“The correct understanding of life, let me tell you, is love despite everything. Love despite everything, that is the aim and object of life. Love, you see, is the only thing that pays in the long run, even though it might seem a dead loss in the short run.”Darien’s examination of Light:
World Light, like any of Laxness’s works… is but a boulder in a rock slide, one small part of what might be seen as a compulsive lifelong quest to fix a world to the page.So, let’s get on with a review of another Laxness book!
“Ólafur Kárason had always kept to himself and did not interfere in other people’s affairs; it sometimes also happened that he was not very familiar with his own affairs.”The sensibility of the poet is an enigma to the one person who remains with him most of his life. His wife first meets him when he is young, ill, and impressionable. She is successful in making him feel an obligation to her, and although she was is an older, worn-out woman, who has no understanding at all of art or poetry, Ólafur honors his commitment to her. She becomes his Intended, and later his wife, the mother of his children, his ball and chain. Their relationship brings nothing but misery to either of them, but The Poet never successfully breaks it off:
“Had he, who had chosen her for his lot, the right to punish her—for shortcomings she couldn’t help?… he felt pity for this one more keenly than ever before, and the pity fettered him more than any love could. She was a representative of that humanity with which he himself was inextricably bound up, burdened with emotions, sensitive and sorrowful in its quest for a way out of the darkness and the severity of its origins. Was one to despise and betray this humanity, one’s own humanity, because its instinctive quest for something finer and more beautiful hadn’t succeeded?”This book is much more than the story of a man, The Poet (although the story of The Poet is magnificent indeed). The story also has elements of the societal changes taking place in the early 20th, and religion, spiritualism, feminism. As the book draws to a close, Ólafur goes to meet his true love atop a glacier. As bleak as his life may be, his quest for the beautiful, divine, and eternal never ends. Ólafur is a flawed character in a flawed world, yet his odd world vision enables us to find a unique and unforgettable beauty, as well as hope.
Og fegurðin mun ríkja ein.
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
“Admittedly he had never understood the book, but that did not matter. What mattered was that this was his secret, his dream, his refuge; in short, it was his book. He wept only as children weep when they suffer injustice at the hands of those stronger than themselves. It is the most bitter weeping in the world. That was what happened to his book; it was taken from him and burned. And he was left standing naked and without a book on the first day of summer.”He eventually is ostracized from the house and taken on horseback to a faraway village. He is guided by Reimar the poet, the most popular in the region. He finally works up the courage to ask, “Don’t you find it exceedingly difficult to be a poet, Reimar?”
“Difficult? Me? To be a poet? Just ask the womenfolk about that, my friend, whether our Reimar finds it difficult to be a poet! It was only yesterday that I rode into the yard of one of the better farms hereabouts, and the daughter of the house was standing outside, smiling, and without more ado I addressed her with a double-rhymed, quatro-syllabic verse that just came to me as I bent down from the saddle to greet her. No, it's not difficult to be a poet, my friend, it's a pleasure to be a poet.”In this new land, he is free, though equally poor. His one desire is to write poetry all day long and look at the world around him. His only thought of the future is to write poetry, with no questions about food or employment. He seeks not friends, but only vaguely to be understood. In short, he’s a bit naive… but he is, after all, only 17 at this point.
“He went on composing poetry for most of the day, and reciting his poems to Nature and lying on his back on the grass and loving the sky. Late in the afternoon he drank some water from the brook. He was sure that the birds of the sky would bring him tidbits in their beaks whenever he got hungry.”His life continues on, with a handful of genuine (though mild) ups, and many downs. It is the saga of good Ólafur, who merely wants to be a true poet and not bother anybody. But in the process he somehow ends up bothering almost everybody... Surrounding him are all the narrow-minded and corrupt people in high positions, and the hard-working, hungry townsfolk who are more and more oppressed at every turn. Of course, much of the book deals with bleak things, but it's never bleak for long - there is good humor throughout, even in the speeches of the corrupt hypocrites, and even in the deep despair of young Ólafur. What’s more, the genuine joy to be found in such simple things as the sun splashing onto the hair of a first lover in the morning, the glimpsing of a beautiful glacier, the divine power of feeling the heavens, the palpable spirit of an inspired poem… these moments fill your soul like they’re actual breaths of fresh glacial air.
“If I have a face that rejoices in God's grace, my brother, it is because I have learned more from those who have lived within the walls [of this prison] than from those who lived outside them,” said the cathedral pastor. “I have learned more from those who have fallen down than those who have remained upright. That's why I am always so happy in this house.”I think it’s fair to say that the reader will feel the same: reading this book, we learn more about goodness from those who have fallen than from those who have supposedly “remained upright.” I finished this book a month and a half ago, thinking I’d find the words to write a proper review about it. Those words are still avoiding me, so I'll just give up and tell you to read this book if you like books that have the power to change the way you think about life.