Back to Reading No. 1Reading No. 14

Reading No. 16Jump to the latest reading

Marianne Faithfull
Singer, songwriter, actor
Recorded in West London

Yinka Shonibare
Medusa West
Digital chromogenic print

'I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.

I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown.'—
Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding-Guest!
This body dropt not down.

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

The loneliness of environmental catastrophe. The loneliness of being the last one left, the witness to devastation. The loneliness of mass extinction, burning forests, poisoned rivers. The loneliness of leaving the garden, the Eden of us, the lovely teeming world. A star is falling into a fiery sea. Somewhere the light
is going out.

Then too the loneliness of guilt. Who shot the albatross? Who travelled by plane? Who drove a car, ran a bath, bought carrots wrapped in plastic? Who kept on going down a road when it was clear the way was doomed? Imagine being the final human, the one who has to stay behind. Imagine the loneliness of knowing the whole round world was once full of flagrant life: sharks in the ocean, poppies flaming in the dirt.

Olivia Laing