One of the longest poems in English literature is said to be The rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I remember this dreaded poem from our tenth class textbooks and the one distinct long-answer-question about the Albatross. While in the Drake Passage our ship was being followed by Albatrosses all throughout and every time I saw one its reference to “the Albatross around the neck” kept coming back to me.
Albatrosses can fly for miles together and have the longest wingspans of all birds. When a Sailor spots an Albatross it is considered a sign of good luck and hope for land. But in the poem ‘the mariner’ shoots the Albatross with a crossbow from which the metaphor “albatross hung around the neck” comes, which means a curse or a burden to be carried as penance.
Excerpts from the poem:
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
Even for all sailors it is very rare to see an albatross. Only ships sailing in the subpolar regions of the Southern Hemisphere have the chance of seeing one. While we were in the Drake, I came across this quote that soon became my favorite and which I still hold close to my heart.
I now belong to a higher cult of mortal, for I have seen the Albatross.
-Robert Cushman Murphy
Why is it my favorite? I don’t know. Something about how it captures how unique this entire experience is (Antarctica) and it kind of makes you feel special, like a part of a legacy or something. I mean when was the last time you felt special by just seeing a bird?