Men Who Made Iceland
Jónas Hallgrímsson changed the face of Icelandic poetry
Many of Iceland’s greatest heroes were not fearsome warriors but all were fighters for what they passionately believed in. They were not from the cities, as Iceland didn’t possess any. Their education was not in a monolithic ediface, churning out spiritless robots but in the home and the fields and on the sea, where character was built in the face of adversity.
Jónas Hallgrímsson was born the third of four children in 1807 in the beautiful valley of Öxnadalur, a narrow dale enclosed on both sides by high mountains with jagged peaks.
From these humble beginnings, surrounded by a culture of oral story-telling of folklore, poetry and sagas, in the pristine beauty of the nature he would later write about, he rose in his short lifetime to become the nation’s most loved and popular poet.A Stale Diet
From the sagas of the Middle Ages, Icelandic poetry had fallen into a stale regimen of pathos and criticism. Even the poems of Jónas’ role model, Eggert Ólafsson, who broke new ground with his writing, are considered stale and dull by comparison.
Jónas was schooled for six years at the Latin school in Bessastaðir, now the home of the Icelandic president, with a rigorous training in Latin and Greek classics that would stand him in good stead. He developed an interest in science that was ahead of his time but didn’t live long enough to codify his ideas.University in Revolution
In 1832, he sailed to Copenhagen, where he started studying law at the university. After 4 years, he switched to literature and natural sciences, excelling in both. Revolutionary fervor was sweeping Europe, with independence movements fighting for freedom from the established order. With three friends, he founded a magazine, Fjölnir, for which he wrote for the rest of his life. Its goal was to inspire patriotism in Iceland.
On graduating, he was given a grant to do scientific research in Iceland, which gave him the opportunity
to follow his interest in botany. He had only really just begun to formulate his ideas when he fell down the stairs at his home in Denmark. Blood poisoning set in and led to his untimely death.A Literary Legacy
Thus, it is for his poetry that he is best known, rather than his scientific work. He first published many of his poems in Fjölnir. His poetry expresses his love for his country, its beauty and landscapes that so influenced his early life, in particular. He is considered to be a founding father of the Icelandic Romanticist movement and his style completely changed the direction and form of Icelandic poetry, breathing new life and vigor into its expression.
Such was his influence on Icelandic literature that his birthday, 16th November, is celebrated as Icelandic Language Day. Each year, the Minister of Education gives the Jónas Hallgrímsson Award to an author in recognition of their contribution to Icelandic literature.