Speaking of beds and implying sleep, the verb for sleep is a rather amusing one that can’t be left untold. It is literally just “sofa.” This one was easy to remember, because a sofa is a great place to crash when you can’t keep your eyes open any longer.
And what better way to fall asleep on your sofa than to listen to a soothing Icelandic lullaby?
This beautiful piece of music, sung in this version by the popular singer Ragnheiður Gröndal, is a traditional lullaby that is used by many parents today. It is called “Sofðu Unga Ástin Mín,” or “Sleep my Young Darling.” It seems to be commonly noted as one of the most beautiful Icelandic lullabies out there. But theres a catch…
If you remember my first post on Icelandic lullabies, you’re aware that most Icelandic lullabies sung to children are actually quite terrifying, and express negativity and fear to induce a strange sense of comfort. In the lullaby Bíum Bíum Bamabló, the lyrics describe a terrifying face looming at the window, watching the human beings lying inside. What seems terrifying about this though is immediately quelled when one considers that the comfort and security inside the house outweighs the small fear lying beyond the window. These lullabies were lessons, securities being defined by the subsiding fears.
Sofðu Unga Ástin Mín tends to reach beyond this realm of security, though. It was written by Jóhann Sigurjónsson, a playwright and poet in the early 20th century. In 1911 he wrote a play about the famous outlaw Fjalla-Eyvindur which included the song in it. To understand the song, let’s give a little background:
Fjalla-Eyvindur was born in 1714, worked as a farmhand, and escaped to a remote area of Iceland after being accused of cheating. He ended up at the farm of a woman named Halla, whom he fell in love with and eventually married in the mid 1700s. It is said that they were outlawed for 20 years, although the exact reason for this seems to be unknown. It is supposed that Halla had drowned a child who stayed with them, and Eyvindur had to pay for her crimes. They decided to run off again and leave the farm, abandoning all of their children. Halla wanted to burn the farm down but Eyvindur prevented this, saving their children in the end. As outlaws, they moved constantly, avoiding those who were hunting for them. The couple had many children, and Halla seemed to always become caught when she was pregnant, but managed to escape and give birth to them. It is said that Halla always killed the children at birth, or shortly after. Why? Well, while on the run, children surely would have been a burden for this couple, so they had to make the decision to leave them behind, helpless, or kill them to save them from dying alone on their own. In one instance, Halla and Eyvindur were caught unexpectedly. Halla had a daughter with her at the time and knew that this baby would burden them on their escape. This lullaby, Sofðu Unga Ástin Mín, was the song that Halla sang to her daughter to lull her to sleep before throwing her off of a waterfall.
Tragic, yes, but in a very aching, beautiful way. The lyrics seem to really capture the pain of this woman who chose to sacrifice her children for her own life:
Sofðu, unga ástin mín,
úti regnið grætur.
Mamma geymir gullin þín,
gamla leggi og völuskrín.
Við skulum ekki vaka um dimmar nætur.
Það er margt sem myrkrið veit,
minn er hugur þungur.
Oft ég svarta sandinn leit
svíða grænan engireit.
Í jöklinum hljóða dauðadjúpar sprungur.
Sofðu lengi, sofðu rótt,
seint mun bezt að vakna.
Mæðan kenna mun þér fljótt,
meðan hallar degi skjótt,
að mennirnir elska, missa, gráta og sakna.
And condensed/roughly translated in English to understand the gist of the song:
Sleep my young love. Outside the rain cries
Mother keeps your gold, old leg bones and chest of stones
We shall not be awake on dark nights
The darkness knows so plenty
My mind is heavy
Often black sands I gazed at
burning green meadows
In the glacier lives dead deep cracks
Sleep well, sleep tight
Better to wake up later
Mother will teach you sooner
’til the sun reaches the horizon
That men love, lose, cry and pine for.
So as you can see, these seemingly horrific lullabies have deep-rooted histories and stories in them that everyone can pull from. They are sung mournfully as well as in awe, and there is a reason they are still sung today.
I will leave you with a second version by the lovely musician Svavar Knútur, which you can listen to and purchase here.