Letters from Iceland

Letters from IcelandI thought Hetty s letters to Nancy were very funny.Bits I liked Every exciting letter has enclosures, The old woman confessing He that I loved theBest, to him I was the worst The songs of jazz have told us of a moon countryAnd we like to dream of a heat which is never sultry,Melons to eat, champagne to drink, and a lazyMusic hour by hour depetalling the daisy The Borg is called a first class hotel but is not the kind of thing you like if you like that kind of thing still it is the only place where you can get a drink There is a phrase book for those who find that kind of thing any use, and for the conscientious there is Zoega s English Icelandic Dictionary expensive and full of non existent English words In the larger hotels in Reykjavik you will of course get ordinary European food, but in the farms you will only get what there is, which is on the whole rather peculiar SoupsMany of these are sweet and very unfortunate I remember three with particular horror, one of sweet milk and hard macaroni, one tasting of hot marzipan, and one of scented hair oil MeatThis is practically confined to mutton in various forms The Danes have influenced Icelandic cooking, and to no advantage Meat is liable to be served up in glutinous and half cold lumps, covered with tasteless gravy At the poorer farms you will only get Hangikyrl, i.e smoked mutton This is comparatively harmless when cold as it only tastes like soot, but it would take a very hungry man indeed to eat it hot beware of the browned potatoes, as they are coated in sugar, another Danish barbarism Those who like tea or cocoa should bring it with them and supervise the making of it themselves The King of Denmark has paid a visit and I watched him come out of the prime minister s house accompanied by distinguished citizens I know top hats and frock coats don t make people look their best, but on appearance alone I wouldn t have trusted one of them with the spoons How embarrassing it is to get into an already crowded bus when the passengers have got to know each other We felt like the Germans invading Belgium and we sat and listened to the wireless Someone apparently has tried to assessinate King Edward VIII Nobody looked very interested and I had run out of cigarettes so just sulked into my waistcoat Hetty to Nancy I couldn t see that it was very funny and Maisie is supposed to be witty, but then it is different in London, where people have always been drinking sherry before you say anyhing to them Anyhow it is a very fine waterfall as waterfalls go but, as Maisie says, they don t go far One letter opens Darling, darling, DARLING, Well, on and on we rode through the stinging rain it was so nasty it was really rather enjoyable And we all felt rather heroic, I think The Icelanders are rather proud of it as a show piece of scenery and no doubt on a clear day it may be quite beautiful if one drives through it quickly in a car We came across the ancient wreck of a very primitive touring car desolate than the bones of a camel in a film about the foreign legion but the really bad feature of the day was that the guides produced another cave they ought to be psycho analysed. This Highly Amusing And Unorthodox Travel Book Resulted From A Light Hearted Summer Journey By The Young Poets Auden And MacNeice In Their Letters Home, In Verse And Prose, Are Full Of Private Jokes And Irreverent Comments About People, Politics, Literature And Ideas Letters From Iceland Is One Of The Most Entertaining Books In Modern Literature From Auden S Letter To Lord Byron And MacNeice S Eclogue , To The Mischief And Fun Of Their Joint Last Will And Testament , The Book Is Impossible To Resist A S Classic The premise on the eve of WWII, the young WH Auden and one of his poet friends spend an idyllic summer traveling around Iceland and sending witty letters and poems home.The product isn t as interesting as the premise sounds partly due to my extremely low tolerance for so called funny poetry, I m sure Auden s letters, however, made the read worthwhile and made me want to start up a correspondence ideally multiple It s hard to buy a copy in print in the US, but if you get it at the library I would flip past the verse to the travelwriting sections Letters from Iceland offers tourism of the unknown, but also tourism of the past a trip through a western Europe that doesn t exist any Selected excerptI wish I could describe things well, for a whale is the most beautiful animal I have ever seen It combines the fascination of something alive, enormous, and gentle, with the functional beauties of modern machinery A seventy ton one was lying on the slip way like a large and very dignified duchess being got ready for the ball by beetles To see it torn to pieces with steam winches and cranes is enough to make one a vegetarian for life.In the lounge the wireless was playing I want to be bad and Eat an apple every day Downstairs the steward s canary chirped incessantly The sun was out in the bay, surrounded by buoys and gulls, were the semi submerged bodies of five dead whales and down the slip way ran a constant stream of blood, staining the water a deep red for a distance of fifty yards Someone whistled a tune A bell suddeny clanged and everyone stuck