault of blind nature. God had nothing to do with these matters.

There were few who believed such statements, and if they did believe them, it was never for more than part of a day.

Some of these new men came to learn that the roots of human nature lie deep in the dark, ghostly past, and cannot be pulled up in their entirety at one go— if ever— from human nature.

Where was I, now?

Yes, it appears that in those days, life was, to say it plainly, impossible. But others besides the Icelanders had realized that, and had begun to formulate certain schemes to ensure that the inhabitants of that country would not be wiped off the face of the Earth.

Chapter II

The horse-drawn coaches come clattering from different directions along the cobblestone streets toward Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen. At this time, the city is surrounded by a great ring fortification and canals, built as defenses against the Swedes and slung around the city in frills, like the lace ruffles on people’s clothing. Some of the coaches come from the area around the so-called western gate of this fortification, Vesterport, while others come from areas around the other gates. In the poor visibility of the misty drizzle, the coaches resemble dragons as they speed past elegantly dressed ladies of pleasure who fawn on hatted men in the tall archways that jut out from the palace. There in the archways, oil lamps hang like glowing orbs in the fog, gray at the periphery, and hoofbeats echo.

Most of the men in the carriages have either hung up their wigs on hooks or hold them in their laps for the drive, but start fiddling with putting them back on as soon as the coachmen turn up Slotsholm Street. A canal lies alongside this street, which opens into Christiansborg Palace Square, a small plaza fronting a red building with a massive relief over its entrance. Towering over the center of the relief is Christian IV, surrounded by weapons and banners, anchors, barrels, and sundry inscriptions. This is the renowned Chancellery building, which houses the Royal Chamber of Revenue.

Wigs have become so weighty that officials pull them off their heads whenever they are not engaged in their public duties; their heads sweat beneath them, and what is more, lice and fleas congregate in these wigs as never before, for this is the era of the white peruke, with all its powders and dressings of flour and chalk over the suet-smeared hair.

A pervasive fragrance of orange blossoms and lavender assails the nose when the ecosystem comprising one of these wigs is disturbed. Most gentlemen wear large Campaign perukes, with a veritable plague of whopping curls from the forehead down, combed into a widow’s peak and with a whorled pig’s tail at the back, hanging down to the hips. The era of the wig is beginning to draw to a close, and when something approaches its end, it frequently becomes extravagant; the Campaign peruke being an excellent example. Others, especially the younger officials, find the pomp appalling, and have instead begun wearing a combination of a skullcap and hair called a Toupee even in Copenhagen, where most everything having to do with fashion, the theater, the arts, sciences, and literature is expressed in French terms. Letters begin with the words monfrere or amice, a time period is called florissante— flourishing— by the well- moneyed mercantile elite that delight in displaying themselves on the streets and squares in gaudy finery from France. The first thing that the men do after clambering down from the coaches at the front steps of the Chancellery building is brush the powder from their wigs off of their trousers.

Most start complaining about the weather, the unparalleled cold; complaints that, in fact, almost all Europeans can agree with. A footman takes the cloaks, togs, overcoats, and keffiyehs that the men remove and hand to him. Conversations are struck up in the foyer, the men giving barely a glance to the door decorations painted in the Rococo style or the statues of Christian VII’s drinking horns, overflowing with gold coins. There is so much to discuss. The men sit down at marble console tables with gilded feet, a servant standing by with a platter of glasses of spiced wine. Several of the men are discussing an idea proposed by the French and published recently in the evening paper, to release hundreds of ravenous wolves in the British Isles and let them devour a large percentage of the population there.

That would certainly change things for us and our interests if it were to happen. The men nod in agreement. Spiced wine. There is a sudden commotion at one table, so disruptive that the others quit their small talk for the moment. Tempers have risen over something that appeared in yesterday’s Copenhagen Post-Times: a précis of the work of the aforementioned naturalist de Buffon, translated into Danish, in which he asserts that the earth is 168,000 years old! Now this heresy would spread among the commoners! Like a plague! What next?!

Until now, everyone knew that the Earth had been created in a week, though with a rest on the weekend, of course— and this had happened just over three thousand five hundred years ago. Whale bones found on a mountain in Norway, however, raised questions that had no coherent answers. Some took this as an indication that the Earth must be over three thousand years old, as mountains were formed so slowly. Others clung tightly to Holy Scripture, and in fact took the whale-bone discovery to be empirical evidence for the Biblical Flood; the whale had obviously been swimming over that particular mountain when God stopped the downpour and the floodwaters drained away. Not everyone agreed with the new Volcanists; the Neptunists held onto their belief that the mountains were formed by the Flood, as recounted in the Bible. The established worldview was in a precarious position.

“Now, it may be that our Holy Scripture is not being literal when it speaks of days,” says a man with a pointy nose, a high forehead, reddish cheeks and a dimpled chin, “and if there were ten thousand years in a day, then, perhaps, de Buffon’s estimation of the age of the Earth would not be far off.” The speaker is the young, ambitious Reventlow; the older men respond to his remarks with poohs and pshaws.

