Late Winter Months

Jon ur Vor


As the introduction to the poem tells you at the top of p. 15 of the pre-release booklet, Jon ur Vor is an Icelandic poet who was born in 1917. During the winter months in Iceland there is very little daylight and a great deal of ice.

Each of the first three verses begins with a question directed to an unnamed person regarding their childhood – although it may well be that he is asking these question of himself, thereby reminding himself of his own childhood in Iceland when he was a young boy. The life that he describes through these questions is certainly rural and technologically unsophisticated. For example, verse 1 refers to “rotten fish”, thus indicating a lack of a fridge. There also appears to be no internal plumbing as a “wellhouse” is also mentioned. It is a life lived close to nature which is obviously very dependent on fishing. There are no modern comforts or amenities but the poem does portray a strong family bond, especially with the beloved fosterfather. The culture described in this poem also has a strong sense of communal responsibility as the child is brought up by loving foster parents, presumably because his own parents have died.

Verse 1 recalls the midwinter in which food and daylight would be in short supply – no milk, rotting fish and long evenings.

Verse 2 recalls the child who is the subject of the poem standing on a beach with his fostermother waiting for the return of the fosterfather who had been out in the icy waters of the fjord on a fishing trip. The child was in fear for the safety of the fosterfather because it was growing dark, there were sounds of an impending storm and the fosterfather’s boat had not returned. The child went to bed alone and cried himself to sleep.

Verse 3 recalls the child’s happiness as he is awoken in the middle of the night by a tender caress from his fosterfather.

Verse 4 shows the close emotional bond between the child and the fosterfather.

Verse 5 describes the happiness of the next day when the child awoke to find fresh fish and sunshine. The poem ends by referring to the “happiness in a poor man’s house”.

* The tone of this poem is very nostalgic and affectionate as the poet recalls a simple life in a household/culture in which survival is a daily struggle – and yet it was a time full of love and happiness as well as worry and struggle.

Use of Language

The poet uses a few figures of speech. In verse 1, he refers to “the simple song of the water’s flow”, a metaphor which helps to emphasise the lack of technology in that the only ‘music’ to be heard is that of nature as opposed to the sounds of a radio or television. The song comparison further suggests that the sound of the water was pleasing to the poet. Also in the first verse, the poet uses the simile “the evening long as eternity itself”, a comparison which emphasises how little daylight there would have been in the winter. It may also emphasise the lack of things to do as he would most likely be confined to his home during the darkness.

Most of the language, however, is descriptive rather than figurative. In other words, he does not rely much on a use of metaphors, similes, personifications, etc. But in his descriptive language, he does use a great deal of vivid language which appeals to the sense of sight. However, there are also a number of references to the other senses, e.g. sound (“the song of the water’s flow”) and touch (“cold feet”). Touch features quite prominently, especially in verses 3 and 4 when the affectionate fosterfather returns.

There is also an interesting line at the end of the second verse when the poet describes the bed as being too large for the child, thus suggesting the smallness of the child and hence his vulnerability as he lies alone in bed fearing that his fosterfather has drowned.


The poem is unusual in that it uses the second person to address questions to an unnamed individual. However, the writer still appears to be recalling a personal recollection. The poem also differs from the other poems in the pre-release booklet in that these memories of a past life in a different culture are revealed in the form of rhetorical questions (questions which do not really require an answer).

Again free verse has been used. However, the indentation of certain lines within the poem is, again, unusual. Perhaps it suggests the ebb and flow of tides as the winter comes to and end and the ice melts.