Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

A visit to the grave of Charles Baudelaire: a poet who sympathised with the plight of the albatross

An occasional series in ACAP Latest News covers the appearance of albatrosses and petrels in art and literature in an endeavour to reach a wider audience.

Pierre Charles Baudelaire was a French poet whose most famous work Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), first published in 1857, "expresses the changing nature of beauty in industrializing Paris during the 19th century."

Charles Baudelaire ((9 April 1821 - 31 August 1867) photographed by Étienne Carjat, c. 1862

Baudelaire wrote a poem L'Albatros, based it seems on personal experience (click here).  A visit to the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris last month resulted in my finding the modest family grave in which he is buried, as well as a cenotaph in his honour – as illustrated here.

 

The Baudelaire family grave, as well as the poet, contains the remains of his stepfather, with whom he was estranged, and of his mother

 

The cenotaph was created in 1902 by the sculptor Jose de Charmoy.  It represents a recumbent shrouded figure lying in front of a column topped with a bust of the poet

 Baudelaire’s albatross poem follows, in its original French and as an English translation by Roy Campbell

L'Albatros

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.

À 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 traîner 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 Poète 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

Sometimes for sport the men of loafing crews
Snare the great albatrosses of the deep,
The indolent companions of their cruise
As through the bitter vastitudes they sweep.

Scarce have they fished aboard these airy kings
When helpless on such unaccustomed floors,
They piteously droop their huge white wings
And trail them at their sides like drifting oars.

How comical, how ugly, and how meek
Appears this soarer of celestial snows!
One, with his pipe, teases the golden beak,
One, limping, mocks the cripple as he goes.

The Poet, like this monarch of the clouds,
Despising archers, rides the storm elate.
But, stranded on the earth to jeering crowds,
The great wings of the giant baulk his gait.

Click here to view a video clip of an electronically animated Baudelaire reciting his albatross poem.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 August 2015

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