Albatross (metaphor)

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The word albatross is sometimes used metaphorically to mean a psychological burden that feels like a curse.

It is an allusion to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798).[1] In the poem, an albatross starts to follow a ship — being followed by an albatross was generally considered an omen of good luck. However, the titular mariner shoots the albatross with a crossbow, which is regarded as an act that will curse the ship (which indeed suffers terrible mishaps). Even when they are too thirsty to speak, the ship's crew let the mariner know through their glances that they blame his action for the curse. He feels as though the albatross is metaphorically hung around his neck - that is, when people look at him, they see him as the albatross killer and that weighs on him. Thus the albatross can be both an omen of good or bad luck, as well as a metaphor for a burden to be carried as penance.

The symbolism used in the Coleridge poem is its highlight.[1] For example:

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

This sense is catalogued in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1936 and 1955, but it seems only to have entered general usage in the 1960s, or possibly as early as 1959.

Also, the word albatross is used in Letter II, Volume One of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, in which Robert Walton is speaking to his sister and states, "…but I shall kill no albatross…", an allusion quite clearly referring to the poem by her close acquaintance, Coleridge. The novel was first published in 1818, long before the term was introduced into the Oxford Dictionary.

Charles Baudelaire's collection of poems Les Fleurs du mal contains a poem entitled L'Albatros about men on ships who catch the albatrosses for sport. In the final stanza, he goes on to compare the poets to the birds— exiled from the skies and then weighed down by their giant wings, till death.

Finally, in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, there is a reference to Coleridge's albatross which is extended to fit the narrative's focus on the symbolic connotations of whiteness.

See The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in popular culture.

Film[edit]

  • 'Mac' MacClaren's sturdy little wooden cutter, which weathers a hurricane in the John Cusack / Wendy Gazelle movie Hot Pursuit, is named Albatross.
  • Malcolm Reynolds, the captain of Serenity (in the movie Serenity) defends the notion that River Tam is an albatross to the crew and later to the Operative. He says that the albatross was good luck until "some idiot killed it". When Malcolm is speaking, he then adds to Inara, "Yes, I've read a poem. Try not to faint." in a reference to the Coleridge poem. At the end of the film, he calls River "Little Albatross."
  • In the Ridley Scott film White Squall, a fictionalized account of the Ocean Academy's ship Albatross, the ship's captain Christopher Sheldon makes mention of the albatross being a very good omen which "embodied the spirits of lost sailors." "Only bad luck if you kill one," he added.
  • The 2011 film Albatross, by Niall MacCormick.
  • In the film Overboard, Goldie Hawn's husband, Grant, (who has a crossbow on board) say's "I'll be rid of this albatross once and for all" when she is trying to steer the ship back towards Kurt Russell, who she is leaving Grant for

Music[edit]

Artists[edit]

Musical[edit]

  • The musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, references the albatross in a song called "Forget About the Boy".
  • The musical, Kinky Boots, references the albatross in a song called "Not my Father's Son".

Songs[edit]

(alphabetized by artist)

  • The band Alesana has a song called "Heavy Hangs The Albatross".
  • The metalcore band Anterrabae has a song titled "An Albatross Around the Neck".
  • The band Bastille references the albatross in the song "The Weight of Living Pt. 1".
  • Bert Weedon has a song called "Albatross".
  • The band Besnard Lakes has a song called "Albatross".
  • The Canadian rock band Big Wreck has an album titled Albatross containing the lead single also titled "Albatross".
  • The band Brave Saint Saturn has a song titled "Albatross".
  • The rock band Chevelle uses albatross as a metaphor in the song "Face to the Floor".
  • The post-hardcore band Chiodos has a song titled "We Swam From Albatross, The Day We Lost Kailey Cost".
  • The band The Classic Crime has an album titled "Albatross".
  • The band Clutch refers to an "Albatross on your neck" in the song "(In The Wake of) The Swollen Goat" on the "Blast Tyrant" album.
  • The mathcore band Converge has a song called "Albatross", in the album "Petitioning the Empty Sky'.
  • Corrosion Of Conformity refers to the albatross in the song "Albatross".
  • Demon Hunter uses albatross as a metaphor in the song "Cross to Bear".
  • The band Foxing has an album called "The Albatross". And reference the word albatross on the songs "Bloodhound", and "Tom Bley".
  • The band Floater has a song titled "Albatross".
  • The band Flogging Molly uses reference to the wearing of the albatross in their song "Rebels of the Sacred Heart".
  • The band Fleetwood Mac has a song entitled "Albatross".
  • Gorillaz refers to the albatross in the song "Hip Albatross", as a metaphor for the burden of the undead.
  • The band God Street Wine in the song "Epiphany".
  • In Graham Parker and The Rumour's B-side single Mercury Poisoning, the song opens with "No more pretending now, the albatross is dying in its nest".
  • The indie rock band Guided By Voices reference wearing an albatross around the neck on the song "Peep-Hole" from the album Bee Thousand.
  • The heavy metal band Iron Maiden references the albatross in their song "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", which is based on the poem of the same title by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
  • Josh Ritter refers to a lingering albatross in his song "Monster Ballad". The characters are lost in the desert after having been lost at sea.
  • Judy Collins uses albatross as a metaphor in the song, "Albatross" in 1967.
  • The Anglo-Dutch experimental rock band The Legendary Pink Dots references an albatross in the song "Twilight Hour", a song with strong reference itself to the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
  • The Little River Band has a song called "Cool Change", which contains the line: "Albatross and the Whale are my brother."
  • Peruvian singer-songwriter Natasha Luna has a song called "Waltz for an Albatross", inspired by Baudelaire's poem.[2]
  • Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band has a song called "Albatross, Albatross, Albatross."
  • Nightwish refers to albatross in their song "The Islander".
  • Owl City refers to the albatross in the song "Hello Seattle".
  • Pink Floyd refers to the albatross in the song "Echoes".
  • In "Albatross", the first track on Public Image Limited's 1979 album Metal Box, the cryptic reference to "Getting rid of the Albatross" is repeated throughout the song.
  • Rhett Miller's song "This Is What I Do" references everyone having "an Albatross".
  • Sarah Blasko has a song called "Albatross" on the 2006 album "What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have"
  • The song "Morter" from Canadian electronic group Skinny Puppy's 1996 album The Process alludes to the albatross as a burden of truth.
  • The band Skylark has a song entitled "Albatross".
  • The band Stornoway refers to the albatross in the song "Knock Me on the Head".
  • The band Wild Beasts has a song entitled "Albatross".

