Icelandic Language Blog

New Year, New Blogger, and Some Icelandic Poetry Posted by on Jan 10, 2017 in Icelandic culture, Uncategorized

Hi everyone!

I’m Meg, and I’ll be taking over the Transparent Icelandic blog in the new year (by the way, [síðbúið] gleðilegt ár!). And I decided I’d start this new blog with an introduction – a little about who I am and how I ended up in love with Icelandic.

I’m currently on Fulbright in Iceland, where I’m pulling together a gender-balanced anthology of Icelandic poetry. On the side, I translate young adult/children’s literature, and my first book is due out this month. I hold a Master’s degree in Creative Writing and Literary Translation, and I’m currently on track for a degree in modern Icelandic.

So how about, for this very first post, I show you how I connected with Icelandic?

It all started with poetry; Gerður Kristný, to be precise: this exact poem published over at Words Without Borders. It’s hard to show the nuances in Icelandic when there’s only an English translation, but you might see how the intensity of that poem could draw me in (this was before I spoke Icelandic) – the sound of ice cracking set against the backdrop of a downy pillow of snow. The immediacy of “the ice lets no one go”. Even if you’re not interested in poetry in particular, Gerður Kristný is a great teacher: the language in her poems is dense, sharp, and widely varied. Good way to build some vocab.

I’ve always found that I learn best by reading. This isn’t the case for everybody. And Icelandic seems to require me to employ a lot of learning strategies that aren’t typical of me: I learn a lot by rote because of its complicated declension system. Which is one of its positive points, returning to poetry: Icelandic is able to convey particulars in few words because of how precisely each part of speech is used.  Take this poem, Hunang, for example. Even without knowing what each word means, you can discern parts of speech. Which means you’re seeing the outline of the language, its schematics.

There’s also the possibility for a lot of ambiguity in Icelandic literature. Polysemous words – or words with multiple meanings – is an enormous hurdle to translation, and one of my favorite things about Icelandic. (e.g., “að yrkja,” meaning to compose verse or to till a field). Though its grammar is rather constricting at times, its vocabulary, its touches of color, counterbalances that rigidity. Plus, it’s really easy to make a pun in Icelandic once you have some vocabulary behind you. And it’s quite fun.

So, while we learn Icelandic together, I’m also open to questions, which you can leave in the comments section. And if you come across something you can elaborate on, something you want to talk about or share with fellow readers, don’t hesitate to post below.



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About the Author: Meg

Hi, I'm Meg! I'm here to help you learn Icelandic, the language more than anything else in the world. I'm a former Fulbright scholar, with an MFA from Columbia, and I've published many translations into English from Icelandic and German. I currently study Icelandic, and translate poetry by trade. (If you have questions or comments on my entries, you can write them to me in the comments in either English, German, or Icelandic.)


  1. Helen:

    Komdu sæl!
    I’ve been learning Icelandic for about 2 years (on my own as a retired teacher). I felt a strong connection to it when I heard some Icelandic music by chance. I made the journey to Iceland last year and it felt just right being there. English is my mother tongue and I was born very near a Viking settlement in the north. I found some similarities between the Yorkshire dialect i know and Icelandic which almost gave me goose bumps!
    I live in France so i speak fluent French, (went to Uni. in France), learnt some Spanish, Latin at school and a little German in passing… the last two have helped understand the workings of Icelandic by the way. I don’t know if I’ll be going back to Iceland some day but I’ll continue to study this beautiful language and of course to read your blogs. Thank you for the poems.

    • Meg:

      @Helen Thanks for the kind words of welcome, Helen!

  2. Marion:

    Sæl Meg,

    Ég er ekki svo góð á íslensku þvi miður.
    Til hamingju með þessi ný verkefni! Ég elska að lesa blog-transparent greinar, það er svo áhugaverð! Takk að halda áfram eftir Huldu.

    Mig langar að skrifa tölvupóst til Huldu til að þakka henni. Er hægt að fá upplýsingar hjá henni?

    Með fyrirfram þökk,

    • Meg:

      @Marion Sæl Marion,

      Takk fyrir skilaboð. Þá lærum við saman! En þú skrífar mjög vel! Hvað ertu búin að læra íslensku lengi?

      Ég er ekki í sambandi við hana því miður…


  3. Javier:

    Hi Meg,
    I am new to learning Icelandic…..I am bilingual (Spanish-English) and I speak French and a little Danish.
    Mostly I wish to thank you for your blog and all it contains about icelandic language-culture-society-history.
    I find Icelandic grammar a little intimidating but I do so love the sound of the language. And to my very limited knowledge, it is quite phonetic to the point that I can already (almost) understand spoken Icelandic better than Danish.
    All the best and thanks again for your work

    • Meg:

      @Javier How interesting! Have you ever visited this little island?

      All best,

  4. Josh:

    Hi Meg,

    I discovered this blog recently and am excited you are taking the helm. I aspire to learn Icelandic, but it seems so difficult I’m not sure where to start.

    Thanks for sharing the poetry links!


    • Meg:

      @Josh Thanks for reading! I hope you find my posts helpful! What types of resources have you looked at so far?

  5. James Herren:

    I just published a kindle book of poetry Wit and Wonder: Poetry with Rhythm and Rhyme. One of my poems is entitled The Grimdark Hours (Grimmur-Myrkur). Can you please tell me if Grimmur-Myrkur is acceptable icelandic for Grim Darkness? I realize this isn’t a used phrase (neither is Grimdark in english) but is it grammatically reasonable?


    • Meg:

      @James Herren Hi James!
      Grimmur is more like “cruel” or “vicious,” though your neologism has a nice sound to it with the repeated m’s. I’d keep it!
      Alternatives: illilegur, illsvitandi, or simply illur.

      These seem to be more like ‘sinister,’ which is what I think you’re after. Let me know if you’d like any further suggestions, though grimmur sounds smooth.

  6. Kristinn:

    Hi Meg,
    Nice to meet you on this blog, as a Bandirjikumun lika, I am always happy to see the new blogs because it is another time for me to gather in more information about my ancestors, but I like the newness you have with involving the writings of the modern-day artists. I agree that your captivation from that freezing poem is a gripping thought, as to how someone can reach out and grab your senses as that poem seems…
    I have followed Hulda for a few years as a student of the Icelanders, and my Family came from there. But I am just curious as to where she is now? Is she going to continue blogging also for TL? I hope you both the very best and I already like the blogs you are writing!!
    Bless Bless,

    • Meg:

      @Kristinn Hi! Hulda has moved on – I’m not sure what she’s up to nowadays. She won’t continue to blog for Transparent. Thanks for your kind words! -M