And he rode--as I rode, in imagination, alongside him--the "horses muscled like athletes / on paths cut through knee-high grass, / over lava and hill crest ... Hours went by and no one spoke ..."
In Song of the Vikings, my biography of the 13th-century Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson, I list some writers Iceland has inspired:
Thomas Gray, William Blake, Sir Walter Scott, the Brothers Grimm, Thomas Carlyle, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Richard Wagner, Matthew Arnold, Henrik Ibsen, William Morris, Thomas Hardy, Hugh MacDiarmid, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jorge Luis Borges, W.H. Auden, Gunther Grass, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A.S. Byatt, Seamus Heaney, Jane Smiley, Stephen King, Alice Munro, Ivan Doig, Michael Chabon, George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, and Neil Gaiman.
These writers are just a beginning. There are many, many more--every day, I find more literary Icelandophiles. Some, like Tolkien, never went to Iceland--just learned about it from books.
Others, like the Victorian writer and designer William Morris, share an attitude toward the island that's more like Wunderlich's and mine. Asked once if he was going on a trip to Iceland, Morris replied, "No, I am going on a pilgrimage to Iceland." Quoting Morris, the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges said, "This is also my answer. Any specialist in Anglo-Saxon literature is sooner or later drawn to Icelandic literature. It is like admiring a sunset or falling in love."
Shortly after Song of the Vikings came out in 2012, I received a note over Facebook from Wunderlich asking if I'd ever been to Siglufjord in the north of Iceland. "I will be there for about three weeks at an artist's residency," he said, "and I was just curious if anyone had been there, knew anyone there, or could tell me anything about it. It is off the beaten path, but the world is sometimes very small." It would be his seventh trip to Iceland--like Borges and I, Wunderlich had fallen in love--and Siglufjord was "the furthest from Reykjavik" that he had ventured. He described it, lovingly, as "remote" and its weather as "frightful."
What is it about Iceland that calls to us? What is it about desolation and frightful weather, wind and birds and half-wild horses, that makes us fall in love?
According to a review in The New Yorker, Wunderlich's poetry "reminds us how fully the spirit can illuminate the depths."
"Prayer in a Time of Sickness" reminds me how much the Iceland I love is woven of words. "Here I stand at the estuary / My horse cropping grass" when it happens. When I see, like Wunderlich, what I've been missing.
The Earth Avails was published by Graywolf Press in 2014. See www.graywolfpress.org/books/earth-avails