An oldish man, three double chins beneath his spherical head and imposing peruke, replies in a gruff voice: “What then? After having called our Holy Scripture an anachronism and fabula: what next? Begin doubting the existence of our Lord? That the journey of Moses to the Promised Land is nothing but a fantasy, and our Lord Jesus Christ’s feeding the multitude with three fishes is a mere folktale? If such rakishness were not commonplace now, this heretic de Buffon would have been consigned to the fire already, like that Dominican monk— what was his name, again?”

“You mean Bruno,” says a third man, who is middle-aged and speaks in a deep, even-tempered voice that has a certain charm. “No need to reject all the Bible’s truths though it might contain an anachronism; it is uncertain whether those who wrote down its words had chronologiam and curriculum as priorities.” His long jacket is so exquisitely embroidered that the garment must have taken months to make. “It is necessary to categorize and catalogue the types of accounts in question, and afterward analyze what truths they contain…”

The group that had gathered in the foyer of the Chancellery building now sets off down the tiled, black-and-white checkered stone floor of a corridor in the main building, past the offices of the German Chancellery and other key bureaus within the Danish government; it is here that the power games determining the fates of nations are played. At the end of the corridor, just beyond the boudoir of His Majesty’s mistress, the group is still conversing energetically as it passes through a wooden doorway carved with leaves and vines and enters the assembly room of the Chamber of Revenue.

Upon entering, most of the men bow their heads slightly in the direction of a painting hanging on the wall by the door. It is their supreme lord: King Christian VII. Some appear to smirk slightly or even give little snorts as they bow their heads. Word on the street is that the king has recently taken a turn for the worse. Some say that he has become little more than a beast, plain and simple, having deteriorated steadily ever since Struensee was beheaded for his affair with the queen. He is far too amorous, knowing moderation neither there nor in drink, which is truly unbecoming of a king. Rumor has it

that members of the Chancellery have advocated amending the law in order to relieve the king of his duties and replace him with Crown Prince Frederick.

We who come from more homely places are unable to stop ourselves from admiring the many beautiful things in this room that the others, accustomed as they are to luxury, barely notice. French-inspired gypsum decorations in a highly ornate Baroque style, wings and clusters of grapes, extend outward from the corners. The ceiling is painted in vibrant colors; there we see Divine Providence itself, in the form of a beautifully-bosomed common woman, towering over the rest, perched on a blue globe symbolizing the Earth, surrounded by white clouds rife with plump, fair-skinned angels emerging from clouds. Beneath the clouds are numerous women, including a naked lady representing love, and at the bottom of the image, Chronos devours an infant— its arm is in his mouth. Time devours its children.

Let us turn our attention to two men standing somewhat apart from the Danish gentlemen, near a large tile stove in the corner of the room. They seem to be speaking in a different language than the others, though their conversation is sprinkled with Latin, Danish, and French words and expressions. One of them has a proud bearing; he is bright-complexioned, red-cheeked like an adolescent boy and curly-haired, has a white silk kerchief around his neck and lace frills on his lapels, and is wearing an elegant velvet jacket with a pattern that stands out like a bas-relief from the fabric.

The other seems almost ashamed of being so tall— toward the top, he appears almost sickle-shaped. The men’s jackets have large, baggy sleeves, their cuffs embroidered fancily. The figure of the tall man, with his rounded shoulders, slightly hunched back and sunken chest, hints strongly at personal afflictions. His face appears much younger than the rest of his figure, despite the dark bulges around the black eyes in his lantern-jawed face. He is as lean as a fish. He looks at the young, bright man with the silk kerchief. His jowls are grizzled and his skin grayish, yet this is not the face of an old man— although this assertion cannot be substantiated. Some things can never be substantiated, but intuition and feeling— these are unfashionable. They stand at the large tile stove, converse in even softer voices.

Entering the room, one encounters two long tables perpendicular to a rostrum of dark oak, the room itself wood-paneled halfway up its whitewashed walls, with damask on the chairs and at the windows. Various men of power in perukes adorn the walls, some of them painted in bright colors, with white-powdered cheeks, red lips, birthmarks at their cheekbones. There are older kings such as Frederick III, the book-loving collector of antiquities, and Christian V, who introduced Lutheranism and the Grand Decree to Iceland, the latter being an attempt to reduce adultery and improve morality through strict prohibitions and punishments. The harsh prohibitions appear to have had precisely the opposite effect, resulting in little more than a substantial increase in the number of Icelandic women drowned and the faces of exposed infants appearing in windows in lullabies— but now we are getting sidetracked. We were describing the meeting of the Royal Chamber of Revenue at the Chancellery in Copenhagen in the winter of 1784.

The Lord Chamberlain Levetzow steps onto the rostrum. He has recently returned from a long journey to Iceland, where, among other things, he dwelled in a tent

in the eastern part of the country, a short distance from the fire-spewing fissure itself. He is given to dramatic flair, and speaks loudly and authoritatively. His nose is stubby- tipped— what is sometimes called “bottlenosed”— and imposing sideburns reach down below his chin, framing his marzipan face. He speaks with conviction, driving his thesis steadily toward a rationally established conclusion. There is, however, little rhetorical flourish and scant use of Latin in his speech, revealing him to be no learned man, despite the requirements of his position. He will soon be appointed governor of our little country; let us listen in on his address:

“62,000 rixdollars, gentlemen, 62,000 rixdollars that our king has ladled into the so-called ‘new implementations’ of Steward Skúli Magnussen— the entire sum for the establishment of industry in Reykjavik, including wool-dyeing facilities and a fulling mill, and what has it profited us? Gentlemen, I ask: where is the textile factory that was promised to our king, and which was to have helped make the Icelanders more self- sufficient in their struggle for existence?”

