L'Albatros / 
The Albatross

Charles Baudelaire, translated by Joseph Edwardes-Evans

Often, for amusement, seafaring men

Take albatrosses, vast birds of the seas,

Indolent travel companions, who follow

The boat sliding above the bitter depths.

 

Hardly have they been deposited on the deck,

Do these kings of the heavens, clumsy and ashamed,

Piteously drop their great white wings

To drag like oars beside them.

 

This winged traveller, see how he’s gauche and limp!

Once so handsome, isn’t he comical and ugly!

One bothers his beak with a cutty,

Another hobbles and mimes him, the cripple who flew!

 

The Poet is akin to the prince of the ether

Who haunts the storm and laughs at the archer;

Exiled onto the ground amid cries of hate,

His wings of a giant prevent him from walking.

 -- David Jones - The Albatross
Jones, himself a poet of such brilliance as matches his plastic artistry, produced a set of ten copper plate engravings for a delicious 1929 edition of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, of which this is one. As in his poetry, Jones collides (principally) Christian and Celtic symbolism in compositions of an amazing density and activity that can seem quite foreign to the modern eye; and so involved and involving are the semantic tangles of his engravings that the narrative of the poem is not so much illustrated as over- or re-written in them. It is a strange light that Jones shines on old STC, and for the disquietude of its relief, quite perfect (Jones's engravings just top the bill of RotAM artworks for me, for which I make but slight apology to the disciples of Doré).
All this reminds me of a few remarks made by Joe Edwardes-Evans about the translation of Baudelaire you have just enjoyed, which I can quote off the top of my head: 'More interesting, I think, that those things harder to translate hang onto a sense of their denseness, and display a thicker palimpsest of research and election. So in that respect it was a very good poem to choose, poet as lofty and hobbling at once'. 

This is poetry, and engraving, at its dignified, elevated, confused and basic best.

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University of Bristol