Untranslatable poetry and sad music from a cold island, discovered in a hot bath.

Red an erthygel ma yn Kernowek.

I listen to music in the bath.

Just before Christmas, I’m letting Spotify throw some random stuff in my direction. Between shampoo and conditioner, I hear a voice start to read a poem. A few lines in, a sad minimalist piano accompaniment begins. It’s followed by strings that build gently, as the reading finishes towards the end.

At first, I’m not entirely sure which language the poem is in. I figure it’s a Scandinavian one because I have a thing about scandinavian folk music at the moment (particularly Swedish), and clever things like Spotify are good at chucking more of the same at you. Especially in the bath.

Usually, at this stage I run my mental Scandinavian language identification programme; which is basically identifying languages via scandinavian programmes. (The BridgeBorgenTrapped). However, I’m a bit thrown, because for a moment, it sounds like Cornish.

Why? Well, for two reasons: at some point in the poem it sounds like the poet says growan, sten; [‘granite, tin’]. There’s also something that sounds like blewen [‘hair’]. The second reason is that his voice sounds a little like Mick Paynter‘s.

This is not because Icelandic sounds like Cornish, it’s down to the magical power of Cornish to sound like other languages in different circumstances. Indeed the only time someone asked me what language I was speaking, the questioner’s first guess was a doubtful ‘Danish?’

In any case, the language, the poem and the music were beautiful, so hearing a little of the dialect spoken on the Penwith/Húnaþing border suits me nicely.

The track is from Islands, an album by the Icelandic mucisian Ólafur Arnalds. The album is comprised of tracks recorded at different locations in Iceland. The track I heard is the first, and was recorded in Hvammstangi, a coastal village in north west Iceland, on the Miðfjörður. The poet is Einar Georg, reading one of his poems. The musician doesn’t provide a translation of the poem, so I’m going to let it remain as an untranslateable, in my head at least.

The track has been a favourite over the Christmas period. It has formed part of the backdrop, melding well with peaceful walks along the Cardiff Bay barrage in the first few days of the new year. And hey, I got to find out a little bit about a distant Icelandic village and I also got a second article out of it.

There is more about the album here, and here’s the track – a video of the recording session in Hvammstangi:


Top image: Wikimedia Commons

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