The Albatross

Engraving by Gustave Doré for an 1876 edition of the poem. "The Albatross," depicts 17 sailors facing an albatross on the deck of a wooden ship. Icicles hang from the rigging.

Engraving by Gustave Doré for an 1876 edition of the poem. "The Albatross," depicts 17 sailors facing an albatross on the deck of a wooden ship. Icicles hang from the rigging.

Since Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” having an albatross around one’s neck has meant to be carrying a burden, but, like so many metaphors, the truth of the matter is much more complex. The issue is the agency of humans in relation to fate and fortune. The albatross, with a wing span of 6 feet, glides behind boats and was generally considered an omen of good luck by sailors. In Coleridge’s poem, the mariner’s ship is driven off course and is lead out of icy waters by an albatross. Nonetheless, the mariner shoots the albatross. The crew, believing the albatross had summoned the wind that rescued the ship, see the killing as a great crime against the supernatural spirits that rule the sea. Subsequent travails at sea confirm the crew’s beliefs and the mariner is blamed for their sufferings. Thus, the mariner carried an albatross around his neck.

Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.