The lantern-jawed, round-shouldered man gets to his feet; clear now is the way that his face has been marked by prolonged concerns. He speaks humbly, and the locals can hear that he himself is from that fire-scorched island, despite nothing in his vocabulary giving him away. His wig, which is slightly askew and too thick, does not suit him; he has no aristocratic air, per se. The man courteously points out that this sum certainly did not evaporate into thin air, as the esteemed, most gracious Lord Chamberlain indicates; rather, that it was now in the hands of both sundry Danish companies and the Royal Iceland Trade. “The various merchants have demanded extremely high sums in start capital; 20,000 rixdollars went toward the cargo of the Navy alone, if he might be permitted to exemplify on these matters, and in addition, a similar sum was paid for diverse, unspecified expenditures that were the purest fabrications. The representatives of the Copenhagen Chandlers’ Guild have utterly wrecked that project by means of rifts and schemes and placed its remains in the hands of the mercantile companies— they have disrupted these plans through their prolonged enmity; it is they who wish to obstruct all progress…”

He is booed into silence by members of the Royal Chamber of Revenue. There is a noise of bouncing curls, there is a human lowing; this is an entirely different response than that accorded the address of the Chamberlain, who seizes the opportunity and continues:

“Here I identified only one example out of hundreds, Mister Erichsen, and you know as well as I how much has been squandered on that barbaric land to the north, to the depletion of our state coffers during these most recent and worst of times, the planting of fruit trees for 5,000 rixdollars, all of which were killed, grain crops on every farm, which yielded not so much as a single ear, horticultural brochures and John Grimsen sent throughout the country, 4,000; the importation of fine-wooled rams: 7,000 rixdollars, which yielded nothing but death by pestilence, since no Icelander realized the danger of sheep plague…”

Now the younger man in the silk kerchief stands and speaks: “Might I point out to the honorable Chamberlain that the oft-mentioned Swedish baron who advocated the improvements to the Icelandic sheep stock, His Grace Hastfer, was in fact the one who

did not take pains to ensure that the Spanish rams did not become infected on their way to Iceland, and that, at his order, a hundred ewes were given to those rams in their infected and infectious state. It was representatives of the Danish Navy who gave our people the order to…”

“Do not attempt to mislead us, Mister Studiosus Stephensen! Are we Danes now to be blamed for the sheep plague?!” The man on the rostrum holds the floor, and declares that no matter where one looks in this sad story, all attempts at improvement have yielded nothing but debt, every act and subsidy of our gracious king has done nothing to inspire industriousness among the Icelanders, who are mired in thievery, addiction to drink and tobacco, and sloth. “How did those people respond when our agent was sent to all the farms to teach horticulture? ‘Are we now to eat grass like our livestock?’ That was their answer in every corner of the country: ‘You wish us to eat grass, like livestock!’ And then those people laughed disparagingly at their teacher!”

No no no, this simply will not do, went a murmur through the assembly.

“Such foolishness and obstinacy has cost thousands of lives, because if the Icelanders had had vegetable patches in these recent periods of famine, they would have made do. And now, gentlemen, after the earth has ripped asunder in the Skaftafell district, spreading fire and ash everywhere, the Icelanders’ mettle will certainly never strengthen. How many thousands took part in the projects of Thoroddur and Olavius? Were sent throughout the country in search of lignite, porcelenum, and graphite, which they in fact found everywhere— but then what?”

“Hundreds, would be more precise,” said the lantern-jawed man.

“No one does anything! No factory has been established; our Compagnie men make no effort, as, according to medieval Icelandic laws, they are not permitted to go about their work there in the north in the winter, and the Icelanders are shiftless and ruled by ingrown dullness and sluggishness. It matters not, gentlemen, where one sets foot in that land; as long as there are no enlightened people to provide the commonfolk with discipline and manners, and Icelanders do not give up their laws, no industry will ever be established in that country. How did it go with the tobacco plants, which did in fact manage to survive? No one took it upon himself to follow up on that project or to see to shoveling the ash off of them, yet the Icelanders’ tobacco usage has increased threefold— and I saw many such tobacco fiends who were incapable of doing any work or who had no food. The sowing of flax and hemp— no one continued it! Potatoes, which could be for the Icelanders the equivalent of flour— no one lifts a finger to plant them any longer! Hundreds of cauldrons transported to all quarters of the country to teach potash burning — and people use the cauldrons as hitching blocks for their horses! Windmills transported there— only to lie unconstructed in their crates! That entire population is utterly hopeless and spiritless!”

