Compare and contrast the use of the word "albatross" in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Coleridge and "Snake" by D. H. Lawrence.
The word albatross in both poems is used to mean a burden. The albatross in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" becomes a burden when the Mariner kills it with a crossbow and then must wear it around his neck as a sign of his sin. In this case, the albatross is an unwanted burden, a sign of bad fortune. In "Snake," the speaker wants to bear his albatross, which, in this case, is the burden of the snake. He has thrown a piece of wood at the snake because he does not like watching it squirm into a hole. After the snake quickly disappears, he feels petty and small about what he has done and wishes the snake were back. The speaker of "Snake" then thinks of his "accursed human education," which has taught him to loathe and kill snakes, and states,
And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king.
The speaker in "Snake" is almost undoubtedly thinking of the albatross in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" when he makes that statement. He realizes that, like the Mariner, he has mistakenly attacked a noble creature.
It is worth noting that the Mariner's genuine appreciation for the beauty of water snakes breaks the curse brought on by killing the albatross. We note too that the speaker of "Snake" speaks of his "accursed" human education: in his case, like the Mariner's, seeing the beauty in a snake has allowed him to transcend a curse.
In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the albatross is a large sea bird known to follow ships. Most sailors considered them to be good luck. The Ancient Mariner shot and killed the bird. Another meaning of "albatross" is a public burden one must carry as a sign of guilt and responsibility. As a punishment for shooting the albatross, the Ancient Mariner was forced to wear it around his neck as a penance for its killing and the resulting bad luck that plagued the ship.