Poets are a peculiar bunch and there are not many among them who are willing not only to welcome occasional visitors but also to sit with them, listening patiently to their incessant chattering and posing without forgetting to smile through the ordeal of their photo taking. Reykjavík’s very own Tómas Guðmundsson is one of those rare specimens.
Tómas Guðmundsson was born in Efri-Brú in Grímsnes in 1901. Still in his youth, he moved to Iceland’s capital, where he graduated and got acquainted with several Icelandic authors of his generation. Although he traveled around a lot in the course of his life, Tómas Guðmundsson mostly resided in Reykjavík, where he died in 1983. Some of his best known works are Við sundin blá (1924), Fagra veröld (1933) and Stjörnor vorsins (1940). For his vivid and nostalgic depiction of Iceland’s capital, Tómas Guðmundsson is also known as Reykjavíkurskáldið (“the poet of Reykjavík”). In recent times a bronze statue by Halla Gunnarsdóttir was placed in the poet’s honor in the park surrounding the Tjörnin. The effigy represents the poet in a serene and pensive stance, sitting on a bench, like lost in contemplation. The statue is in fact so lifelike that it’s easy to mistake it for an actual person (it was even involved a while back in a curious incident with the police). If you sit on the same bench with him during one of these melancholic overcast afternoons, bronze Tómas will not turn you down. You could read poetry and then observe in silence ripples forming in the pond’s surface together.
Although his city of adoption remembers him fondly and in Iceland there is even an established literary prize bearing his name, Reykjavík’s poet’s works are not receiving the best of treatments: available editions of his poetry are for the most part outdated. Even if translations of Tómas Guðmundsson’s works do exist (German and Scadinavian languages, mainly), getting hold of any of them is indeed quite hard, thus the poet is almost unknown to foreign audiences. Translating poetry is not the easiest task and in many cases translations are so mediocre that perhaps it would be better to leave the originals alone. It must be said though that contemporary Icelandic poets are a specially neglected category. Icelandic poetry’s territory extends far beyond epic tales but the world has yet to discover its richness and beauty. As memory is not only made of posthumous effigies but also of words the artist leaves behind, we hope Tómas Guðmundsson will get in the days to come a better literary treatment and will not be left all alone and alien to everybody on the bench of the park, day after day and night after night. If you happen to be in Reykjavík, go pay him a visit.