On the Nature of the Cold

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Adapted from the chapter in Description of the Northern Peoples by Olaus Magnus, published in 1555. Piece was performed at King and Queen's Bardic Championship in 2013.

I am Magnus hvalmagi. You ask what inspires me. I will tell you what inspires all Icelanders - the cold.

The cold holds many hardships. Cold causes copper, glass, and earthenware vessels to break. It causes axes, saws, and picks to break. The cold causes wild beasts to seek the homes of men, hoping to relieve their hunger. The cold causes coughing and all other sorts of illnesses. The cold kills those who are not prepared for it.

And yet we draw much wealth from the cold.

The cold causes us to grow larger, stronger, and hardier than all other people. Ours is the strongest stock.

The cold causes us to live together in large families, so that we may all be warm. Our family ties are unbroken for generations.

The cold causes our women to make many fine, sturdy clothes. Our cloth is the finest and most valuable.

The cold causes the pelts of all animals to become thick and fine. You will find no greater furs than those of my people.

The cold keeps fish fresh for months without salt, and causes all seeds sown to come up in greater abundance. We are never at risk of starving.

The cold allows boys to build forts of snow, and to stage battles and sieges. Our warriors hone all their skills from a young age.

The cold allows us to hold great shows on the ice, and also to hold markets on the ice. We thrive where others would wither and die.

I speak of all the things that my people do because of the cold. And still there is one truth - the greatest - of the cold’s inspiration:

The cold inspires us to make very, very, long voyages in the south.

© Peter Olsen

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