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The Albatross -- Charles Baudelaire

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #534) The Albatross
 Often to pass the time on board, the crew
 will catch an albatross, one of those big birds
 which nonchalently chaperone a ship
 across the bitter fathoms of the sea.

 Tied to the deck, this sovereign of space,
 as if embarrassed by its clumsiness,
 pitiably lets its great white wings
 drag at its sides like a pair of unshipped oars.

 How weak and awkward, even comical
 this traveller but lately so adoit -
 one deckhand sticks a pipestem in its beak,
 another mocks the cripple that once flew!

 The Poet is like this monarch of the clouds
 riding the storm above the marksman's range;
 exiled on the ground, hooted and jeered,
 he cannot walk because of his great wings.
-- Charles Baudelaire
tr. Richard Howard.

This collection would be incomplete without Baudelaire. But having given the
poem above, I can see the problem. Its not a bad translation, but Baudelaire
doesn't seem to be a poet who translates well. The original, given below, has a
quality of musicality, of every word and syllable seeming exactly right, that
escapes the translation.

If you have any French though, Baudelaire is a poet who must be read (and as a
bonus, his French is relatively simple). There's this amazing atmosphere (though
not in this poem), of beauty, sensuality, music, decay. Its what he's writing
about, and the feel of the poems matches it brilliantly. (Its also why he works
very well set to music: I think there's a French singer called George Brassaens
who's done some great arrangement of the poems to music).

Vikram.

'L'Albatros'

Souvent, pour s'amuser, les hommes d'équipage
Prennent des albatros, vastes oiseaux des mers,
Que suivent, indolents compagnons de voyage,
Le navire glissant sur les goufres 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
Comes des avirons traîner à côté d'eux.

Ce voyageur ailé, come it est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu'il est comique et laid!
L'un agace son bec avec un brûle-guele,
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 mileu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher.

        -- Charles Baudelaire

49 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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