A Poem From Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil)
By Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2011
.......Charles Baudelaire's "The Albatross" is a French lyric poem. The Paris firm of Poulet-Malassis and de Broisse first published "The Albatross" in 1861 as one of more than one hundred thematically related poems in the second edition of Baudelaire's, Les
Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil). "The Albatross" appeared under its original French title,"L'Albatros," in a section entitled "Spleen et Idéal" ("Spleen and the Ideal").
.......The albatross is among the most graceful and effortless fliers of all seabirds. It can glide in the wind for hours, never flapping its wings. However, in calm weather, it tires easily because of its large body. At such times, it frequently lands on the ocean to rest.
.......How awkward and feckless this winged voyager seems! Only a moment before, he was majestic and beautiful as he soared. Now he is ugly and laughable.
.......One man pokes a pipe at his beak to bedevil him. Another mimics his ungainly walk.
.......The poet is like this prince of the highest skies. He too soars through storm clouds and laughs at the archer drawing his bowstring. But on earth, he is an exile among the hooting crowds. His great wings prevent him from walking.
The Beautiful Ugliness of Life
.......When it glides across the skies, the albatross is stunningly graceful and beautiful. But when its webbed feet touch down on earthor on a human creation such as a shipit walks clumsily, like a staggering drunk, and becomes the object of ridicule. When the poet writes inspired verses that soar heavenward, their grace and beauty charm the literate and cultured reader. But when the poet touches ground and puts his work in the hands of the hoi poloi, they think it walks with a staggered gait. The poet becomes like the albatross: ridiculed, laughed at, ugly.
.......There are those who ignore the goodness of a man or a woman (or an animal) and focus on the bad in order to vent their cruelty through ridicule and mockery. Some people delight in finding flaws in a writer, a painter, an opera star, a neighbor, a boss, a politician, a clergyman, and so on. They mercilessly
criticize those flaws or gossip about a person's private iniquities. The sailors in "The Albatross" are examples of such cruel people.
A peine les ont-ils déposés sur les planches,
Ce voyageur ailé, comme il est gauche et veule!
Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
.......Click on the following links to see different English translations of the poem.
.......Baudelaire wrote "The Albatross" in a traditional French format, Alexandrine. In this verse format, each line consists of twelve syllables. Syllables 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 are unaccented. Syllables 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 are accented. In the middle of the line, between syllables 6 and 7, is a brief pause, called a caesura. Occasionally, an Alexandrine line contains thirteen syllables, the last one unaccented. In English versification, an Alexandrine line is equivalent to iambic hexameter. The tenth line of the poem demonstrates the format of twelve alternating unaccented and accented syllables:
1....2...3... 4..... 5.... 6........7... 8.......9.....10........11.. 112px;">2
The rhyme scheme of "The Albatross" is abab, as in the first stanza.Souvent, pour s'amuser, les hommes d'équipage
Prennent des albatros, vastes oiseaux des mers,
Qui suivent, indolents compagnons de voyage,
Le navire glissant sur les gouffres amers.Albatross as a Symbol
.......Baudelaire uses the albatross to symbolize the dual nature of each human beingthat is, each human, as an inheritor of original sin, is an amalgam of good and negative qualities as. Here is a key line: "Lui, naguère si beau, qu'il est comique et laid!" ("He recently was so beautiful; now he is laughable and ugly.")
.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms.ouvent, pour s'amuser, les hommes d'équipage (line 1)
Qui suivent, indolents compagnons de voyage (line 3)
Le navire glissant sur les gouffres amers (line 4)
Comme des avirons traîner à côté d'eux (line 8)
Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées (line 13)an>Métaphore (Metaphor)ces rois de l'azur (line 6)
Comparison of albatrosses to kingsComparaison (Simile) ces rois de l'azur, maladroits et honteux,
Laissent piteusement leurs grandes ailes blanches
Comme des avirons traîner à côté d'eux (lines 6-8)
Comparison of the wings of albatrosses to dragging oars. (The use of comme, meaning like, makes the comparison a simile rather than a metaphor.) Study Questions and Writing Topics
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