their spades in the carcase and went off for lunch The body remained alone in the sun, the flesh still steaming a little It gave one an extraordinary vision of the cold controlled ferocity of the human species p 147 8. Quietly glorious I ve been looking for a way to anchor Auden this was perfect. Five stars for the poetry.Seven stars for Last will and testament.Two stars for the letters of Hetty to Nancy, which I sadly could not understand nor appreciate.Sixteen stars for Iceland. A lovely little travel narrative, this isn t your usual guidebook Letters from Iceland is filled with poetry and notes home Auden s voice, especially, is charming, though MacNeice s final poem is wonderful While I read this in preparation for a trip to Iceland, it s actually a good read for any interested in seeing Europe and England at a very particular moment between wars, with colonialism not quite over and the depression hitting the world hard Auden and MacNeice, two intellectuals, have an interesting perspective on this, distanced as they are both physically and mentally from the struggle Auden s preface, written thirty years after the book s publication, is particularly poignant, and the book overall is charming and also deeply telling. Auden in IJslandAuden reisde in 1936 door IJsland met de schrijver Louis MacNeice Hij schreef over deze reis het werk Brieven uit IJsland Het is een briljante en eigenzinnige collage van brieven, gedichten aan Byron , reisimpressies, literaire beschouwingen en anekdotes Een aanrader voor degene die a zonder dit boek te kennen naar IJsland is geweest b er ooit naar toe wil gaan of c liever Laxness leest en thuisblijft. Beautiful, fresh and funny. I latched once again onto Auden after reading this extraordinary essay by Hannah Arendt, especially her assertion, There was nothing admirable in Auden than his complete sanity and his firm belief in sanity in his eyes all kinds of madness were lack of discipline Naughty, naughty, as he used to say The main thing was to have no illusions and to accept no thoughts no theoretical systems that would blind you to reality I went looking for Journey to a War but was told at a bookstore it was out of print in its standalone edition I picked up instead this slim travel volume, which proclaims itself in its back copy to be a thirties classic It is a fantastic jumble of sly wit and melancholic observations, from the silly fantastic Hetty to Nancy to the powerful Last Will and Testament The latter swings from gossipy jokes on the contemporary great and good, in the vein of The Long Week End A Social History of Great Britain, 1918 39, to MacNeice s words to his sister, infant son, and ex wife Item, to my sister Elizabeth what she lacks The courage to gamble on the doubtful oddsAnd in the end a retreat among Irish lakesAnd farmyard smells and the prism of the Irish air Item, to Dan my son whenever he wakesTo the consciousness of what his limits areI leave the ingenuity to transmuteHis limits into roads and travel far Lastly to Mary living in a remoteCountry I leave whatever she would rememberOf hers and mine before she took that boat,Such memories not being necessarily lumberAnd may no chance, unless she wills, delete themAnd may her hours be gold and without number Or try the joint offering that closes the poem, from both Auden and MacNeice And to the good who know how wide the gulf, how deepBetween Ideal and Real, who being good have feltThe final temptation to withdraw, sit down and weep,We pray the power to take upon themselves the guiltOf human action, though still as ready to confessThe imperfection of what can and must be built,The wish and power to act, forgive, and bless Ranging from the intimate, sad, and funny to the abstract and great, the book proves the point Holidays should be like this, Free from over emphasis, Time for soul to stretch and spit Before the world comes back on it. Published in 1937, I first read this in 1978 gulp and again this year, nearly as much time having gone by since, which is very scary I remember enjoying this as a teenager but remembered little of the detail, apart from the poem in the style of Byron s Don Juan This is far from being a conventional travel book but somehow, through the poems, notes and letters both fictional and presumably genuine you do get a sense of Iceland as seen by English visitors in the 1930s, with a bit of the wider context of the events of the 1930s too The letters from Hetty to Nancy are particularly funny There s a useful bibliography tucked away near the beginning but hard to find Amusing but probably not quite what people expected from a travel book, if that s what it is

Wystan Hugh Auden was an Anglo American poet, best known for love poems such as Funeral Blues, poems on political and social themes such as September 1, 1939 and The Shield of Achilles, poems on cultural and psychological themes such as The Age of Anxiety, and poems on religious themes such as For the Time Being and Horae Canonicae He was born in York, grew up in and near Birmingham in a professi

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  • Paperback
  • Letters from Iceland
  • W.H. Auden
  • English
  • 13 October 2019
  • 9780571132973

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