Baudelaire: The Albatross (From French)

The Albatross
By Charles Baudelaire
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the French
Click to hear me recite the English translation

Often for sport the crewmen will ensnare
Some albatrosses: vast seabirds that sweep
In lax accompaniment through the air
Behind the ship that skims the bitter deep.

No sooner than they dump them on the floors
These skyborn kings, graceless and mortified,
Feel great white wings go down like useless oars
And drag pathetically at either side.

That sky-rider: how gawky now, how meek!
How droll and ugly he who shone on high!
The sailors poke a pipestem in his beak,
Then limp to mock this cripple born to fly.

The poet is so like this prince of clouds
Who haunted storms and sneered at earthly slings;
Now, banished to the ground, to cackling crowds,
He cannot walk beneath the weight of wings.

The Original:


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 trainer 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 brule-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.


  1. Mario_blanco64@hotmail.comJuly 4, 2011 at 7:47 PM

    por favor mandarme esta obra en espanol

  2. Rhythm-wise and melody-wise, you have managed to exceed Baudelaire's work. (Apparently, he didn't care much about counting the syllables and minding his stresses...)  Congrats! 

    1. @Crip : Au contraire! The number of syllables and the stresses in French are just right. Apparently you should study French a little more. :) (as for me, I'm French, and this poem is a classic learned by every schoolboy & girl in France...)

  3. professor snotty pantsFebruary 5, 2013 at 8:27 PM

    I'm going to have to disagree on two points: 1. In this poem Baudelaire is rigorously writing in alexandrines (12 syllable lines). Many of the unpronounced e's at the end of a words are pronounced.
    2. The French language has no stress (unlike English), each vowel sound is equally weighted, and thus it will have a rhythm and musicality (especially notable in Verlaine and Mallarme and Valery), but very much present in Baudelaire.