Chamberlain Levetzow tweaked his sideburns disheartenedly. “And although a shipment of money bearing the seal of our king was sent to that country, where it was to have been distributed by a magistrate in the districts there to the east, near the fires, an impertinent priest, Reverend Steingrimsen, took it upon himself to break the king’s sacred seal and distribute the money to whomever he pleased. Even the priests are thievish and insolent in that country!” This he had witnessed personally when he visited the area of

the eruption.
“Or the lime production that was demonstrated and taught, and people hired to do

the work— these people will accept nothing, and no castigation is sufficient to save them. It is as if these people possess no self-esteem, which Mr. Smith, the Englishman, teaches is the root of all progress and prosperity. A linen-bleaching workshop, lime production, it all turns out the same! The people in this country turn up their noses at every good endeavor, and are incapable of accomplishment or progress. The new scythe-sharpening technique: they come and learn the technique, then return home and continue to sharpen their scythes the old way!” As the sparks of fervency began to fade in Chairman Levetzow’s speech, they were replaced by earnestness:

“Honorable ministers. Monstrous calamities, monstrous calamities have befallen and turned that island into hellish habitat of fire and ash. Men and beasts have been decimated, and where it was difficult to get the islanders to stand on their own two feet before, it is entirely unthinkable now. It is for this reason, and with a heavy heart, though no less a sense of obligation to the love of neighbor preached by our Lord Jesus Christ, that I solicit your endorsement for a letter of recommendation, attested to by you and addressed to our most merciful sire, Christian the Seventh, to be submitted to the Royal Chancellery, and which shall contain a request for a royal edict stipulating that those dying people be removed from that uninhabitable island— not hundreds, as the magistrate John Svendsen writes, not thousands, as we have discussed previously, but more specifically, around twenty-thousand of the able-bodied persons still to be found there. In my eyes, a better life can be provided for them here in our kingdom, once admonished and disciplined into honest labor— I know that many of you could very well find capable workers among them for your industries— an excellent, uncostly workforce could be created if the admonishments are successful; if you provide them honorable work in the name of the love of one’s neighbor, which we may not withhold from the needier among us in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We propose to put an end to the misery and helplessness of these people, which will, at the same, rectify the ceaseless expenditure of funds that returns nothing to our state coffers now that the tolls collected from the active Compagnies have plummeted, there being no goods to be had from that country nowadays. Continuously now for a year and a half, fires have burned there in the eastern part of the country, with no prospects of them stopping.

“This matter, I have discussed with His Most Merciful Governor, Mr. Thodal, who has expressed his wholehearted satisfaction with these plans, following the shining example that the English have displayed to the world with their Enclosures, by means of which they have saved people from hunger and debasement in the uninhabitable Highlands of Scotland and moved those people to more respectable jobs in new, beautiful factories in their cities, and in doing so, greatly improved the conditions of that land and people…”

The two Icelanders, the Privy Councilor Jón Eiríksson and Magnús Stephensen, currently a student, but soon Crown secretary and assessor, look at each other and smile embarrassedly. Beads of sweat are visible on Jón’s forehead and temples; sweat trickles from beneath his thick wig, until the members of the Royal Chamber of Revenue, along with the representatives of the West Indies Company, applaud Chamberlain Levetzow’s

speech so boisterously that both of their faces pale, as an inexplicable shame spreads through their veins. Why, or whence, came this shame? It cannot be pinned down. Yet it certainly is palpable.

Jón Eiríksson, the gray man, rises from his seat; his eyes are sharp, though his voice is imbued with humility; this combination of qualities has most definitely been of advantage to him in retaining his position within the Danish government— as it must be: poise must be maintained, despite everything burning inside. He asks: “What of those who are not able-bodied? Who shall save them? Does the Lord Chamberlain not realize the double damage that will be done by removing the country’s young, able-bodied people? That doing so will hasten the utter ruination of the country?”

There is a great uproar and clamor among the men: “What about removing them all?” is heard in the chaos; someone declares that the population of Copenhagen is nearly 90,000, and that there is no room for any more; the fortification built when the population was 50,000 has become constrictive. Another points out that there is enough space in Jutland; what about Norway!? “Finnmark! Move them to Finnmark!” shouts a man standing off to the side, by the window. “They will all perish anyway! The eruptions will never cease!” Some try to address the assembly from the rostrum, but now, there is too much interruption and heckling; royal rules no longer govern the assembly. These enlightened men, who have been thoroughly educated in the latest scientific theories and trained in the application of rational thought, simply cannot grasp what principles are in operation here, depriving the members of the Royal Chamber of Revenue of their intellects and causing them to jabber like children. It is an old tradition for their meetings to conclude in chaos— no one knows why or how this happens, although it may be because the men are already drunk on aquavit or fatigued and give vent to their weariness in this way, but it typically only occurs when the discussion concerns Iceland, and had done so as far back as the oldest of them remember. Perhaps the men are inspired to barbarism when discussing Iceland, and thus, give themselves over to the uncivilized and begin yapping, having become ravenous for something.

