It’s not unusual for lullabies to be a little scary. The well-known English-language Rock-a-bye Baby ends with an infant falling out of a tree, for example. But the lullabies from the remote island of Iceland are on a whole other level.
Take, for example, this line, translated by the poet W.H. Auden:
Sofur thu svid thitt
Svartur i augum
Far i fulan pytt
Fullan af draugum
Sleep, you black-eyed pig.
Fall into a deep pit of ghosts.
Or consider the lullaby “Bíum Bíum Bambalo,” recorded by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós, which paints a cozy picture of domestic tranquility, except for its refrain:
Bíum bíum bambaló
Bambaló og dillidillidó
My little friend I lull to rest
But outside, a face looms at the window.
It gets worse. Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, who explored the country’s long history of macabre bedtime songs in the Icelandic Review, wrote about what is considered the country’s most beautiful lullaby, “Sofdu unga ástin mín” (“Sleep my young darling”). It was written as part of a play about a famous outlaw. The lullaby is sung by the outlaw’s wife to her newborn, before she throws the baby into a waterfall to go on the lam with her husband.
Sofdu lengi, sofdu rótt, seint mun best ad vakna. Maedan kenna mun thér fljótt, medan hallar degi skjótt. Ad mennirnir elska, missa, gráta og sakna.
Sleep long, sleep tight, it is best to wake up late. The hardship will teach you soon, while the day turns to night, that people feel love, loss, sadness and longing.
Photo (cropped) via Flickr user tanya_little, under a Creative Commons license.