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
* 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
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
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
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.