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Ask Iceland Review

Ask Iceland Review

If you’ve got a question about Iceland or anything Iceland-related, we’ll do our best to answer it here. Submit your questions using the button to the right. Please include your name and the city/country you're from.

Þulur - An Old Oral Tradition

Photo: Golli

Q:

I am looking for an Icelandic poem, first line is "Fadleigar er Fiskurinn", I have a copy of it written out but not in actual Icelandic alphabet. I would really like the actual Icelandic version for a gift for my mother, is there anyone who can provide the actual poem, or is it published in a book available for sale? My Icelandic grandfather told it to me as a child. When we visited Iceland several years ago, we were able to find several people who were familiar with the poem, mostly older people in the northern region. I wish I had thought to have it written down then but I did not, so hopefully someone can help me now. Thanks in advance!

Becky Freer, United States.

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A:

Hi, Becky, and thank you for the question.

The poem is part of Icelandic oral tradition and has therefore changed throughout history as it is passed from person to person. It is classified as þulur, which is a form of poetry defined by rhyming and a recitation of a long string of words. There is no definite author of the poem, but it is still alive in oral tradition in Iceland. The most common version used today starts with 'fagur fiskur í sjó', as opposed to 'fallegur er fiskurinn', which 'fadleigar er fiskurinn' most likely refers to.

The poem is accompanied by an old children’s game, sometimes named lófaleikur. Lófaleikur can be literally translated as palm game, as the intention of the person reciting the poem is to strike the back of the hand of the listener once the word detta (e. fall) is said.

The version that your grandfather used is most likely this one:

Fallegur er fiskurinn

flyðran í sjónum

með rauða kúlu á maganum

bröndóttur á halanum.

Vanda, banda,

gættu þinna handa,

fetta, bretta,

brátt skal högg á detta!

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