Reading No. 1

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Jeanette Winterson
Recorded at The Charterhouse, London

Lisa Wright
Lucent Blue
Oil on canvas

'The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—'
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

The Rime comes roaring out of the future and the past, a founding fable, full of symbolic birds, slimy crawling things, and a wedding-party guest accosted by a madman who won't let go. Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem shifts backwards and forwards in time, from Shakespeare's The Tempest and its man-made storm, to a young teenage girl crouching behind the sofa as a wild-eyed poet recites this gothic horror to her parents; Mary Shelley will go on to write Frankenstein (1818) out of that fear. Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) an imaginary journey to the Antarctic, populates the ice with humans with needle teeth and red eyes. And Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851) picks up that appalling whiteness and invests it in another eerie animal, the white whale.

Coleridge's 18th century science-fiction spins on to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey with its piercing alien signal, and Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth, whose voyager comes from his destroyed planet to warn us of the consequences of abusing ours. Where will the new Mariner's story be written, in the 21st century? All these signs and wonders—Shakespeare's Prospero, Shelley's Creature, Poe's red-eyed beings, Melville's white whale, Kubrick's embryo in space, Roeg's flame-haired alien—they all radiate out from the lonely Mariner, caught in the dark backward abysm of time, sailing on into the otherworld, where we are now bound...

Philip Hoare