Silence in Iceland

In Iceland, silence is much more than just a space between sounds. Silence is time moving backwards and forwards.  Silence rises up from the earth, the atmosphere is charged with it. Silence in Iceland is a dizzying aural experience. 

In Iceland, I feel both connection and loss as I stand in the silence, witness to the passage of time. I sense the fragility and the awesome power of nature.  I feel never more alone, and yet never more connected to the earth and all things on it. 

I used this fantastic online bibliography to find these books in our collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

I used this fantastic online bibliography to find these books in our collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

I have been researching the ways in which Icelandic past-place was perceived and transmitted by travelers to the remote island. Some travelers were seeking an experience of the sublime, and the silence of the landscape was often commented upon. I was happily surprised to find these books, all accounts of travel to Iceland, hiding in plain sight in the Library Company’s own word-hoard.  They date from 1758 to 1882. Here are some excerpts and some illustrations: 

Illustration from SHEPHERD, C.W., The North-west Peninsula of Iceland. London: Longmans Green, 1867.  All of the images here were snapped with my iPhone, courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Illustration from SHEPHERD, C.W., The North-west Peninsula of Iceland. London: Longmans Green, 1867.  All of the images here were snapped with my iPhone, courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

...but full of a strange, stern beauty, stilling the soul with the stillness of nature. There was not a floweret at our feet; only the blue dome of air raining down brightness on the black desert floor, the dazziling snows in front, and far away the exquisite tints of distance upon the western peaks.
— HEADLEY, P.C., The Island of Fire (Iceland): or A Thousand Years of the Old Northmen's Home, 874-1874. Boston: Lee and Shepherd, 1875
SHEPHERD, C.W., The North-west Peninsula of Iceland. London: Longmans Green, 1867.

SHEPHERD, C.W., The North-west Peninsula of Iceland. London: Longmans Green, 1867.

The sun went down as we entered the majestic, sand-strewn portal between the two jokulls; and the Eastern one, on whose snows his light lingered longest, glowed with colors more glorious than any we could remember in the Alps...of violet and purple, opal and pink and orange, passing from one tint to another in swift iridescent pulses till they died away into chilly blue.
— MACKENZIE, G.S., Travels in the Island of Iceland in the Summer of the Year 1810. Edinburgh, 1810
HENDERSON, E., Iceland: or A Journal of a Residence in that Island during the Years 1814 and 1815. (2 vols.). Edinburgh: Oliphant, Waugh, and Innes, 1818.  

HENDERSON, E., Iceland: or A Journal of a Residence in that Island during the Years 1814 and 1815. (2 vols.). Edinburgh: Oliphant, Waugh, and Innes, 1818.  

And each rode alone in a sort of grave exhilaration, gazing as in a dream at the hills, and drinking in the sunlight, content with silence and the present.
— HEADLEY, P.C., The Island of Fire (Iceland): or A Thousand Years of the Old Northmen's Home, 874-1874. Boston: Lee and Shepherd, 1875
HENDERSON, E., Iceland: or A Journal of a Residence in that Island during the Years 1814 and 1815. (2 vols.). Edinburgh: Oliphant, Waugh, and Innes, 1818.

HENDERSON, E., Iceland: or A Journal of a Residence in that Island during the Years 1814 and 1815. (2 vols.). Edinburgh: Oliphant, Waugh, and Innes, 1818.