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Sofðu nú svínið þitt
svartur í augum
Farðu í fúlan pytt
fullan af draugum.
(= Sleep now you black-eyed pig, fall in a deep pit of ghosts.)
Lately this little lullaby has been popular on quite a few social media sites, gathering people’s attention simply by being a really horrible-sounding thing to sing to the little ones. Alas, it’s not real; it’s actually from the book Salka Valka by Halldór Laxness. Very few people have questioned the origin of the song though, not even Icelandic people. What’s going on?
Laxness was a clever satirist, and the scary poem does not in fact fall far from the style of traditional Icelandic lullabies! No one’s challenging his lullaby because it sounds so much like Icelandic lullabies in general do, probably exactly how he meant it to. Let’s look at some real ones next!
Bí, bí og blaka álftirnar kvaka. Ég læt sem ég sofi en samt mun ég vaka.
Bíum, bíum, bamba, börnin litlu ramba fram á fjallakamba ad leita sér lamba.
(= Bi, bi and blaka the swans sing. I pretend to sleep but I’m still awake.
Bium, bium, bamba, little children wander on the mountain cliffs in search of sheep.)
Starting with a softer one we have Bí, bí og blaka. It only starts to sound a little upsetting if you think the lyrics a bit further and wonder why children would be in such a perilous situation at night hours, and why does the singer state that although they seem as if they were asleep they’re actually awake?
Continuing on the theme of children in peril we have Sofðu unga ástin mín.
Sofðu, unga ástin mín,
– úti regnið grætur.
Mamma geymir gullin þín,
gamla leggi og völuskrín.
Við skulum ekki vaka um dimmar nætur.
(= Sleep my little love – outside the rain is crying. Mother hides your treasures, old leg bone and box of playthings. We shall not stay awake when night is dark.)
Það er margt sem myrkrið veit,
– minn er hugur þungur.
Oft ég svarta sandinn leit
svíða grænan engireit.
Í jöklinum hljóða dauðadjúpar sprungur.
(= There’s much that darkness knows, my thoughts are heavy. Often I watched the black sand burning green meadows. On the glacier cry deadly-deep ice-cracks.)
Sofðu lengi, sofðu rótt,
seint mun bezt að vakna.
Mæðan kenna mun þér fljótt,
meðan hallar degi skjótt,
að mennirnir elska, missa, gráta og sakna.
(= Sleep long, sleep peacefully, it’s best to awaken late. Hardship teaches you fast, while day turns to night, that people love, lose, cry and mourn.)
A longer one but I felt the lyrics were all crucial to the story of this song that was originally written for the play Fjalla-Eyvindur. It’s a popular lullaby and very beautiful, but the unnerving part is in the backstory: in Fjalla-Eyvindur the person singing this song is his wife Halla, who lulls their child to sleep before drowning it in Barnafoss waterfall…
Móðir mín í kví, kví, kvíddú ekki því, því
Ég skal ljá þér duluna mína, duluna mína að dansa í.
(= My mother in the sheep pen, don’t fret, I shall lend you my rags, my rags to dance in.)
Of course I couldn’t leave out this one when talking about creepy lullabies! Móðir mín í kví kví belongs to a folk legend of a woman who got pregnant out of wedlock and, since pregnancy out of wedlock was a crime worth death penalty, gave birth in secret, wrapped the baby in rags and abandoned it to die.
Later on as she and another servant woman were milking sheep she mentioned that she had no proper clothes to wear in the oncoming dances, at which a child’s voice sang the song from under the sheep pen. The woman lost her sanity out of shock.
Unlike Laxness’ lullaby, this one and the story behind it are very well-known throughout the land, but according to quite a few online discussions people still sing it to their children as a lullaby! Still, when it comes to the strongest trauma-causing material Móðir mín í kví kví takes only silver. The unchallenged winner is Bíum bíum bambaló.
Bíum bíum bambaló, bambaló og dillidillidó
Vini mínum vagga ég í ró
En úti biður andlit á glugga.
(= Bium bium bambalo, bambalo and dillidillido, My friend I lull to sleep, but outside waits a face at the window.)
Not very sleepy now are you? There are many theories to what the face might refer to, going from the father of the child to a friend of the person singing or even the full moon, but who cares when the song is just so scary. If we want to compare this to folk tales there’s one creature in particular that likes to lurk at windows: a troll looking for the next meal.
Whatever the reason, Icelanders do seem to have a strange preference for unsettling lullabies! Perhaps the point is that even if they don’t help anyone to sleep, scaring the children quiet is faster and easier anyway? Or in the words of yet another one –
Við skulum ekki hafa hátt
Hér er margt að ugga.
Eg hef heyrt í alla nátt
Andardrátt á glugga
(= We should not be loud, many are sneaking around here. All night I have heard breathing at the window.)
Do you know any scary lullabies from your home country? I’d love to hear of them in the comments!
…all of these lullabies of course!