Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Day 509: The Albatross

'...he cannot walk because of his great wings.' 
This poem I came across in a recently acquired anthology The Poetry of Birds.  Of course, most of the poems in the book - certainly the best ones - are not about birds alone. They have a touch of metaphor and allegory about them that refers to the human condition in both subtle and original ways.

This one by French poet Charles Baudelaire is such a poem. Just look at the last stanza, the comparison comes so unexpectedly that it catches us totally off-guard, a bewildering one of majesty and sadness, that leaves us reeling in dazed agreement.

The Albatross - Charles Baudelaire
Often to pass the time on board, the crew
will catch an albatross, one of those big birds
which nonchalantly chaperone a ship
across the bitter fathoms of the sea.

Tied to the deck, this sovereign of space,
as if embarrassed by its clumsiness,
pitiably lets its great white wings
drag at its sides like a pair of unshipped oars.

How weak and awkward, even comical
this traveller but lately so adoit -
one deckhand sticks a pipestem in its beak,
another mocks the cripple that once flew!

The Poet is like this monarch of the clouds
riding the storm above the marksman's range;
exiled on the ground, hooted and jeered,
he cannot walk because of his great wings. 

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