Before the meeting is adjourned, however, the men manage to agree to the Chamber of Revenue ratifying Chamberlain Levetzow’s proposal that a formal letter be sent to the Chancellery, petitioning for a royal edict stipulating the implementation of these rescue operations and the execution of the Icelanders’ removal by the will of His Most Gracious Majesty. In the foyer, perukes come off; the men have begun to itch beneath them, and they are relieved to no end when they are finally able to remove those lice-ridden monstrosities from their heads. They then go out to their coaches, which drive the animated authorities down the cobblestone street to the sounds of hoofbeats and clattering wheels— before receding into the grayness and changing back into the monsters that they were before.

Chapter VII

Thick, pillowy cumulus clouds converged with anvil clouds and filled the spaces between rock pillars and scars that towered over the scientific expedition riding into Kollafjörður.

As if in a painting, the expedition was framed by mountains and fjords, with red repousée clouds at the top. Knolls and fields on the outermost promontories were guardedly beginning to green, although there was still ice in the ravines and valley floors, despite it being well into May.

Bárður, riding in front, stopped his horse, dismounted and began to fiddle at his waist, loosening his belt string.

The magister rode up to him, and Bárður turned away. The magister dismounted as well and watched as the man pulled something from his pants: a dried seal stomach full of liquid.

“What have we here?” asked the magister.

“Ah, well, there’s that, you see. I was hoping that you wouldn’t, ehh… Might I ask you to step away?” Bárður poured a yellow liquid from the bottle.

“I was hoping to avoid showing you this,” he said, close to tears, after putting the container back in his pants. “I am no worse of a guide because of this, I hope the gentleman understands! A number of years ago, I suffered a hernia that extended to my scrotum, causing incontinence that requires me to keep a cup, so to speak, in my breeches.”

Jón Grímsson interpreted for the surprised magister, while looking away distractedly: “Han kan ikke styre tissemand”— he cannot control his willy.

Hearing this, Magnús Árelíus’ mood lightened, and he felt more well-disposed toward Bárður afterward. A man feels sympathy for the weak and bent, though he longs for the strong and straight, thought the magister.

He stopped at every farm that had smoke wafting from its turf roof; inquired of and made notes about the household, livestock, the value of the farm in hundreds, the living conditions, any curiosities and whether such things might be for sale. All information would not only be included in the General Protocol to the Chamber of Revenue, but would also be of great interest to the Royal Land Commission. He asked some people what they might think about boarding ships in the fall, sailing to Denmark, and starting new lives there. Few of them understood the question, and thought that the man was saying these things for his own amusement. They were not always welcomed warmly at the farms.

Some answered the magister’s questions simply to rid their farmyards of these visitors, while others made long-winded complaints about far-too distant merchants. It was no attractive prospect to have to travel all the way north to Reykjarfjörður or Skagaströnd to engage in trade, especially when uncertain whether ships would come this year, or would betray them as they did last year. Barely a word could be gotten out of others, apart from their claiming to have pressing chores before disappearing back into their farmhouses. Some of the people knitted while answering, without looking up from their coarse wool yarn. One resident said that he no longer believed in reports and protocols, or any sort of letter listing grievances in general. He no longer believed in the men who prattled on about such things. He did not believe that any ships would come, least of all to Steingrímsfjörður, and therefore did not believe in a new life in a new country, either. He said that he no longer knew what to believe. But if a ship were to sail up the fjord, it could bring with it some material for fishing lines— and the magister was

welcome to deliver this message to the Royal Trade.
By the time they finally reached the Kollafjarðarnes headland, at the mouth of the

fjord, an easterly had begun to blow. By evening, it was raining.
During these constrained times, it was not a given that the expeditionaries be

displayed any special hospitality, as had been the case at Broddanes. Despite the travelers being aristocratic, holding important offices, and bearing royal letters with seals and signatures— in some places, these were not enough. It was primarily the poorest, most wretched folk who displayed them hospitality. They now knocked on a door at Kollafjarðarnes. The farmer and his wife stepped out.

Magus Árelíus ratcheted up his patrician charm. He unbuttoned his overcoat to let the wind billow it. He removed his tricorne from his silvery toupee-wig, bowed and bobbed and bade the couple good evening in his bright, boyish voice. He drew forth the attestation from Chamberlain Levetzow, which included a request that magistrates, priests, parish officers and commoners pave the way for this scientific expedition in every way possible. Yet no matter how much he kowtowed to Farmer Gisli and his wife Þorbjörg there before their door, they remained unmoved. Next, the king’s letter was waved.

“Three rixdollars,” said Farmer Gisli, spitting out a quid of tobacco.

They wanted three rixdollars to house the men and feed them oatmeal porridge in the morning. Coffee cost extra. That was the way it was.

Magnús Árelíus was thoroughly insulted, or rather, acted so quite diligently, speaking slowly and weightily in Danish: he did not possess endless amounts of money, and would never have made it even halfway here if people had constantly made such insolent demands. And there were many, besides, who were worse off than this couple. “We have come to help you,” he said in his distinct voice. “We will be sleeping outside tonight, lads. We scientists may end up freezing here at the foot of the homefield. Having come this far bearing the light of wisdom and prosperity, sacrificing ourselves to improve the inhabitants’ lives, to survey the harbors here so that ships can come— only to be denied lodging!”

He mounted his horse, and the man’s irritation was discernible in his exaggerated movements, but his playacting had no effect on the couple.

