Journey to Iceland
And the traveller hopes: ‘Let me be far from any
Physician’; and the ports have names for the sea,
The citiless, the corroding, the sorrow,
and North means to all: Reject.
And the great plains are forever where the cold fish is hunted,
and everywhere; the light birds flicker and flaunt;
Under the scolding flag the lover
Of islands may see at last,
Faintly, his limited hope, as he nears the glitter
Of glaciers, the sterile immature mountains intense
In the abnormal day of this world, and a river’s
Fan-like polyp of sand.
Then let the good citizen here find natural marvels:
A horse-shoe ravine, an issue of steam from a cleft
In the rock, and rocks, and waterfalls brushing
Rocks, and among the rock birds.
And the student of prose and conduct places to visit:
The site of a church where a bishop was put in a bag,
The bath of a great historian, the fort where
An outlaw dreaded the dark,
Remember the doomed man thrown by his horse and crying,
‘Beautiful is the hillside. I will not go’,
The old woman confessing ‘He that I loved the
Best, to him I was worst’.
For Europe is absent: this is an island and therefore
A refuge, where the affections of its dead may be bought
By those whose dreams accuse them of being
Spitefully alive, and the pale
From too much passion of kissing feel pure in its deserts.
Can they? For the world is, and the present, and the lie.
The narrow bridge over a torrent,
And the small farm under a crag
Are the natural setting for the jealousies of a province;
And the weak vow of fidelity is formed by the cairn;
And within the indigenous figure on horseback
On the bridle-path down by the lake
The blood moves also by crooked and furtive inches,
Asks all our questions: ‘Where is the homage? When
shall justice be done? Who is against me?
Why am I always alone?’
No, our time has no favourite suburb; no local features
Are those of the young for whom all wish to care;
The promise is only a promise, the fabulous
Country impartially far.
Tears fall in all the rivers. Again the driver
Pulls on his gloves and in a blinding snowstorm starts
Upon his deadly journey, and again the writer
Runs howling to his art.
W. H. Auden