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Review: Bloodhoof, by Gerður Kristný

The poet, novelist and journalist Gerður Kristný, who was born in Reykjavík in 1970, won the Icelandic Literature Award in 2010 for Blódhófnir, her recasting into minimalist contemporary verse of the Eddic poem Skírnismál, preserved in an Icelandic manuscript dating from the second half of the 13th century, which tells how the god Freyr, looking out over all the world from the throne of Ódinn in Ásgardur, sees Gerdur Gymisdóttir in the land of giants, falls helplessly in love, and sends his servant Skírnir to woo her on his behalf and bring her back to be his bride.

Rory McTurk, Emeritus Professor of Icelandic Studies at Leeds University, has made a splendid translation of Gerður Kristný's spare modern masterpiece:

Skírnir spun a tale
of a land of sweet calm
with a leafybranched forest

bearing apples of gold

Would I care for a bite?


Love had indeed come
armed to the teeth

with an envoy brandishing
a hateinfused sword

its haft carved in cruelty


With rapid bounds
three bitches caught me
fast in their teeth:


It's very good on the landscape, too, as true to today as to the Old Norse Edda:

The bridge reaches out
from waving grass
into smoky grey cloud


as if sand were blowing
over hill and dale, settling
on leaf and ling


It's homewards with longing
that my heart flies on

over water calmed by spring

over iron-hard ice-fields