An albatross around one's neck
What's the meaning of the phrase 'An albatross round his neck'?
A burden which some unfortunate person has to carry, by way of retribution for doing something wrong.
What's the origin of the phrase 'An albatross round his neck'?
This phrase refers to lines from the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in which the eponymous mariner, who shoots an albatross, is obliged to carry the burden of the bird hung around his neck as a punishment for and reminder of his ill deed.
Coleridge published the work in 1798, in the collection of poems that is generally accepted as being the starting point of the Romantic movement in English literature - Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems. The epic poem is exceedingly long, so I'll just reproduce the verses relevant to the phrase:
God save thee, ancient Mariner
From the fiends, that plague thee thus
Why look'st thou so ? - With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.
Ah. well a-day. what evil looks
Had I from old and young
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
The poem doesn't actually use the line 'an albatross around his neck' although the image is central to the narrative. Coleridge's style is what would, in the present day, be called magical realism and is arguably the first major work written that way. This was intentional on Coleridge's part - he started with the idea of having supernatural things happen which would be treated as normal by the participants.
Other phrases associated with Coleridge: