I was obsessed with albatrosses for a time in college, I even used Diomedeida (the family of albatrosses) as a log-in name at the time. I loved albatrosses ever since I heard that an albatross can stay aloft for over a year, never landing, that they have an almost 12 ft wing span, and that they have to run into a headwind to take off (and sometimes they have to work so hard to fly that they make themselves throw up, poor dears). I identified with them, as someone who never seems to be able to keep their feet on the ground, who is always drifting on the wind without a home or a companion.
I’ve never seen an albatross, myself, though I’ve been in places where they are sometimes seen and strained my eyes for hours on the endless horizon of the ocean looking for them. One day, albatross, one day.
I also just learned that the urban dictionary definition of Diomedeida is “a traveling guy who comes defenitely [sic] back to his girlfriend”. Kind of an ironic definition, don’t you think?
For today, I was thinking about what albatrosses mean to an average human…their identity inextricably tied to this poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Maybe I still identify with these birds after all.
I had a friend once who memorized this whole poem; can you believe it? My favourite part is part two, with its hauntingly famous line “water water everywhere nor any drop to drink”.
The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.
And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariner’s hollo!
And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!
Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head,
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.
The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.
Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.
And some in dreams assurèd were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.
And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.