The poem “Journey To Iceland” by W.H. Auden is published in his book named “Letters from Iceland” which is basically a series of all the letters as well as travel notes written by Auden and MacNeice which they wrote during their trip to Iceland in the year 1936. There is a compilation of many light-hearted private jokes as well as irreverent comments related to their surrounding world.
Before heading to the summary of the poem, I would like to let you have an idea about “Letters from Iceland”. This is basically a diverse collage of works that were written throughout a voyage of three months. It comprises literary works like prose, poetry, and newspaper clippings, and also has photographs and other media.
And in this book, the opening poem is “Journey to Iceland” which has been written to the deceased Lord Byron and consists of five parts.
Journey To Iceland Summary
Journey to Iceland is a brief poem that takes the readers to the pre-journey state of the poet’s mind. Auden is seen with a fresh and excited mind as he is ready to absorb the new and foreign land of Iceland and then approach the horizon.
On reading the poem, it is clear that the poem has begun amidst the sea while the boat is cutting through a thick fog. The poet can see the shore of Reykjavik from a distance.
There are vivid and abstract visions of the approaching land filled in the mind of the poet. Auden shows how eager he is for the approaching land which is clear with the use of the word “And” constantly in the beginning lines of the poem.
This shows the beginning of a new thought as well as excitement in the mind of the poet which is not letting him stay focused on a particular image or idea for longer and he immediately shifts from one thing to the other, which is quite similar to a curious child who enters a blossoming park during the spring at its peak.
The author has depicted his identity as a “Traveller” in the poem who has come far away in hope. So, the poet here doesn’t provide his identity as a poet or an explorer, he is just a traveler, who will pass through a space and then be gone.
The word Physician at the beginning of the poem is used as a symbol for a developed modern society. The poet says that he has come far away from the structured world because physicians (modern people) do not prefer employing themselves in nature or untouched lines. And the poet has come to Iceland in the hope that he will find himself while being at distance from society.
There are a lot of sensual surroundings that the poet encounters on his journey which makes the poet satisfied that his dream of distancing the menacing modern world has been fulfilled. Auden has created an idealized picture of the beautiful and otherworldly experience of Iceland in the poem.
As the boat approaches the shore, the poet’s hope is inspired by the physical features of the island which makes him believe and declare that the hope he had is something that can be seen within the mountains and rocks of an abnormal world.
The poet uses the word “Sterile” to show that Iceland has not been infected with the maturity of the modern world. Since Auden is also a man of the modern English world, he believes that he too is infected and has suffered from modernity and believes that in these mountains of untainted life, he will be able to cleanse his stained perspective of the modern world.
The poet explains that since the nature of Iceland is separated from Europe and this makes this land a unique and surreal entity in comparison to Auden’s understanding of the reality or the real European world. And, he seeks the unreality that is present in Iceland and he is even willing to exile himself into the rocks and waterfalls brushing the rocks among the rock birds.
Auden experiences wonder and escape in the moments of his journey to Iceland. He has talked about a specially good time that arrived to him on his trip to Iceland which he believes to be a spectacular and rare moment, nothing less than the magical and intangible myths that existed in Auden’s mind. It was something he used to dream of as a child and now he could finally meet this tangible reality with excitement.
He says that Iceland is a place where one can find and restore the pureness of intimacy. This is a place where the idealized notions of emotions are pure and totally untouched. And one can find these emotions only within the experience of Iceland’s landscape, among the endless expansive deserts of this land.
Auden finds this powerful experience of his journey to Iceland the motivation to write a poem which he has also expressed in his line “The writer runs howling to his art”.
Though there are so many beautiful moments that Auden experienced, it is still difficult to remove the reality that the poet will always be an observer and a traveler. In the romantic expressions of nature given in the poem, there is a blurred line that exists between truly connecting and admiring the land and simply fleeing from the modern age.
I hope that you found this summary of the poem Journey To Iceland by W. H. Auden interesting and easy to understand. You can check out the summaries of other poems like Nineteen Hundred And Nineteen Poem Summary By W.B.Yeats and Punishment By Heaney Summary