This week, whilst continuing my with my mythology theme, the format of the post is slightly different. To explain, I had intended to group together a number of birds, and highlight the myths & legends associated with them, starting with the ALBATROSS. Now, the Albatross is not surrounded so much by myth & legend, but more by superstition, and I thought it would be interesting to explore the background to that superstition, so yet again, I crave your indulgence!!

SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS

The popular superstition associated with the Albatross is due largely to SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE’s poem THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER. A few days prior to my trip to Mull, I was in Waterstone’s in Liverpool, browsing through a few poetry books when I came across a collection of Coleridge’s poems. Not being under any time constraints, and never having read the Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, I bought a coffee, settled down in a comfy chair, and set about reading the poem. It’s of epic proportions (VERY long!) but I was enthralled, and completely drawn into this fascinating tale of misdeed, misadventure, and misfortune!!

ILLUSTRATION OF THE ANCIENT MARINER BY GUSTAVE DORE

The poem is written as the narrative of a sailor, just returned from a lengthy voyage. He stops a man who is on his way to attend a wedding, and begins to relate the story of his adventures, or more accurately, his MISadventures!! The man’s reactions to this range from bemusement, impatience, fear, and fascination, as the Mariner gives his account!

The basic premise of the story is that of the Mariner’s ship being blown off course, ending up in Antarctica. An Albatross appears, and leads them away from Antarctica, and from the ice and mist. For this, the Albatross is praised by the crew, but tragically, the Mariner shoots down the bird with an arrow (“With my cross-bow/I shot the albatross”) The crew are angry with the Mariner, for they believe the Albatross brought with it the wind which would steer them away from Antarctica, but their minds are soon changed when the weather changes dramatically, and becomes much warmer and they escape the shroud of mist. (“Twas right, they said, such birds to slay/that bring the fog and mist”) The crime of shooting the Albatross however, incurs the wrath of the spirits who follow the ship, and in time the southerly wind that led them from the cold, now takes them into uncharted waters, where all becomes calm, with not a breath of wind with which to fill the sails.

Day after day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion,
As idle as a painted ship,
Upon a painted ocean

And then the lines everyone will be familiar with:

Water, water, everywhere
And all the boards did shrink,
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink

STATUE IN WATCHET, SOMERSET

Now the crew change their outlook yet again, holding the Mariner responsible for their raging thirst. Tormented, they force the Mariner to wear the body of the dead bird around his neck as a burden of punishment for his crime.
“Ah well a-day, what evil looks/had I from old and young,
Instead of the cross, the Albatross/around my neck was hung”

Now the story takes on a slightly eerie and sinister veneer, as the ship meets a “ghost ship” aboard which are DEATH (a skeleton) and the NIGHTMARE, LIFE-IN-DEATH (a deathly pale woman) They are playing dice for the souls of the crew – DEATH wins the lives of the crew, and LIFE-IN-DEATH the Mariner, which she considers the higher prize. Her name is given as a clue to the Mariner’s fate, as he is about to endure a fate worse than death in punishment for his foolish haste in killing the Albatross.

One by one, the crew all eventually die, but the Mariner remains alive, and for 7 days and nights, is haunted by the curse in the eye’s of the crew’s dead bodies. In time, he sees some creatures swimming near the ship, and despite having described them earlier in the poem as “slimy things” (“Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs/upon the slimy sea”), the curse is lifted for a while as he now sees their real beauty, and proceeds to give them blessing (“a spring of love gush’d from my heart and I bless’d them, unaware”) Whilst he prays, the dead Albatross slips from his neck, and his guilt partly expiated. Possessed by good spirits, the bodies of the crew are returned to life, and sail the ship back to land, whereupon it sinks in a whirlpool, leaving only the Mariner behind. A hermit, watching as the ship approached, came, along with a pilot and his boy, to meet the Mariner in a boat – thinking him dead as they haul him out of the water, the pilot has a fit as he opens his mouth to speak, and laughs madly, and assuming him to be the devil, says “The Devil knows how to row”

As full penance for killing the Albatross, the Mariner is cursed to roam the earth, relating his tale to everyone he should meet along the way, with, as a lesson, these words:

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small,
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

And so, his story complete, the Mariner makes his way, and the wedding guest returns home to sleep. He awakes the next day “A sadder, but wiser man”

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn,
A sadder, and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

The poem is seen by many as a Christian allegory, by some as having a moral. Others regard it as semi-autobiographical of Coleridge himself, based on his own experiences. Me? I just think it’s a fantastic poem!! Yes, it’s incredibly long, some would say tedious, for it was heavily criticised by such as Wordsworth, in it’s day, but it’s a great tale, whatever your outlook on it’s basis.

