L’Albatros / The Albatross.



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, q’il est comique et laid!
L’un agace son bec avec brûle‑gueule,
L’autre mine, en boitant, l’infirme qui volait!

Le Poète est sembable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempéte et se rit de l’archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l’impèchent de marcher.

The Albatross

Often, to amuse themselves, members of the crew
Will trap albatross, those gigantic birds of the sea,
Who follow them, leisurely companions on their voyage,
While the ship glides over the briny deep.

Hardly have they got them on the deck,
When these kings of the azure, awkwardly and in shame,
Pitifully lower their great white wings
As though letting their oars trail by their sides.

This winged voyager, how clumsy and helpless he is!
He, so beautiful just now, has become droll and ugly!
Someone torments him by the beak with a little pipe,
Someone else, hobbling, mimics the invalid who once could fly!

The Poet is just like that prince of the skies
Who consorts with tempests and taunts the bowmen;
An exile on the ground in the midst of mockery,
His wings of a giant stop him from getting away.

Translation: Barry Tobin.



This poem by Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) was included in what is probably his best‑known work, ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’, published in 1857.

Although thinking of his own predicament as a poet among unsympathetic contemporaries his tragic description of the trapped and humiliated albatross anticipates the much greater horrors and torments faced by wildlife in our own time.

‘‘As wanton boys they kill us for their sport’’ (Shakespeare).

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