“I shall remind you of this once you have arrived in Copenhagen.”

The farmer spat a fresh brown quid in the direction of the scientist, who wheeled his horse. They then rode farther out on the headland and set up the tent that the Royal Academy of Sciences had loaned them for the journey.

During the night, the wind shifted to a northerly. It blew so hard that the tent shook. Magnús Árelíus lay in the middle, his assistants at his sides. He woke in the middle of the night. The tent flap, which had apparently come untied, waved wildly in the wind. He crawled over to investigate and spied a huge seal outside the tent. He grabbed at the tent flap to try to retie it, but the creature barged through the opening, trundled squelchingly toward him, and plunked down on top of him. From the waist up, this seal was a woman, and her bulging breasts now assailed him, trapping the magister’s head in the gap between them.

Gasping for breath, he groped at his sides to try to wake his assistants, but they

did not stir, leaving him bewildered at their utter disregard for the giant beast that was now in their tent. The magister was on the verge of suffocating beneath this monstrosity when he felt Bárðar’s hand shaking him and heard a voice asking him to wake up. “A nightmare, magister, you are having a nightmare!” Bárður had woken to the snores and gasps of the magister, whose skin had turned a greenish hue.

Bárður was no stranger to nightmares. Ah, no, so he was not.

After regaining his composure, a bad memory from his youth came to Magnús Árelíus’ mind— perhaps because he was wet, cold, and tired. When he was two or three years old, his little cousin had come to visit and was alone in his room with him. He had woken to feel his blanket being spread over his head and pressed down upon, and then had heard the tremulous, evil-sounding laughter of this cousin, who was several years older, and was on the verge of killing him— perhaps jealous of the attention paid to him. He had funneled all his strength into a scream against that laughing monster and made her recoil, and then his mother had come. He had not stopped crying until his evil cousin was gone. That feeling, of somebody wanting to kill him, always reared its head whenever life put him to the test.

They were unable to start a fire the next morning, and instead had to settle for punching themselves to warm up and eating bits of cured meat, before packing up, loading their bags and trunks onto their horses and going on their way.


He had kept it secret from everyone but his mother; she alone knew about the seizures. It was not exactly epilepsy, the doctor had said, just the occasional fit, often at long intervals, but he knew that nightmares were always the prelude to them. The nightmares always caused anxiety, the fear of losing control and writhing on the floor in spasms in the sight of all. During his school years, he would send word that he was ill and stay at home the day after a nightmare. Now he had no such way out.

It was bound to come, he thought, as he caught the odor of wet horse; the fit was bound to come today— it in fact being the only way to escape the anxiety, to have a damned fit, take it like a proper man and lose his grip for a few moments. He would have to explain it to his assistants— he recalled the line from the Kingo hymn: “Be strong, my soul.” He never thought about God or hymns except at such moments. Perhaps God was only for the ailing; a person who fears nothing has no need of God.

Bárður, however, was chatty this wet, cold morning. He asked what his mate Jón was planning to do with his wage from the expedition. Unexpectedly, Jón Grímsson opened his heart; it is well known that when people experience hardship together, they draw either closer or farther apart, and at the moment it seemed more of a case of the former, at least between him and Bárður. He said that he loved a girl in Borgarfjörður. She was as radiantly beautiful as a nymph— a word that had to be explained to Bárður— but it was complicated. His parents wanted a different match for him. Jón had met her as the distinguished Royal Horticultural Advisor, although he himself preferred not to use that title, but rather, the more lowly “teacher of gardening”— though we most certainly take delight in writing the words konunglegur kálgarðaræktunarráðunautur

(“distinguished horticultural advisor”).
He guessed that by now, she had the greenest vegetable garden in the southern

part of the country; she was pure and her voice was fair, her will sincere and beautiful, her shoulders white and strong. He was to visit her when the expedition was finished. His trump card was his wage for this journey; a man with no money gets no wife.

Magnús Árelíus felt even worse, hearing this. He was uncertain of whether there would be any funds left over at the conclusion of the expedition— not as long as his ambition was to reach Cap Nord. Bárður, on the other hand, was going to buy potatoes and cabbage, for sure— most definitely cabbage— with his wages, and even Norwegian turnips, if he could get hold of them. Old Björn in Sauðlauksdalur had grown very large ones, earning renown and prize money for them, and since he was able to do so on the barren slopes in the Westfjords, it had be possible in the Dales— if the weather would improve.

It had stopped raining, and the wind had abated that morning. Then a fog set in over the coast, so thick that Magnús Árelíus had never seen its like. Needling crags appeared suddenly like trolls in the white mass; black oxen snuffed along the path and transformed into black sheep or dogs as they drew nearer, before finally turning to stone. The assistants rode in front; now and then, the magister caught a glimpse of Bárður’s horse, carrying the beautifully bowed giant ribs, although he could hear the men’s voices well. Then they disappeared. Magnús Árelíus kicked his heels into his horse’s loins, gently at first, but then more forcefully. The horse wheeled, refusing to go any farther down this path. The man pulled out his fine staff, sturdy enough for mountain climbing, and struck the mare with it. The horse did not budge. Suddenly, the magister detected sunlight beyond the foggy veil— a distant light, hazy and otherworldly. Accompanying the fog was an eerie stillness, broken only by the distant sound of a child crying. Magnús Árelíus dismounted his horse and called out “Who is there? Who is crying?

