William Morris went to Iceland for the Sagas


Photo Credit: Philjama

William Morris‘s journey to Iceland in 1871 was planned along routes designed to see those places that are connected with the great Sagas, places which appealed to Morris far more than the more popular Geysirs which to most tourists were the principal attraction of the place. Morris was indignant that these Geysirs were all that ordinary people knew about Iceland – people who “have never heard of the names of Sigurd and Brynhild, of Djal, or Gunnar, or Grettir of Gisli or Gudrun.”

“In Morris’s mind,” according to Esther Meynell in her Portrait of William Morris (Chapman & Hall, 1947) “all the while he travelled this desolate land, was the background of the great Sagas – he knew and saluted each cleft and hill where the Icelandic heroes had lived and died, slain and been slain.

When he came to Thingvellir and the Hill of Laws he wrote:

Once again that thin thread of insight and imagination, which comes so seldom to us, and is such a joy when it comes, did not fail me at this first sight of the greatest marvel and most storied place in Iceland.”

Inspired by literary Iceland? Visit here.

What W. H. Auden thought of Iceland

W.H. Auden in response to this question from Christopher Isherwood:

What feelings did your visit give you about life on small islands?

“If you have no particular intellectual interests or ambitions and are content with the company of your family and friends, the life on Iceland must be very pleasant, because the inhabitants are friendly, tolerant and sane. They are genuinely proud of their country and its history, but without the least trace of hysterical nationalism. I always found that they welcomed criticism. But I had the feeling, also, that for myself it was already too late. We are too deeply involved with Europe to be able, or even to wish to escape. Though I am sure you would enjoy a visit as much as I did, I think that, in the long run, the Scandinavian sanity would be too much for you, as it is for me. The truth is, we are both only really happy living among lunatics.”

from Letters from Iceland (Faber, 1937)

Inspired to visit Iceland? Go here.