Bólu-Hjálmar

Bólu-Hjálmar

Hjálmar Jónsson (1796-1875), better known as Bólu-Hjálmar (after his homestead in Bóla)), was a 19th century Icelandic farmer and poet, known for his sharp style and biting wit.

Hjálmar was born in Hallandi in Eyjafjörður. He first became a farmer in Bakkinn in Öxnadalur, but subsequently moved to Skagafjörður where he dwelled in Bóla (Bólstaðargerði), from whence his nickname is derived. Hjálmar was a poor farmer, and had difficulty making ends meet. He was constantly engaged in disputes with his neighbours, who accused him of stealing sheep. In his own way, Hjálmar was an artistic and creative soul. His style of poetry is marked by economy and clever use of metaphors. Many of his poems are tinged with bitterness, which may partly be attributed to his constant rows and disputes, and partly to what seems to have been a general dislike of humanity.

An example of his bitterness, is this stanza, composed after he had received an anonymous donation. The stanza is the beginning of a longer poem, To an anonymous benefactor:

Víða til þess vott ég fann,
þótt venjist oftar hinu,
að guð á margan gimstein þann,
sem glóir í mannsorpinu.

The benefactor eventually turned out to be bishop Pétur Pétursson.

He could also be tender, although examples are rare. But this is one, called Mannslát (News of a death):

Mínir vinir fara fjöld,
feigðin þessa heimtar köld.
Eg kem eftir, kannske í kvöld
með klofinn hjálm og rofinn skjöld,
brynju slitna, sundrað sverð og syndagjöld.

Here are sorrow and remorse woven together.

He was of course, also a master of rímur and the associated rímnahættir. One must look far to find a match to:

Fárleg vóru fjörbrot hans.
Fold og sjórinn léku dans.
Gæfusljór með glæpafans
Grímur fór til andskotans.

This is from Göngu-Hrólfs rímur.

But his talent also exstended to the on-the-spot. This is one example, where he met a rather tragic household on the move:

Aumt er að sjá í einni lest
áhaldsgögnin slitin flest,
dapra konu og drukkinn prest,
drembinn þræl og meiddan hest.

But Hjálmar could be bested. It used to be a national sport in Iceland to throw the two beginning lines of a ferskeytla at somebody, and the recipient was supposed to complete the stanza or one could play the game with whole stanzas at a time. Once, as he had leaned his skis against a wall and went back to retrieve them, he found they had interfered with a maid's work, and she had put them somewhere else.

Hjálmar found his skis and said to the maid:

Mínum skíðum vékst úr veg
við mig stríði hreyfir.
Þér að ríða þyrfti ég,
þegar tíðin leyfir.

The maid answered, and for once in his life, Hjálmar was at a loss for words:

Þínum skíðum vék úr vegi,
við þig stríði hreyfði.
Þú mér ríða þyrðir eigi,
þó að tíðin leyfði.

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