Then let the good citizen find here natural marvels:
A horse-shoe ravine, the issue of steam from a cleft
In the rock, and rocks, and waterfall brushing the
Rocks, and, among the rocks, birds.
–Journey to Iceland
In 1936 WH Auden and Louis MacNeice boarded a ship bound for Iceland. They arrived in a largely empty Reykjavik harbor and began what would be a three week tour of the country. At the end of their trip , Auden had the backbone of what would become Letters from Iceland, part travel guide, photography essay, autobiography, and poetry collection. Throughout the book, Auden (and to a lesser extent MacNeice) discuss everything from food and culture to compiling various quotes from as far back as anonymous viking poets about the island.
Throughout the text there are letters to various friends of the two that go into detail about the culture and their experiences throughout their travels. Auden was also working quite a bit on his own writing through the time away and several of his poems appear preceding the letters.
One of the major elements of the book is a four part poem titled “Letter to Lord Bryon.” This typically Modernist poem uses the romantic poems (and lifestyle) of Bryon as a kicking off point to discuss historical and current world events, various thoughts on literature, and, once in a while, touch on his experiences on the island. Written as a letter to Bryon, the poem quick dashes off into various tangents and references, but does serve to tie the whole book together from a poetic standpoint.
Outwith the poem, the book is held together by the common theme of Iceland, a county that Auden has seemingly little love for. Though, he was later to change his opinion of the island, Auden’s descriptions of the land, food, and people leave little to be desired.
Regardless, the book does provide an interested outsiders perspective of a land that still remains somewhat of a mystery to most. In about a week’s time I will be traveling to Iceland, and you can expect updates of my travels whenever I’m able. Keeping Auden in mind, I hope to approach the trip with the same goals in mind, albeit with a drastically reduced level of poetics and perhaps higher quality photographs. So, check in for reports when I’m able and a detailed write up with photographs on my return.