The Ballad of Grýla

Grýla was an ogre

ugly and vile,  

fearsome her hand

and her face without smile. 

She lived in the cliffs

with a clear good view, 

and sometimes she wizened, 

but sometimes she grew. 

The children determined

whether Grýla had it good,

and whether she starved

or had potfuls of food. 

If they were nice, 

she had nothing to eat

and tramped in her hunger

on halting feet. 

But if they were naughty, 

Grýla became glad

and fumbled for her bag:

There was food to be had!

She dashed from the cliff

with a cock-a-hoop grin, 

strode to the homesteads

– and straightaway in,

taking the unruly

tyke and the brat

and putting them into

her poke just like that! 

Then right away back

to her home she hied

– her pot was on the flames

till far into the night. 

And something else happened 

– who knows what? – 

for Grýla was instantly

gorged and fat. 

She laughed till there quaked 

her cliff edifice

and gave her husband Leppaludi

a loving kiss. 

Then one time at Christmas 

it came to pass

the children got presents

of pants and a dress. 

And they became all

so awfully good

that Grýla was downright

aghast where she stood. 

And this went on

for a long, long span,

while Grýla had nothing

for pot or pan. 

No food for a fortnight:

It turned the tide.

She flopped on her bed

so frail that she died. 

Tattered old Leppaludi

lingered at the bed

till he went the same way

as she – dead. 

To Icelandic children 

I utter this prayer:

Don’t give a new life

to the loathsome pair.