Poetry Parnassus: Patriotic Poem (Iceland)

Poetry Parnassus is a project of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, hosted at the Southbank Centre in London. It ran from June 26 to July 1, and featured 145 poets from around the world. Here is the Guardian’s interactive map, where you can click on a country and read its poem. I will be posting one a day until they’re done.

Patriotic Poem, by Gerdur Kristny (Iceland)

The cold makes me
a lair from fear
places a pillow of
downy drift
under my head
a blanket of snow
to swaddle me in

I’d lay my ear to
the cracking of the ice
in the hope of hearing it
retreat
if I didn’t know
I’d be frozen fast

The ice lets no one go

My country
a spread deathbed
my initials stitched
on the icy linen

• Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb.

A perceptive look at the ambiguous nature of patriotism, both a comfort and a deadening sleep. While it can be “a blanket of snow/to swaddle me in,” it is also “a spread deathbed/my initials stitched/on the icy linen.” Snow blanket becomes white, funerary linen. The poem seems to caution against paying too much attention to patriotism, or else be “frozen fast.”

A refreshingly nuanced approach.

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