ALBATROSS AT SEA

For me, the Albatross evokes images of loneliness, as it spends so much of it’s life at sea, travelling thousands of miles riding the various weather systems, following ships – perhaps immortalised by Coleridge’s longest poem, it will surely be forever associated with sailors, a harbinger of good fortune, lest anyone is foolish enough to shoot one down!
Perhaps not imbued with quite the same mythical status as the other birds I’ve included in this series of posts, the Albatross nevertheless, is a fascinating bird, steeped in superstition, and deserves it’s place in the mythology & legends of birds. It’s enigmatic nature only serves to enhance, and deepen the mystery attached to it

I saw the poem as the best way in which to illustrate the Albatross’ air of mystery, I hope you’ve been able to bear with me, as it’s a slight diversion from the path I usually take in my posts. I hope too, that you may have enjoyed another look at the myth & folklore of birds that so captures my imagination.

The Dyfi Osprey Project and the Scottish wildlife Trust  have kindly given their permission for us to post still and video images from their webcams. To visit their sites please click on the relevant link.
Loch of the Lowes.  Dyfi Osprey Project.

 

171 Responses to BIRDS IN MYTHOLOGY (5) THE ALBATROSS

  1. Hmmm something strange happening here! Just after I replied to Julie’s Crossbill photo post, I wrote alnother post – commenting on the Rugby, and that I was putting jacket taters in the oven to have with chilli sauce ……but I dont see it here! Oh well never mind it wasnt important – but just to reiterate one thing, Rosy I was so pleased to hear you are going to tryand make the meeting in May – yes get on the phone to your B&B – Julie and I are so looking forward to meeting everyone and it would be great to see you too!
    Hope this finds its way to the village ….no snow here yet but mighty cold – I’ve still got my scarf on!

    • WOW! Not seen that before Neil, it’s an emotive approach to a very important message, and speaks volumes to me. It is a worry that the message doesn’t always reach many of the people that need to understand, and respond to it, the most. Thanks Neil.

    • Not seen that before Neil, wish it could reach out to destroyers of our planet,
      but what do you do if they don’t want to hear?
      Dx

      • There lies the crux Deirdre, the governments and powers that be in the world are the very people these messages need to reach, but they first need to actually care before adequate changes may be effected. We have a long road to travel yet!!

    • Aw Neil – that was lovely – I hadn’t seen it before so thanks for posting it.

      I watched Room 101 last night purely because Chris Packham was on and he wanted to consign the human race to Room 101 because we had practically destroyed the planet and weren’t living in harmony with Nature. He is a great bloke and never afraid to speak up, Unfortunately he also wanted to consign children’s drawings which perhaps didn’t do him any favours!!

  2. Here I am again. Thank you dear JULIE for your kind words, yes,, fingers crossed, I am fine just now. Good for you being the first person to have spotted those Crossbills; I have only seen them on nature programmes on TV. Must say, I rather liked the artistic arrangement of those ‘stripped’ fir cones!
    JILL, How welcoming is your message to me; it’s so lovely to know I have so many kind friends here, and YES, I most definitely am looking forward to meeting you JILL and JULIE, and everyone else who might hopefully make it to get to the Lowes on MAY 20th!
    LORNA How brave of you to find out on the internet about the horrendous weather and temperatures in the part of China where your son, daughter-in -law and grandson are at the moment. It seems almost impossible that such a small bird can survive in those temperatures. I’m off, this minute to look at the photo you have brought us, and then will be having an hour’s phone chat with my sister – our regular weekly call. Take care dear Villagers and keep warnm!

    • ROSY, I checked the weather in the Ukraine, not China, although going by some photos they e-mailed me last year they get it just as bad where they are.

  3. Evening all! Thanks for all your responses to this week’s post – I was a little worried it wouldn’t be too well received, I know poetry isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but my hope was it would give a different perspective, and maybe, just maybe, have some of you look up the poem and read it!! xxx

  4. Well we have decided to risk going to the dance. So if i’m not around tomorrow, we’ll be stuck in a snowdrift somewhere between Hastings and Battle.
    Marion – Wish your OH a Happy Birthday.
    Susan – hope your poor mouth is feeling better.
    Nick – Forgot thank you for the post, well done with the poem, not one I am familiar with.
    To everyone else, enjoy your evening.
    Love Julie xxx

    • Take care out there Julie and enjoy the dance but mind how you go getting back to the car! Take emergency provisions! Bye for now my dear xxx

  5. its 7.30 p.m. and its just started snowing here – fine flakes at the moment but coming down quite fast – brrrrr – off to have my jack-pots – back a bit later. Have a good warm evening everyone!

