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Maístjarnan

It’s May 1, International Workers Day, sometimes called “the real labour day”. Here in Iceland, this is a day when most places that employ workers are closed, and there are marches and rallies held in Reykjavík to demonstrate unity and demand good labour conditions. The “workers day off” maxim has been stretched to the limit in the past few years, though, and both the Kringlan and Smáralind shopping malls are open today for the first time in recent memory [and probably ever] which I find completely scandalous. But I digress.

I wanted to post a video of this song, which has more or less become Iceland’s anthem for this day. It’s hard to find a good version, and I venture to say there are NO good live versions, but at least this one has the lyrics [in Icelandic] as they are being sung.

It’s a beautiful song, with lyrics by Iceland’s nobel laureate Halldór Laxness. Essentially it is a person speaking to a loved one, and through these three small verses we get a deep sense of the battle of the proletariat for better conditions and their tenuous yet fervent hope for the future.

I seem to recall that I posted this a few years ago, and a few people requested a translation of the lyrics into English. There are NO good translations online – which is not surprising, because these are lyrics that lose far too much in translation and it is impossible to capture the beauty of Laxness’s text. However, here is a lame effort – it gets the gist across, if nothing else.

Oh how light are your steps
Oh how long I have waited
There is snow on the window
A bitter wind that howls
But I know of a star
A star that shines
And at last you are here
You are here with me

These are difficult times
Work is scarce
I have nothing to offer
Nothing to give
Except my hope and my life
Whether I wake or sleep
That one thing you gave me
Is all that I have

But tonight marks the end of winter
For every working man
And tomorrow the May sun shines
It is his May sun
It is our May sun
The sun of our unity
For you I carry the flag
For this country’s future

Happy May 1 everyone!

Comments

comments

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  • Sigga May 2, 2012, 12:59 am

    That is my absolute favourite favourite song…. thanks Alda.

  • Karol W. May 3, 2012, 3:33 am

    Simple and lovely song. I tried to follow the text but it was a struggle.

    As to Laxness, last year we drove from Reykjavik to Thingvellir, and saw a nice church on a hill. We walked through a little cemetery and suddenly found ourselves in front of Laxness’ grave!

    As to May Day, in Canada there were feeble demonstrations but general indifference. Although the NDP, our social democrats, are the official opposition in federal parliament, celebrating May 1 is a lost proposition.

    Different traditions, I guess.

    Alda, is IWP coming back?

  • Chris May 3, 2012, 2:03 pm

    I like this song also pretty much. Or how a colleague once said: The in-official national anthem of Iceland.

  • alda May 3, 2012, 9:08 pm

    @Karol – I’m thinking it over. 😉

  • Joerg May 3, 2012, 10:57 pm

    I like this song very much, it’s next to Á Sprengisandi my favourite Icelandic folksong.

  • hildigunnur May 4, 2012, 12:44 am

    Just for fun – another and totally different version of the song – no another song, same lyrics. This is the song Laxness himself used for the poem:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apjw0O6aoQ8&list=UUu27

    I do like this live version too of Jón Ásgeirsson’s song:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6XQHEX-BXU – way better than the poppy ones. It’s a choral song to start with.

  • john July 3, 2012, 9:56 pm

    If you meet a Norwegian who says that a meltdown like the Icelandic one could never happen in Norway check this link

    http://www.frbsf.org/publications/economics/letter/2012/el2012-19.html?utm_source=frbsf-home-highlight-title&utm_medium=frbsf&utm_campaign=economic-letter-2012-06-25

    and compare to Iceland before the meltdown. I fear for the future of my own country when In see what is happening on Iceland