Special Agent Dale Cooper wakes up with a start in his hotel room one morning to the ultimate Icelandic tongue-twisting song “Nú er frost á fróni” on David Lynch’s cult 1990-1991 television series Twin Peaks… What?
My husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. Why were there Icelandic songs on this show, sung very articulately in perfect Icelandic, no less?
We recently started watching Twin Peaks. He has nostalgic memories of the series which were screened on Icelandic private television channel Stöð 2 in the early ’90s. We didn’t have Stöð 2 at my house and so I’d never seen it before.
So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I had expected the series to be dated but it has a timeless quality about it. And in spite of all the wacky details the murder mystery is very exciting to watch unfold.
There are many loose threads for sure and I’m looking forward to seeing how the plot thickens—I hope it will, because I don’t have a clue who killed Laura Palmer.
Back to the disgruntled Agent Cooper’s irritation over the Icelandic group singing.
It turned out that a band of Icelandic investors, an earlier version of the ‘Outvasion Vikings’ if you will, had been invited to Twin Peaks by the shady hotel director to consider a business deal, which Norwegian investors had backed out of because of the gruesome murder of Laura Palmer.
Usually when Icelanders are featured on American television not much attention is given to detail whereas Lynch seems to be a bit of a perfectionist in that regard.
Respect for acquiring recordings of real Icelandic singing, songs that might actually be sung at such an occasion. In addition to the aforementioned tongue twister, I heard parts of “Öxar við ána” and “Á Sprengisandi”, among other songs.
I assume Lynch may just have asked an Icelandic association in North America to record some songs for the show.
He omitted Icelandic actors from the cast, though. As soon as they opened their mouths it became clear that they weren’t the real deal (contrary to those portraying the Norwegian investors).
“Nú er frost á Fróni” is in fact the starting line of the poem "Þorraþrællinn 1866" by Kristján Jónsson fjallaskáld (“the mountain poet”; 1842-1869).
Although the poem is set in the month of þorri (late January to late February) I thought it was quite suiting that I heard it sung the night before the first actual frost in Reykjavík this winter as it features harsh winter weather.
I mentioned last week that the Icelandic language is lyrical and this poem is a brilliant example of that as it is filled with metaphors and creative use of the language.
Frón, for example, is another word for "Iceland", while Kári, a man’s name, means "wind". Jötunn is a "giant" in Norse mythology and both bára and unnur, which are also women’s names (Unnar is the latter name's male version), are among many of the words we have for "wave".
The poem is very hard to translate, but I shall try. The first stanza goes like this:
Nú er frost á Fróni, frýs í æðum blóð. Kveður kuldaljóð Kári í jötunmóð. Yfir laxalóni liggur klakaþil. Hlær við hríðarbyl hamragil. Mararbára blá brotnar þung og há unnar steinum á, yggld og grett á brá. Yfir aflatjóni æðrast skipstjórinn. Harmar hlutinn sinn hásetinn.
“Now there is frost in Iceland; the blood freezes in the veins; sings a song of cold; the wind fierce like a giant; over the salmon lagoon; lies a layer of ice; laughs at the blizzard; rocky gorge.”
“A blue ocean wave; breaks heavy and high; washes over stones; with a mean expression. About the loss of catch; the captain complains; regrets his share; the sailor.”
I’m freezing just reading this poem; the sudden weather change gave me a mean cold and a sore throat and I’ve been feeling a bit feverish ever since the frost arrived.
On Wednesday morning the frost disappeared temporarily and the hailstorm was replaced by pouring sideways rain. Kári was certainly in jötunmóð as I struggled to stay upright on my bike on the way to work that morning.
The following day the frost came back with a vengeance and a thin layer of snow covered the ground; the first snow to speak of in the capital this winter.
Icelanders often complain about the weather but we should be thankful for how its harshness and versatility has proven an endless source of discussion topics—how else would we make small talk?—and inspiration to us.
Even David Lynch drew inspiration from an old curse to the Icelandic winter weather, although I doubt he was aware of the meaning of the words that startled Agent Cooper that fateful morning in Twin Peaks.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected]