Baudelaire’s THE ALBATROSS…. the Poet versus Himself

Charles Baudelaire’s The Albatross, is a stirring description of his own feelings on being a man and a poet.

Baudelaire compares “the poet” to an Albatross: for as beautifully graceful as the majestic bird is in flight, it is equally as awkward and ridiculed while on the ground; as is the Poet-  who reaches into the mystical heavens to touch life itself- only to feel ugly, ridiculed and misunderstood by those around him.

The Albatross
by Charles Baudelaire (translated William Aggeler 1954)

Often, to amuse themselves, the men of a crew
Catch albatrosses, those vast sea birds
That indolently follow a ship
As it glides over the deep briny sea.

Scarcely have they placed them on the deck
Than these kings of the sky, clumsy, ashamed,
Pathetically let their great white wings
Drag beside them like oars.

That winged voyager, how weak and gauche he is,
So beautiful before, now comic and ugly!
One man worries his beak with a stubby clay pipe;
Another limps, mimics the cripple who once flew!

The poet resembles this prince of cloud and sky
Who frequents the tempest and laughs at the bowman;
When exiled on the earth, the butt of hoots and jeers,
His giant wings prevent him from walking.

Baudelaire is credited with coining the term, “modernity” to designate the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the 19th century.  His most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) was first published in 1857.

Ode to Guilt… a Dark Pleasure

Ode To GUILT

Your melancholy song in my head
And on my soul, Of things
Once said and truth untold;
Melancholy tunes upon my breast,
Haunt my waking day and nightly rest.

Since my youth, you’ve suckled me;
Held me close, vampirically.
My dark sun!  Old friend of none!
Mother of my sorrow–
You nurture the dusk of tomorrow.

Oh Guilt! Dark pleasure!
Black candle in the joy of life;
Your dark light runs thru my veins.
Dear friend, only you remain;
On the coldest days, the warmth you feign.

How close you hold my secret pain!

Constant are you who stay with me,
And hold those bonds
That keep me from free;
Heavy shadow on my steps,
In your darkness, I reflect.

Longtime friend, your roots run deep,
In your branches, my secrets keep,
In your leaves, my sorrow flows,
In your bark, my darkness grows;
Trapped inside you, is my soul.

Wordsworth’s “Lucy Gray, or Solitude”… Evolution of Body to Spirit

Lucy GrayOne of Wordsworth’s most haunting ballads of childhood, “Lucy Gray, or Solitude” describes the death of a young girl who went out one evening into a storm and was never found again.

Written while Wordsworth was in Goslar, Germany, it was founded on a true circumstance told to him by his sister, Dorothy, of a little girl who was bewildered in a snow-storm. Her footsteps were traced by her parents to the middle of the lock of a canal, and no other vestige of her could be traced.  Her body was later found in the canal.

Noteworthy in this poem is Wordsworth’s use of the bridge.  Lucy’s parents follow her footsteps to the middle of the bridge (a connection of two sides) and then they disappear.  The fact that she disappears in the center of two opposing sides poetically launches Lucy into another realm of existence altogether.

Lucy becomes the symbol of the interface between life/death, body/spirit, this life/the next, realism/imagination, civilization/nature (an interplay of opposites reminiscent of 17th century poet, John Donne).

Wordsworth’s description of Lucy’s spirit singing a solitary song “That whistles in the wind” connects her to nature and makes her evolve out of and pass back into the landscape; just as she passes in and out of this world and the next.

Lucy Gray, or Solitude by William Wordsworth

Oft I had heard of Lucy Gray,
And when I cross’d the Wild,
I chanc’d to see at break of day
The solitary Child.

No Mate, no comrade Lucy knew;
She dwelt on a wild Moor,
The sweetest Thing that ever grew
Beside a human door!

You yet may spy the Fawn at play,
The Hare upon the Green;
But the sweet face of Lucy Gray
Will never more be seen.

“To-night will be a stormy night,
You to the Town must go,
And take a lantern, Child, to light
Your Mother thro’ the snow.”

“That, Father! will I gladly do;
‘Tis scarcely afternoon—
The Minster-clock has just struck two,
And yonder is the Moon.”

At this the Father rais’d his hook
And snapp’d a faggot-band;
He plied his work, and Lucy took
The lantern in her hand.

Not blither is the mountain roe,
With many a wanton stroke
Her feet disperse, the powd’ry snow
That rises up like smoke.

The storm came on before its time,
She wander’d up and down,
And many a hill did Lucy climb
But never reach’d the Town.

The wretched Parents all that night
Went shouting far and wide;
But there was neither sound nor sight
To serve them for a guide.

At day-break on a hill they stood
That overlook’d the Moor;
And thence they saw the Bridge of Wood
A furlong from their door.

And now they homeward turn’d, and cry’d
“In Heaven we all shall meet!”
When in the snow the Mother spied
The print of Lucy’s feet.

Then downward from the steep hill’s edge
They track’d the footmarks small;
And through the broken hawthorn-hedge,
And by the long stone-wall;

And then an open field they cross’d,
The marks were still the same;
They track’d them on, nor ever lost,
And to the Bridge they came.

They follow’d from the snowy bank
The footmarks, one by one,
Into the middle of the plank,
And further there were none.

Yet some maintain that to this day
She is a living Child,
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonesome Wild.

O’er rough and smooth she trips along,
And never looks behind;
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind.

While “Lucy Gray, or Solitude” was written in 1789 and published in Lyrical Ballads, it is not one of Wordsworth’s “Lucy” poems.  It is excluded from the series because the traditional “Lucy” poems are uncertain about the age of Lucy and her actual relationship with the poet; Lucy Gray provides exact details on both.

As a contrast to “She dwelt among the untrodden ways” Lucy Gray is not idealized in death through the Romantic notion of love; her loss is quiet obvious in the poem to those who loved her.  Rather, Wordsworth uses this poem to provide an “escape of spirit” for a lost child through the interplay of realism and imagination.

The Coming of the Tuatha dé Danann and The Myth of THE HARP OF THE DAGDA

It is said that when the fairy race of the Tuatha dé Danann, children of the goddess Danu, arrived in Ireland they came like a mist across the waters- bringing with them magical gifts.

The first generation of the Tuatha dé Danann had to fight off the giant races of the Firbolgs and the FormoriansFormorians The Formorians were a semi-divine race said to have inhabited Ireland in the ancient times. It is believed that they are the beings who preceded the gods, similar to the Greek Titans; having the body of a man and the head of a goat (according to 11th century text), or to have had one eye, one arm and one leg.

The Tuatha dé Danann’s chief of the gods, the Dagda, (father figure and protector of the tribe) was known to have a cauldron (which was said to restore life) and a harp- battle scarred and made of oak.

When his men went to battle, the Dagda would set up his magic harp and sweep his hand across the strings.  A war song would ring out making his warriors buckle his armor; brace his knees and shout, “Forth the fight!” When the men returned, weary and wounded, the Dagda would take his harp and strike a few chords- as the magic music stole out upon the air, every man forgot his weariness and his wounds and thought of the honor he won, and the comrade who had died beside him and the safety of his wife and children.

The Harp of the Dagda

So it was that after the second battle of Mag Tuiread (Moytura), the Dagda discovered that his harp, together with his harper, had been captured by the Formorians and taken with them in their flight.  Angered beyond measure, he set out with his son to reclaim it.

Stealthily they approached the Formorian camp.  Soon they could hear the sounds of the feasting hall in which Bres, the Formorian king, was dining.  Approaching the doorway, they could just make out through the smoke and candle-flame the outline of the old harp hanging on the wall.  Dagda entered boldly and summoned his harp with this chant:

 Come Daurdable, apple-sweet murmurer
Come, Coir-cethair-chuir, four-angled frame of harmony,
Come summer, come winter
Out of the mouths of harps and bags and pipes!

Immediately the old harp flew to his hand across the hall, killing nine men as it came.  A shocked hush fell on the company.  In the silence, Dagda laid his hands on the strings and unleashed the Three Noble Strains of Ireland that he had bound into his harp.  First he played the goltrai, or strain of weeping, so that all present began to mourn and lament their defeat.  Then he played the geantrai, the strain of merriment, so that the company turned to laughter and drunken foolery.  Lastly he played the suantrai, or sleep-strain, whereupon the warriors fell into a profound slumber.  After this the Dagda and his son left the camp as quietly as they had come, taking the harp and harpist with them.

The Tuatha dé Danann were the children of the great goddess Danu and are depicted as magical fairy people who were later overrun by the Milesians who allowed them to reside underground in the sidhe, or fairy mounds.  In folk belief the sidhe are often appeased with offerings and care is taken to avoid angering or insulting them.  Often they are not named directly, but spoken of as “The Good Neighbors”, “The Fair Folk”, or simply, “The Folk”.  They are generally described as stunningly beautiful, but can also be terrible and hideous.

William Blake’s TO AUTUMN- Summer’s full-bodied Offspring

Autumn- Summer's full-bodied OffspringWilliam Blake’s To Autumn recounts the meeting of the poet and “Autumn”– the offspring of an inebriated Summer.

Autumn is described by the poet as being “stain’d with the blood of the grape”, a reference to wine (the result of grapes reaching full maturity, death and fermentation) and also a reference to being newborn.  The poet asks Autumn to rest and recount the lusty tale of his creation.

Autumn sings of  the rapture of  Summer (his Mother) and her consummation to the poet’s music, “The narrow bud opens her beauties to the sun and love runs in her thrilling veins”…. “Blossoms hand round the brows of morning, and flourish down the bright cheek of modest eve”.

Though Autumn is newborn, his time is fleeting.  Sadly, at the poem’s end, the full bodied offspring of Summer is forced to “gird himself” for the coming Winter and fleas from the poet’s sight “o’er the bleak hills”- leaving only his legacy, his “golden load” behind.

To Autumn, by William Blake

Oh Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hand round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

To Autumn, an early poem by William Blake and part of a larger work, Poetical Sketches, was published around 1782.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Dream”…. lost memories a dark sun

Young Edgar Allan Poe

A Rare Portrait of Young Edgar Allan

“A Dream”, one of Edgar Allan Poe’s first poems (written in 1827), is rife with longing and sentiment for memories trapped forever in the past.

The poet’s dreams or “visions of the dark night” are more real…. more bright, than the waking light of day.  These “holy dreams” become his sun; even as the outside world tells otherwise.

This early work by Poe is part of a larger series inspired by the Romantic poet, Lord Byron, and includes the long title poem “Tamerlane”, which depicts an historical conqueror who laments the loss of his first romance.  Tamerlane and Other Poems includes themes of love, death and pride.

Poe’s “A Dream” captures a yearning to hold onto a lost past… a  lost love…. lost joy… lost inspiration; so much so, the poet’s truth becomes his dreams.

A Dream, by Edgar Allan Poe

In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed-
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken-hearted,

Ah! what is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast
On things around him with a ray
Turned back upon the past?-

That holy dream- that holy dream,
While all the world were chiding,
Hath cheered me as a lovely beam
A lonely spirit guiding

What though that light, thro’ storm and night,
So trembled from afar-
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth’s day-star?

The Rooster of Barcelos: A Symbol of Honesty, Faith, Fairness & Luck

The Rooster of BarcelasThe best known legend of Portugal is “The Rooster of Barcelos”.  This is an ancient tale spans as far back as the 13th century and tells the story of a pilgrim accused of stealing silver and sentenced to death.

According to the tale, the inhabitants of Barcelos were very upset about a terrible crime that had gone unsolved.  As alarm was growing, a pilgrim on his way to fulfill a promise had the bad fortune to pass through the city.

Being a stranger, suspicion immediately fell on him, even though he swore his innocence.  He was accused of the crime and condemned to be hung.

As he was being led to the gallows, he made a last request to be taken into the presence of the judge who condemned him.  His request was granted and he was brought to the magistrate’s residence during a dinner party.

The pilgrim swore his innocence before the unbelieving eyes of the judge and his guests.  Unexpectedly, the pilgrim pointed to the roasted rooster on the table and said, “I tell you now that as proof of my innocence, this cock will crow at the hour of my hanging.”

His proclamation was met with laughter and mocking comments.  Nonetheless, no one at the party dared to touch the rooster.

As the sentence was being carried out, the roasted rooster stood up on the table and crowed.  No one doubted the innocence of the condemned man and he was freed, just as the cord was tightening around his neck.

As legend goes, some years later, the pilgrim returned to Barcelos to sculpt the Calvary (or Crucifix) to the Lord of the Rooster (Portuguese, “Cruzeiro do Senhor do Galo“) in praise to the Virgin Mary and to Saint James. The monument is located in the Archeological Museum of Barcelos.

For centuries, this tale has stood for Honesty, Faith, Fairness and Luck.

  • Honesty because the pilgrim was innocent; he did not steal and expressed this truthfully.  This honesty was eventually rewarded by a miracle that saved his life.
  • Faith in the power of God; if it weren’t for the pilgrims pious faith, the story may have had a different ending for him
  • Fairness and refrain from believing unproven accusations and unjust snap judgments of our fellow-man.
  • Luck because it was a rooster that saved the pilgrim’s life.

Today this symbol is still regarded as Good Luck around the world.