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
Type of Work and Publication
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").
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.
Note: In the first two stanzas of the poem, Baudelaire uses the plural of the French words for albatross and bird. For example, he uses des albatros (some albatrosses) and oixeaux (birds) in line 2. In the last two stanzas, he uses the singular to refer to the bird. For example, in line 9 he uses ce voyageur (this voyager) and il est (he is)........To amuse themselves, sailors often capture albatrosses, the large sea birds that lazily follow a ship gliding over the bitter ocean depths. After the crewmen take control of them on the deck, these humiliated kings of the azure skies drop their great white wings, like the oars of a boat, as they move about clumsily.
.......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 earth—or on a human creation such as a ship—it 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.
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:
The rhyme scheme of "The Albatross" is abab, as in the first stanza.
Souvent, pour s'amuser, les hommes d'équipage
.......Baudelaire uses the albatross to symbolize the dual nature of each human being—that 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.
Souvent, pour s'amuser, les hommes d'équipage (line 1)Métaphore (Metaphor)
ces rois de l'azur (line 6)Comparaison (Simile)
ces rois de l'azur, maladroits et honteux,Study Questions and Writing Topics