    • That’s lovely Neil – must make an effort to get there this year – is it near Callander – I think I asked you before but not sure you saw it

      • Sorry if i missed it before, yep its near callander, i would go soon as there is always more in the winter you can get up to 40 there.The trick is to go up for the feeding time then wait for a while later, most people will leave but if you stay the kites come down to feed again after evryone one leaves.

    • Love that Neil!! Here’s a couple of my first attempts at Red Kites, from Gigrin last March:

      One of the two Leucistic Kites there, and one of the better ones I managed!

    • hi neil thats one hell of a shot i have made four or five visits now to try and get one like that but its always too dark or something else goes wrong never mind next time perhaps.brian ps i still dont like to see the wing tags all the kites i see are wild birds so they dont have them.

  6. We have lots of snow!! Been snowing since about 3.30 p.m. and it is now getting really deep. Only tiny flakes but when we came back from shopping about an hour ago the roads were already getting hard packed and treacherous and we skidded around a bit!

    Been stocking up on sultanas and dried mealworms (I know they like the live ones best but I just can’t bring myself to get them) as we suddenly have lots of blackbirds – I expect the cold weather has brought them in.

    Off to take the dogs out now – can’t say I’m looking forward to it as it is blowing a gale too!

    Take care anyone out and about tonight. Back later – I hope!

    • Glad you mentioned birds straight after the mealworms Jacqs, I’d have been worried about your diet otherwise!!! LOL
      I was chuffed to bits to see one of the Leucistics at Gigrin, it was the first time I’d seen any at all, so to see one of them too, on my first visit, AND to manage a few half recognisable pics was special!!
      You take care Jacqs!! xx

  7. Sorry I have not been around today, just one of those!! I am off to have a late dinner so will see you all tomorrow. Sleep tight and sweet dreams my friends. Night Night Lady and Laird, stay safe in the sun xxx
    Susan ((((hugs)))) xxx

  8. evening all. Been awol most of the day. Sorry for all those who have snow. We’ve had nothing in Edinburgh. I’m Glad about that. Very interesting post nick. I always wondered where that phrase came from about the albatross around your neck. Well now i know. :-) haven’t Read any posts yet really. Just off to do so. Xxx

  9. Hi Jacqueline, so glad to see that you arrived home safely after the ‘skidding around’ on the already hard packed snow you have. Hope too that by now you are now back home after your walk with the dogs – not a night to be out and about methinks! Please take care over the next few days when you are out and about.
    LORNA Oh what a darling little sparrow, all fluffed up there in below freezing Ukraine. Trust me to get it wrong, thinking you had been looking at China! Thinking of the saying ‘God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb’, I do hope He gives those birds who live in such freezing temperatures, an extra growth of feathers. I think that photo you have brought us here, would make a delightful Christmas card!

  10. Good evening everyone, had a good day with Jennifer at Tesco, we collected £364 thanks to kind caring customers. I will pass on your good wishes to Jennifer. Now I am off to read the Ancient Mariner, night night all. Xx

  11. Neil just popped back, here you go, taken 10 mins ago LOL, not to clear as it is snowing and Demi would not keep still!! She goes absolutely daft in the snow, she loves it xxx

    • Aw Jan – she is lovely. We have loads of snow too – so deep you can’t tell where the road ends and the pavements begin. It is that very dry snow and is just compacting and sticking to everything – looks like you have quite a lot too – what I am noticing most is how quiet it is – no traffic at all – lovely. Take care – hope you get some sleep xxx

    • Thats so unfair, thought it was the futher north you went the more chance of snow, its cold outside but not one snowflake, never mind i might wake up to loads of snow, hears hoping.

      • No Neil – I think it was forecast for the Midlands and the East – I am in the East Midlands!! lol
        Just going to see if I can put a picture up

        • hi jacks its been snowing here all afternoon but its turned to rain now so it might come youre way but its a very slow process brian.

  12. @SeaShepherd: Taiji: Today 10 Dolphin killing boats left port. A total of 23 killers on board including one female Dolphin killer. #tweet4taiji

    • @SeaShepherd: Taiji: 7 boats driving pod. Killers preparing nets and butcherhouse preparing tarps to hide murder to come. #tweet4taiji

  13. well its Siberia here now – still coming down and hasnt stopped for the past 5 hours ……sticking to the road outside – its so quiet – no traffic. I’m off to bed now – see you all tomorrow – nite nite, sleep well…love Jill xx

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