“Is there no one looking after that child? Hello?”
The crying drew closer.
This made him most uncomfortable, and he shouted to his assistants. Bárður

answered, his voice coming from an unexpected direction; somewhere behind the magister. The magister had clearly strayed down a different path: perhaps one leading to a farm there at the shore. His heartbeat quickened and he felt the sweat spring out around his neck— perhaps it was time— why was a child crying in this place? Magnús Árelíus loosened the silk kerchief at his neckline and tried to swallow. What was wrong with his mare? Did it sense his dread?

Bárður stepped out of the fog, his hand on his horse’s bridle.

“My horse will not move,” said Magnús Árelíus. “Cursed Stykkishólmur nag. Do you hear a child crying?”

Bárður Grímkelsson’s eyes widened and he hesitated, and then froze in his tracks. He cleared his throat and groaned as he took a step or two back, partway into the fog. The magister asked him if something was wrong; one might think that he had seen a monster. “Speak, man!”

Bárður whispered: “Magister, Sir, ehh, how shall I say it— there appears… ahhh… there is a woman sitting on the path. With a child.”

“A woman!? What enormous fantasy, Grimkildsen! There is no woman, I see no woman, and what would a woman be doing here on the path?”

“Ehh, sir, not an ordinary woman.” Bárður exclaimed fearfully between sentences. “We have heard of this woman. Her hands and feet are fettered…”

“Fettered! Ahhh, I swear you’ve lost your wits, Bárður! You are like a big child, fooled into believing those stupid anecdotes about the ghosts of drowned men. Nu bliver jeg rigtig vred— now I am really becoming angry, Grimkildsen.” The magister switched to Danish in the heat of the moment, temporarily losing his grip on his Icelandic. He leaped onto his horse and spurred it so hard that the horse neighed and reared, briskly enough for the magister to slide backwards and fall to the ground. He landed on his back, knocking his hat off. The magister lost his breath. Bárður vanished silently back into the misty haze whence he came.

Magnús Árelíus managed to sit up and fought to draw air into his lungs. Then he felt a blow on his back. He caught his breath. Then came another blow, and he lost his breath. A third blow, and the magister finally began to recover. He drew deep breaths, three times. Scrambled to his feet. Started making an attempt to brush off his trousers and white socks. The hardships of the last few days had begun to show on him.

It was strange that he neither saw nor heard Bárður anymore. Yet had not Bárður hit him in the back just a moment ago? Just then, it struck him that he had gone through all of this without having a seizure. He had passed this test; had not let the anxiety, the irrational fear, take over. He was fine. A hot wave of anger rose inside him and warmed his heart.

The magister shouted for Grimkildsen. To come to him at once. He would be sent home if he continued to behave in this way. “There is no woman! There is no specter from the sea!” He marched cockily before his horse, which stood there rooted to the same spot, and then it came. Like a powerful blow.

He fell as if drained of all his strength. His body contracted into a fetal position before the convulsions seized him; his eyes went vacant, staring, and drool began running from the corner of his mouth. It hit him so hard that his small toupee wig was shaken little by little off his head and rubbed into the muddy path; his dark brown hair was matted to his sweaty forehead, and the finely tailored velvet fabric began merging with the ground. The magister’s horse started in fright at this sight. Magnús Árelíus disappeared into the nightmare between dream and waking, as always when he suffered a seizure.

This time, he heard a woman’s voice. The voice possessed a wondrous tranquility, yet the resolve of one who knows no doubts. The true horror, though, was how vivid the nightmare was as it went on. As if it were the Devil incarnate behind the veil of language. The woman spoke, and every single word of hers was inscribed on the wax tablet of the mind. This was the worst nightmare the magistrate had ever had. He recalled that the woman’s voice said it had been twelve years old when her father was found guilty of adultery and had to slaughter every one of the animals on his farm to pay the fine. He had written a letter to the king, pleading for mercy, but the magistrate, that rotten, maggot-ridden drunkard, never sent it. Her father had succumbed to the elements on Steingrímsfjarðarheiði heath, and was found two summers later. His entire body was

green, and his eyes two slimy holes. He had the petition for mercy on him, having intended to carry it over the heath to another magistrate. His children were sent to different farms farther inland. She was sent to that evil couple, Pétur and the barren

Katrín. Pétur was her uncle, and her father and Pétur hated each other. abode,” said the woman’s voice, before reciting this verse:

There at Kleifar, cold as hell with Katrína I did dwell
three years joyless, lost, unwell ne’er did they of Lord Christ tell ne’er did they of Lord Christ tell

“A wretched

She gathered shellfish and slipped away with it to the neighboring bay, where she boiled it in the hot springs there and ate it to keep herself alive. There was little meal in the porridge she was served— it was mainly diluted seawater. “There you have my story.” The woman continued: “I was fourteen years old when he started coming up to my loft. I can still see his white buttocks gleaming in the moonlight that shone through the vent. And, no great surprise, the man’s laughter was like the screeching of old wagon wheels. I bled for a long time afterward; he came when he knew that I was alone, stuffed a rag into my mouth. He gave me a child when I was fifteen years old. When the madam realized it, she sent for a midwife. The woman brought a medicine bottle containing some glistening, silver-colored stuff, poured it into her hand and forced it into me. After that, I miscarried. I thought that I would bleed to death. The worms of death slithered throughout my entire being, but they could not kill me anymore than the wind.

