The Dakota Icelanders Project

The Poetry of KN Júlíus

From various sources, English translations of some of KN's verses:

About Little Christine Geir

Since the first I saw you near,
   My need for sunlight dwindled;
The light for my life's path,
   Is by the light in your eyes kindled.

Kristín was the granddaughter of the widowed lady on whose farm KN lived and worked the last 4 decades of his life.

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The Second of August

Many left in drunken sail,
   Everywhere flows beer and ale.
Whiskey? No one lacked a bit,
   Cause Swain and Dori were selling it.
Women served their coffee swill,
   Men ranted speeches at their will.
There was singing, there was dance,
   There was I with séra Hans.

Séra, an Icelandic term that translates as pastor, is one of the several that was used regularly in English language. Should also note that séra Hans Thorgrimsen was dead set against drinking at any time! And Swain (could be Sveinn Thorvaldsson) and Dori (almost certainly Halldór Reykjalín, a merchant in Mountain) were probably members of séra Hans' congregation, as well as KN! KN was known to love a little liquor, and would undoubtedly have been more than a bit inebriated at this, the yearly grand celebration, so his socializing with séra Hans there would have been quite a sight! Also, legalized liquor didn't come to North Dakota until after the repeal of prohibition; North Dakota entered the Union as a dry state and any liquor was purchased illegally. ads

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The Sick Child

See this little fevered child!
Dewy brow revealing.
God of mercy, gentle, mild,
Grant your blessed healing.

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In The Barn

One day when all was quiet
  I heard the moo-cows bawl;
I think that they were holding
  A “Ladies Aid” for all.

For everyone was yapping;
  But none were understood
They talked of all and nothing,
  But most concerning food.

“Yes, we're full and chubby,
  And we have lots of feed;
Like corn and ground up barley,
  And stacks of hay with seed.”

“It’s not my business really,
  and I don’t care, ’tis true,
But by the way, dear Spottie,
  What is the date you're due?”

“Come has the time for supper,
  What will we get for treat?
Be damned! Here comes that K.N.,
  And brings us straw to eat!”

Evangelical Lutherans of the upper midwest will likely not appreciate the allusion to the “Ladies Aid”. Although the menfolk did in fact talk about them as if they were mere ‘gossip societies’, they also in fact knew and well appreciated the fact that the Ladies Aid Society were an important and vital part of their society. Typically, in the early days, the men would see to building the church, and the Ladies Aid Society would see to furnishing it.

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To A Child

Perfect love and joy of heart,
  I cannot deliver;
But all the best that dwells in me,
  That is yours forever.

Though never married, it appears obvious that KN loved life and had a particularly soft spot for children.

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Is It Any Wonder?

No wonder that he dabs in rhymes,
  And likes to chase the chicks;
No wonder that he drinks a lot,
  And has a yen for tricks;
No wonder that he steals a bit,
  And is a liar too;
No wonder when he hangs around
  With such a rascal crew!

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How Am I?

I'm feeling not too badly,
  And yet I'm not too spry;
Because my life is waning,
  And wealth has passed me by.

I've never yearned for riches
  That never made me sigh.
I seek the Son as kinsman
  Not as the wealthy guy.

So I'll prepare my verses
  With nothing in my till,
And start to write a booklet
  With only ‘will’ I will.

And thus for fame and honour
  My future I will sell.
I'm feeling not too badly,
  And feeling not too well.

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At the Funeral of ...

I feel content that you would grin with me
  Could you but witness what I hear and see.
For you were not accustomed - not your fate -
  To be thus borne along by friends in state.
But death has changed your status, so that now
  Your friends assemble in your honor, bow
Their heads in faith, in grief, humility,
  And all unite in speaking well of thee!

as translated by Bogi Bjarnason

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The Dance

(A modern novel in verse.
From Mountain, North Dakota)

I attended a dance there one evening,
  I'd been feeling so lonely and low;
I wanted to go and observe it,
  And watch how the evening would go.

There youth celebrated its hour.
  I felt a familiar fire.
I sat til the daylight was dawning,
  In the swirl of hypnotic desire.

The glorious maidens kept dancing
  With spiffy admiring guys.
I sat in a corner unbothered,
  Alone there with curious eyes.

They bared both their arms and their bosoms,
  Their ringlets asway and aglow;
Such goddesses filled with a power
  To rouse all the sick with their show.

The blood in my veins was aboiling,
  My lips were a flammable red;
My eyes with the fires of passion
  Were popping right out of my head.

The fires ignited my body,
  And burned at my heart-strings too;
They singed a part of my jacket,
  Eventually burning it through!


(Written about 1930. K.N.’s comment: “The girls had been asking me to remember that I had come to the dance to see them.” Indeed not many men near seventy write like this!)   Courtesy Logberg-Heimskringla

Judging from the quality after being translated by others from Icelandic into English, we language deficient readers can only wonder how much of the message we are missing by not being able to enjoy them in the original. ads

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Back Home

So dream about your lovely island fjord
  And childhood haunts upon the upland run;
Where nowhere do the colors of the land
  Shine fairer in the glory of the sun.
As shepherds halloo from the mountain passes,
  Their flocks descending to the the valley grasses.

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Dakota Sunshine

When our weary winter yields
  And spring relives its story,
Ah, what a pretty sight to see
  The sun in all its glory!

And when the wide Dakota fields
  With ripening wheat are swaying,
A pretty sight to see the sun
  Upon the uplands playing.

When all this tender hay is cut,
  In sickled-tows reclining,
Ah, what a pretty sight the sun
  Upon the meadows shining.

Then he who yearns to catch a fish
  Goes to the river streaming.
A pretty sight to see the pike
  In sunny water gleaming.

When in the morn the farmer milks,
  His brow with pleasure showing,
A pretty sight to see the sun
  On all the cattle glowing.

If one can get a bit of gin,
  At best by illness hinting
Then ’tis a pretty sight the sun
  Upon the bottle glinting.

And now it seems to be the trend
  To dress in latest styling,
And ’tis a pretty sight the sun
  On lovely dresses smiling!

And if you long to go to church,
  Your gladdened faith aligning;
Then ’tis a pretty sight the sun
  Upon the preacher shining!

And though the ‘take’ is very small
  The man's surprise be showing;
It is a pretty sight the sun
  Upon the platter glowing.

But if I had to go to church,
  My need for succour pining,
I would as lief the sun itself
  Refused to go on shining.

And when I've passed beyond this place,
  My bones to dust decaying,
’Twill be a pretty sight the sun
  Upon my tombstone playing.

Obviously, I saved the best for last. If you are reading this and know of other works of KN which have been translated into English, I would certainly appreciate being able to add them to this small collection.

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Arlan Steinolfson
744 48th Street South
Fargo, North Dakota 58103
1 701 281 8824

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