Saturday, December 18, 2010

Albatross: In Current Events, Literature

A NYT article reveals that the endangered short tailed albatross is on the rebound and nesting pairs have been found thousands of kilometers from their usual habitat near Japan.

The article kindles thoughts for me of this majestic bird whose wing span can reach up to 11 feet. They have a very efficient glide ratio, soar in high altitudes among prevailing wind currents, and cover immense distances. There are 21 species, 19 threatened with extinction.

Of course, its main allusion in literature is in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' by Samuel Taylor Coleridge written in 1798. A wedding guest is stopped by an old man who wants to tell him a story. At first the man is annoyed but eventually mesmerized by the sailor's tale. It's about a global sea voyage that turns disastrous when the mariner kills an albatross and suffers the consequences.

As a former English teacher, I enjoyed taking my students through this narrative poem 30 years ago. It may seem more dated now and rarely read. If you have some time and want to read this poem aloud to yourself, you may find your mind providing a graphic visual of events to fill you with wonder.

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

Photo: Statue in Somerset