The Albatross – Charles Baudelaire

Dear Monsieur Baudelaire,

Have you ever seen an albatross? Perhaps on your voyage to Calcutta, India in 1841? Have you ever watched the seamen mock the “monarch of the clouds” on deck?

I have to tell you that I love this poem. It is short and conquerable with its four stanzas and yet the imagery, action, and sentiment are so alive, so primal in a way, and so deep. Strike “so deep”. It sounds like I am sitting here with a sweatband, a joint, and a peace sign.

An albatross is designed to soar the same way the hydrodynamic penguin is designed to dart through water. The difference between the two is that penguin looks cute on land, wobbling forward with tiny steps, while the albatross is comical on land. They are each sovereign in their element, but out of it, they are awkward. I believe that one of your points is that the albatross has done nothing to deserve or place itself in its present situation – on the deck of an ocean-going vessel. The albatross is without fault. The albatross is merely being an albatross.

The seamen on board ridicule the albatross – one even sticking a pipe in its beak. I see the jeering crowd before the guillotine, laughing, knitting, throwing cabbage and whatnot at the soul facing down death. The group dynamic is clear. All the seamen join in. The only exception is the narrator. In the poems, I have read so far, the narrator is very close: the ever present “I”, but here the narrator doesn’t announce himself. He is an eye in the sky, but still there nonetheless.

In the last stanza, the narrator equates the plight of the poet to that of the albatross. My dear Monsieur Baudelaire, I wish you had left the last stanza unwritten. I do not belittle your hardships nor those of the poet in general, but the grand, generalized perspective seems unnecessary to me. The sense of loneliness and not being understood are primal to human existence. We are all the failing heroes and heroines of our lives with more or less scant hopes that we will one day soar like an albatross.

With the hope of soaring,

Louise

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