No sooner are they set down on the boards,
than those kings of the azure, maladroit, shamefully
let their vast white wings, like oars,
trail along their sides, piteously.
Winged traveller, gauche, gross, useless, laughable,
now, one of them, with a pipe stem, prods you
who, a moment ago, were beautiful:
another, limping, mimics the cripple who flew.
The Poet bears a likeness to that prince of the air,
who mocks at slingshots, and haunts the winds:
on earth, an exile among the scornful, where
he is hampered, in walking, by his giant wings.
I am not sure if the translation here is actually faithful to the original Baudelaire in French but I love this piece for the beauty of its imagery . It touches us deeply – especially those of us who are not familiar with French.
“he is hampered,in walking, by his giant wings” is simply beautiful. The albatross has giant wings and when it is in the air,it is graceful and dignified ,the way it floats along the ship. On the ship’s board it is clumsy with its wings ,almost comic in its pathetic attempts to walk with its webbed feet. It is the sailors who prod it with their pipe stem and mimic its walks if it is a cripple . An albatross is meant to fly, not walk on the ship’s board. Laughing at its clumsiness is a human folly that fails to realize the absurdity of a situation caused by the stupid actions of the humans themselves.
The poet is hampered, like the albatross,in his walking by his giant wings. In the air, the albatross mocks at the slingshots and haunts the winds.Its wings hardly seem to move as it softly floats along the ship and appears to be in sleep, following the ship ,a luxuriously lazy fellow-traveler to the sailors in the ship. The poet is hampered by his own wings, large as they are and beautiful in the sky. But bring him down to the hard board of a workaday world where he proves to be a disaster, a clumsy fool awkward in his gait and speech.
“vast sea-birds /that sleep in the air ” is an amazing expression. “vast sea birds ‘ can be syntactically vast sea- birds or vast-sea birds. The first hyphenation conveys the vastness of the sea-bird but the second expression has a much richer meaning in the sense of a bird from the vastness of a sea.
“sleep in the air” is the relative lack of its motion experienced by the inmates of the ship when the speed of the albatross is equal to the ship’s. The bird just floats in the air on the momentum of a periodic flutter of its wings.