Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867):
"The Albatross"

from The Flowers of Evil (1857)

I bought a used hardcover copy of Charles Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil for $1 at the Cornell University Bookstore around 1966, but didn't read much of his poetry. In My Heart Laid Bare XCI (1897), Baudelaire wrote: "Always be a poet, even in prose." I find myself jotting down a dozen quotes from Baudelaire's Intimate Journals in my Diary 1966: "Know therefore the pleasures of an austere life and pray, pray without ceasing. Prayer is the fountain of strength." and "I have found a definition of the Beautiful, of my own conception of the Beautiful. It is something a little indeterminate, leaving scope for conjecture... Mystery and regret are also characteristics of the Beautiful." (Squibs and Crackers, VIII, XVI.) These two Baudelaire quotes on Prayer and Beauty were guideposts in my quest for Beauty, Truth, and Wisdom during my spiritual pilgrimages. When I was taking Poetry Workshops at Foothill College, Dick Maxwell told the class about Adrienne Rich's Poetry Colloquium at San Jose State University (1991). A fellow poet in the class offered me a ride to hear Rich, and gave me her favorite poem afterwards. It was Baudelaire's "The Albatross" translated by Richard Wilbur. I like Baudelaire's image comparing the Poet to the Albatross— "this monarch of the clouds... Exiled on earth amidst its hooting crowds". While the albatross may be handicapped on earth, his giant wings enable him to see the "stars and all high things". Likewise, someone like Thoreau, did not endear himself to earthly crowds because his view were far ahead of his times to those concerned only with temporal and not eternal things. This is akin to Plato's Phaedrus 249e, where the philosopher is thought mad because he has no concern for earthly matters, and his mind wings lift him to the heavenly realms in communion with the gods. (Peter Y. Chou)

L'ALBATROS from Les Fleurs du Mal

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.

A peine les ont-ils déposés sur les planches,
Que ces rois de l'azur, maladroits et honteux,
Laissent piteusement leurs grandes ailes blanches
Comme des avirons traîer à côté d'eux.

Ce voyageur ailé, comme il est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu'il est comique et laid!
L'un agace son bec avec un brûle-gueule,
L'autre mime, en boitant, l'infirme qui volait!

Le Poëte est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l'archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher.

THE ALBATROSS from The Flowers of Evil

Often, for pastime, mariners will ensnare
The albatross, that vast sea-bird who sweeps
On high companionable pinion where
Their vessel glides upon the bitter deeps.

Torn from his native space, this captive king
Flounders upon the deck in stricken pride,
And pitiably lets his great white wing
Drag like a heavy paddle at his side.

This rider of winds, how awkward he is, and weak!
How droll he seems, who lately was all grace!
A sailor pokes a pipestem into his beak;
Another, hobbling, mocks his trammeled pace.

The Poet is like this monarch of the clouds,
Familiar of storms, of stars, and of all high things;
Exiled on earth amidst its hooting crowds,
He cannot walk, borne down by his giant wings.

                                       — translated by Richard Wilbur

— Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867),
     "The Albatross" translated by Richard Wilbur
     from The Flowers of Evil (Revised Edition)
     Edited by Marthiel & Jackson Mathews
     New Directions, New York, 1963, p. 10)
66 Translations from Charles Baudelaire's
     Les Fleurs du Mal
by James McGowan
     Spoon River Poetry Pressm, Peoria, IL, 1985, p. 6)

Books & Writers: Charles Baudelaire
    (Biography, Selected Works)
Academy of American Poets: Charles Baudelaire
    (Biography, Poems, Prose, Surrealist & Symbolist Poets)
Charles Baudelaire: Biography
    (Early Writings to Later Years, Analysis, Selected Writings)
Wikipedia: Charles Baudelaire
    (Life & work, Influence, Trivia, Bibliography, Online Texts)
L'Albatros (French text & 5 English translations)
L'Albatros (Online Text of French)

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (3-18-2007)