“When I was sixteen, he gave me another child. I had to get away, said the voice of justice inside me. For this is how it is; I do not care what you believe: all life possesses a sense of justice— although justice is unlearned, and knows no laws. It is a gift from the Great Spirit. My voice may perhaps sound as if it comes from the box of madness. Hahaha. You are completely clueless, but your intellect and will no longer hold sway. Only the bright streaks of light in your soul can save you— and friend: they are few. Pétur tried to compel the farmhand Elías to confess to fathering the child, but Elías flatly denied it, as we had never had intercourse. Chagrin and exasperation grew inside the farmer in the same way as my belly grew. Vile sounds echoed from every ravine. Elías threatened to leave the household if he was no longer to be fed. Pétur threatened to take the matter to court. Elías told him to try it— the truth would be revealed. But then Pétur suddenly began treating Pétur sweetly. Fed him well, at his own table. That fall, they went out fishing together in Pétur’s boat. Pétur returned alone, with news of a tragic accident. Elías had chosen to drown himself over the paternity matter. Pétur said that he had been unable to heave him back into the boat.

“Elias came to me that night, dripping with seawater, and shoved his bloody stumps in my face. My hope shattered into pieces, like old faces.

“From what I understood, Pétur had cut off Elías’s hands on the gunwale. If you took a look, you would have noticed dark stains on the top planks— he had not managed to scrub the blood off entirely. No one took a look.

“When I broke water, I gathered my things and went up to Bjarnarfjarðarháls Pass. There I, whose substance derives from the inverse of day, delivered the child, all alone. I sank it in the pond. Forceps will not be needed to pull that ghost from its cave. The crying of your own drowned child. Crying made of air bubbles, which sling themselves around your heart like a black viper. Crying that is there forever. He turned me into a criminal. He committed a crime against me. I committed a crime against an innocent life. Crime engenders crime, and it is always the weakest who suffer from it most. I, who have found lodging in stolen days. Who should clothe a naked child but its mother? It would never be we two. And I did not want to give Pétur an heir, not with me drowned. My revenge was to drown his child. Not my child. I hover before people and there is no music in my song, though I was delivered through fissures, like you. My child is crying. Who has warmth to comfort it?

“Then I went to the other side of the fjord and begged for food and lodging at the farms. I was finally taken in here at Þorpar, and treated well. Two happy years she had, this girl, and even a few dances. I asked only one thing, that I never be sent back across the fjord. Halldór promised me that, but did not understand the gravity of my request. It is my experience of humans that they do not understand gravity. When conditions worsened and Halldór was compelled to tighten up his household, it was decided that I be sent back to Nes Parish, to my old employer. They carried me, kicking and screaming, down to a boat. They tied me up and rowed me over, and there stood that scoundrel Pétur on the shore, waiting to receive me, drooling with malice. No, said life, and I answered conscientiously. I vowed to the ferrymen that I would be back at Þorpar before them. They smiled sheepishly and pushed off. When Pétur walked up to me with a malicious sneer on his lips, I ran across the mud flats and threw myself into the water, and drank the sea as hard as I could. It is best to die at sea. Once again become a fish that glows in the night. Hahahe. You think that I am mad— without knowing what my winding roots are made of.

“I was waiting for them on the other side when they arrived, and I could tell that I was hideous— I saw it in their eyes, and that became my nourishment. I exist so that my story is not forgotten, and so that which one fears— is not forgotten. I am the shadow in the night, which shall never pass on as long as my story repeats itself. I am the true image. Of people’s consciences. Of guilt. I live in people. I live outside of people. I squeeze in through cracks and come out through knot-holes on the other side. I give color to the day. I raise a curse-pole against oblivion. You think I am an ax, due to this violence against denial? In fact, I am a flower. I am the eyebright of the cliff ledges and the resilience in the sinews of the commonfolk. My roots are stronger than iron. I am of the kind that possesses the poet’s sensitivity, which refuses to die. There is a storm in the back garden. I ask, like a pure life force: Why have you roused me from sleep this misty night? Now you are stuck with me. I am a story that can never be forgotten. You and your enlightenment. Ha. You and your blather about reason and wisdom. Your watch. Your glistening instrument. Time waits on the other side of the hill to grind faith from your soul and stuff your most beautiful emotions into a sausage-casing of predictability— which you will then be forced to devour. As the Devil will devour your dying feelings. I burst back out of metaphor and leave you dumbstruck, but it is precisely in that way that I

can free the wretch who, in spite of it all, still dwells in your heart. You who pretend not to understand, because your rationality can not accommodate it. This is the most beautiful day of your life. You have seen what is true. The truth is always beautiful. In its own way.