Authors: Halldor Laxness
Translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton
First published as
Vefarinn mikli frÃ¡ KasmÃr
by ForlagiÃ°, ReykjavÃk, 1927
English translation copyright Â© Philip Roughton, 2008
First Archipelago Books Edition
Published by agreement with Licht and Burr Literary Agency, Denmark.
All Rights Reserved, No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the publisher.
232 Third Street #A111
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
HalldÃ³r Laxness, 1902â1998.
[Vefarinn mikli frÃ¡ KasmÃr. English]
The great weaver from Kashmir / by HalldÃ³r Laxness ;
translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton.
I. Roughton, Philip. II. Title.
Distributed by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution
), 1966, JÃ³hannes S. Kjarral (1885â1972)
This publication was made possible with support from Lannan Foundation, BÃ³kmenntasjÃ³Ã°ur / the Icelandic Literary Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.
Ma nondimen, rimossa ogne menzogna,
tutta tua visÃ¯on fa manifesta;
e lascia pur grattar dov' Ã¨ la rogna.
ChÃ© se la voce tua sarÃ molesta
nel primo gusto, vital nodrimento
lascerÃ poi, quando sarÃ digesta.
Once two swans flew overhead, eastward.
The world is like a stage where everything has been set up for an extravagant musical: the fragrance of birchwood in the lava fields at Ãingvellir,
cold gusts of wind from SÃºlur, violet light in the Esja sky, the azure deep and cold over SkjaldbreiÃ°ur, but darkness no longer descends. Nightlessness and insomnia in all directions.
The basalt YlfingabÃºÃ°
stands on a grassy strip of land between crevices in the surrounding lava rocks. The wild birch is shaken by the gusts and scrawls invisible signs on the evening sky, and a young girl comes out from the house onto the veranda on the south side. She looks westward beyond the path leading through the copse and leans out upon the railing. She stretches her neck like a mountain grouse, tilts her ear to the west and listens, innocent and bright like a mythic character who has grown up alongside white, wild lambs. The clock inside the house strikes ten.
An old woman wearing a long, dark dress, her hair beginning to gray and her appearance imposing and distinguished, steps out onto the veranda.
“DiljÃ¡,” she says, “I simply can't understand why they haven't arrived yet. I mean, it was nearly eight when ÃrnÃ³lfur called to say that they were leaving. God help JÃ³frÃÃ°ur, to have to board ship tomorrow â didn't you just hear a clatter?”
“No, Grandma, not a single clank,” answered the young girl ruefully.
“Who knows? Maybe something went wrong. Haven't I always said that those automobiles aren't very reliable? They'll probably end up watching the ship sail away from shore from somewhere up on MosfellsheiÃ°i! Run inside, DiljÃ¡ dear, and fetch my knitting and bring me my shawl. I'm going to sit out here on the veranda for a bit, since the weather's decent.”
The girl came back out onto the veranda after a few moments, chewing. She had put on a white flannel jacket, and was holding a half-eaten cookie.
Although her eyes were young and clear, they were not devoid of a kind of heavy miragelike grayness that is often a sign of hysteria, her lips damp with youth and purity, spongy and red, with lines slightly drawn around her mouth, as if a sculptor used his scraper to shape her head in outline only. The rest of her body was much the same: a seedling, fresh and tender, like an ear of grain in the spring, when the new moon watches over the fields, burnished white and slender. Her hair was the only part of her young body that had volume: it was thick, glossy, and bright, twisted into one braid, with crisp curls hanging down around her cheeks.
“Imagine it, Grandma,” said the girl, after she'd handed the old woman her things and munched down the rest of the cookie. “It wasn't until I read about it in
yesterday that I found
out the GrÃmÃºlfur family was planning to sail away! And Steinn ElliÃ°i, who tells me everything, didn't say a single word about it a week ago when we were together in ReykjavÃk. We walked out to Laugarnes. Why are they leaving so suddenly like that?”
“They'd been planning it for a long time,” answered the old woman, as she made the first of her stitches. “But folk hardly know about the brothers' plans until they're well under way. The last time ÃrnÃ³lfur was abroad he opened a new market, as they're called. He was in Portugal and southern Italy. One of them's got to stay down there in the south pretty much all of the time in order to manage the market. One can't trust foreign office workers to keep things running when so much is at stake. But they kept it fairly quiet that it was GrÃmÃºlfur who was going to be moving, until the last minute.”
“As if JÃ³frÃÃ°ur wouldn't die of anxiety down there in the south just like anywhere else!” said the girl. “She can't put up with much for long, what with her consumption and her nerves â I predict that she won't be able to stick it out very long down there! And what business does Steinn ElliÃ°i have down there, when he's all wrapped up in his art and literature?! And hardly anyone down south can read! As if Steinn wouldn't miss home, as if he wouldn't turn right around and come back to see Iceland, that Steinn of ours! Our Steinn, who worships the mountains! I couldn't see myself going to Italy even if someone invited me. What's so great about Italy anyway?”
“The Ylfingur Company doesn't really concern itself with whatever's great about Italy, DiljÃ¡ my dear,” said the foster mother. “Ylfingur isn't interested in anything but the market. And you should know that the pope can read. But as far as JÃ³fÃ is concerned, she's never more contented then when she's out and about, and I couldn't wish
anything better for little Steinn than for him to leave ReykjavÃk, so that he can get away for a while from that gang of boys that's always hanging around him because of his father's money, not to mention those damned dreams of his of being a poet, which are sure to end up ruining him.”
Although it was evening, the breeze could not be called cold; in fact it was wholesome and peaceful, and the girl regarded her foster mother, ValgerÃ°ur YlfingamÃ³Ã°ir.
This woman was a superior power: she respected neither youth nor talent, misunderstood Steinn ElliÃ°i, and put no stock in poets. She was from an old plutocratic family and thought about things as if she were a bailiff from the days when regents governed Iceland. But tonight the girl was in no mood for submission, and she shook her index finger haughtily at her foster mother as she spoke.