Thorbergur Thordarson’s vivid memoir The Stones Speak recalls his childhood days spent in a remote Icelandic hamlet:
Large boulders stood here and there on the slopes. They appeared to be lifeless rocks if you just gave them a momentary glance. But if you stared at them for a little while, it was if they gained life and a soul of their own and quite personal features that reminded you of people. Some of them had looked out over the communities below in these peaceful poses for decades, others for long centuries, and it seemed to me that they knew everything that had befallen the folks below. I had great respect for these children of the Creator and I never peed on them or pooped behind them. I didn’t dare to, anyway, because of the hidden people
Halldor Laxness’s Independent People, an epic tale of a 19th-Century Icelandic sheep farmer, offers ruminations across the spectrum:
On birth: It’s marvelous, you know, when you come to think of it: there you have a new body and a new soul suddenly making an appearance, and where do they come from and why are they always coming? (127) On childhood: Those were good days. They were serene days and undemonstrative, like the best day in one’s life; the boy never forgot them. Nothing happens; one simply lives and breathes and wishes for nothing more, and nothing more. (188)
On the toils of life: No wonder that the soul is cheerless, that hope is small in people’s hearts, that there is little comfort in lying awake at night. Even the most beautiful memories lose their luster like a shining silver coin that collects verdigris because it has been lost. And, finally, on sin: Sin is God’s most precious gift. (325)
There is that moment, warm, familiar with being here, almost comfortable with the parameters of this life, knowing little, knowing everything in that.
Words and sounds are light and full, making sense, building something, bottle in hand, knowing there will be more, and there will be.
Thinking to stay in that, just the moment, almost forever, and realizing what an idiot, and laughing, because it was delicious and is gone.
Thorbergur Thordarson is one of Iceland’s great writers. Sadly, little of his work has been translated into English, and what little has seems only to be available in Iceland. His autobiography, The Stones Speak, recounts his childhood in the hamlet of Hali at the turn of the 20th century, detailing the tiniest aspects, including every person, animal, building and room of his young life, as well as his profoundly personal relationship with the land and rocks.
Many things in this landscape had names that made you stop and think and stirred your emotions. There was a story behind them, but it had usually been forgotten. This is why thinking about them was always just as exciting at the end, as in the beginning. (191) I enjoyed listening and talking to rocks when I came up to them, and sometimes I pressed my ear to them and listened to hear if they were telling me something. For me it was quite natural to think that you could hear voices from them and understand their thoughts if you just listened hard enough and were astute enough to understand. (239) Is it possible that the rock has really stood there for a thousand years? Just think! To stand in the same position for a thousand years! What an eternity is the life of a rock. (251)