Television[edit]

  • In the UK show, Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge, Alan Partridge requests the audience to desist responding to his catchphrase "aha!" stating, "can we stop that now? It's becoming a bit of an albatross".
  • In Showtime's Weeds, the main character Nancy refers to another character as, "[an] albatross: my own personal cinder block." Season five episode five.
  • In the HBO series Deadwood, a character refers to the debt owed to blacks because of slavery as an "albatross around the white man's neck." Episode 304.
  • In the TNT series Memphis Beat, a character refers to family as "an albatross around the neck of a great man" (Episode 107).
  • The Monty Python team, exploiting absurdist associations of ideas, gave life to the image of having an albatross around one's neck. In their sketch "Albatross", set in a cinema, an irritated man (John Cleese) dressed as an ice-cream girl tries to sell a dead albatross, the only item he has on his ice-cream tray.
  • In The New Adventures of Flipper, episode 417 "Mystery Ship", an abandoned boat, a yawl, is discovered with no one aboard. She is named The Albatross. She isn't registered and doesn't appear in any databases. She appears to be sea worthy, but strange accidents occur. Eventually, the couple who salvaged her argue over whether to keep her or not. Upon further search of the boat, a boat builder's plaque is found. The Albatross was built by a boat builder who went out of business in the late 1930s. This discovery leads to a newspaper article about a murder aboard the boat, the Sweet Charlotte. Apparently over time anyone coming in contact with her has bad luck. She has gone from being named the Sweet Charlotte to The Albatross.
  • In a flash-back scene of The Sopranos episode, "Down Neck", Tony's father ("Johnny Boy") says of his wife, Livia, "You're like an albacore around my neck!"—an obvious malapropism.
  • In season 7, episode 11 of the series The X-Files, entitled "Closure", Special Agent Fox Mulder discovers a child's handprints embedded in cement in front of a house in the base housing area of what appears to be a decommissioned U.S. Air Force base. The prints are presumably made by his sister, Samantha, after her abduction when she was eight years old. The house where he finds the handprints—and later a diary, also presumably Samantha's--is located on Albatross St.; possibly a reference to how Fox's quest to find information about the whereabouts of his missing sister has been his albatross since she was taken from him.
  • In Season 2, episode 8 of the series Ed, Jim (Molly Hudson's romantic interest) refers to her old car 'Sadie' that she buys back after selling (due to emotional attachment), as a 'Metal Albatross', due to its failure to function, and the fact that they have to push it all the way to her house after buying it back.
  • In episode 209 of the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force Master Shake states, "We got us a super star, and we've got two albacores that are hanging around my neck." Frylock responds, "It's albatrosses". Master Shake states this to show frustration to his two roommates in response to losing, again, at a bar trivia game.
  • In Season 5, episode 21 of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Sgt. Carter calls Gomer an albatross because he messed up a marine exercise, and is told to go back to the base. When Gomer asks how he'll get back, Carter sarcastically replies, " You can fly, Pyle. You're an albatross, remember?!"
  • In season 4 of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, Nucky Thompson lives in a seaside motel named "The Albatross"; a metaphor for the mental burden his character suffers.

Books[edit]

  • The cover art for Michael Spivak's A Comprehensive Introduction to Differential Geometry, Vol.2, is a painting by the author featuring a sailing ship beneath a dark stormy sky, full of dead jesters and a single living jester having three albatrosses hanging from ropes around his neck, respectively labeled "Cartan", "Riemann", and "Gauss".

Video games[edit]

  • In the 2013 video game Bioshock Infinite, the vigor (potion) "Undertow" is advertized by the vigor dispenser machine with the words "Ancient mariner, let the vigor Undertow disperse the hated albatross".
  • In the videogame, Alpha Protocol an intelligence agent named Albatross has the habit of encountering you by chance and often, depending on the players actions, offers valuable information which serves to reinforce the name.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "An albatross around one's neck". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 27 December 2011. 
  2. ^ Waltz for an Albatross video on YouTube