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Sigurdhur Palsson. Reykjavik. Forlagidh. 1997. 76 pages. 2,680 kr. ISBN 9979-53-318-8.

I don't know if the poet Sigurdhur Palsson is a religious man in the Christian fashion, but he is obviously fond of trinities. His books have come in threesomes, all with related titles. The present one is the third of the third threesome; so he has now produced a trinity of trinities. On top of that, his poems often come in numbered clusters of three with the same title. Ljodhlinuspil begins on no fewer than four such packages plus a group of six - a double trinity. Three has of course from ancient times been considered a holy number, representing the nuclear family - father, mother, and child - as well as the Christian godhead and the Three Wise Men from the East. So I'm wondering if Palsson is a believer in the Holy Trinity or just in the magic of the number.

Not that this matters in the least. We're all entitled to our little eccentricities, if that's what they are. But perhaps it's not quite that simple. Perusing this book, I have come to the conclusion that Palsson is indeed a religious poet, but not necessarily in the Christian manner. His religion seems to be somehow fused with nature worship. Here is "Skogur/Tre I" (Forest/Tree I):

I could say: I don't believe in the forest I believe in the tree With roots in heaven Roots in the nightly sky

(but my belief matters little to the tree to the forest ...)

Yet I believe In the tree that grows and dies And still lives

And in "Skogur/Tre III" he writes: We are born trees / With roots in heaven . . . The tree lives / Though the leaves fall / Even if its roots are cut." In any case, there is a lot of striving toward heaven. Thus, in "I borgarfrumskogi I" (In a City Jungle I): "Electricity's prayer edges heavenward / Follows the rosario of the elevator // The girl with a temperate belt / The man with an evergreen belt / Torn from their roots / On their way up the skyscraper// The oxygen thins / Roots struck from the flat roof / Into the firmament." In a more carnal mode, the five-year-old poet lies on his back on the kitchen floor looking at the ankles of four women (and presumably up their skirts) as they step over him, seeing "A ladder to heaven / All the way from the ankle." So I guess heaven is where you find it.

But there are also other kinds of poems in this genuinely intriguing and accomplished book, poems that do not seem to have any religious connotation yet are perhaps part of the same humanistic nature worship as the others. They attest to the poet's increasing awareness of his end: he is by now fifty years old and has begun to ponder the eventual demise of all things. This is, in different ways, the theme of several poems in the book, but is perhaps best conveyed in the concluding selection, a piece apparently occasioned by the death (or maybe the foreseeable death) of the poet Sigfus Dadhason. Entitled "Adh leidharlokum" (At Journey's End), it has a line from Dadhason as its motto: "First you see the white headlights approaching ..."

In the distance quiver the headlights of a car slowly driven over the hill

I know that we soon will see the taillights The red taillights

That's how it was in his poem That's how it is now

The headlights quiver an instant in the distance

That's how it was That's how it is.

I could go on for quite a while quoting from Ljodhlinuspil (which might perhaps be translated as "Playing with Verse"), but space will not allow it. This is a book that seems to deepen and open up into different chambers each time I read it - and by now I have read it several times. Maybe that's what the Bible does for Christian souls. It's almost enough to make a convert out of me!

Hallberg Hallmundsson New York
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Author:Hallmundsson, Hallberg
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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