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Frances Barber
Recorded at Studio PSB, London

Mary Evans
The Souls Did From Their Bodies Fly
Kraft paper, vinyl printed paper

Each corse lay flat, lifeless and flat,
And, by the holy rood!
A man all light, a seraph-man,
On every corse there stood.

This seraph-band, each waved his hand:
It was a heavenly sight!
They stood as signals to the land,
Each one a lovely light;

This seraph-band, each waved his hand,
No voice did they impart—
No voice; but oh! the silence sank
Like music on my heart.

How much noise does this poem make? We have heard a merry din, but those early stanzas make us wonder what its volume really is. The mariner’s tale is broken off by a ‘loud bassoon’ but, as Nicholson Baker nicely pointed out, no instrument was less fitted to the task of blaring fanfare. Bassoons are quiet and comic: Wallace Stevens wryly imagined ‘the revenge of music on bassoons’.

This may be less a continuity error than a sign of tumult. In a letter to Lord Liverpool of 1817, Coleridge recalled Plato’s warning: ‘the modes of music are never disturbed without the unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions’. How pitchy much of the establishing action is, from the primal breast beating, to the sun ascending like a merman, to this last loud uproar. Coleridge was an avid listener rather than maker of music, and as we attend warily to his sounds, it is often as if we are switching between two poems at once.

Will May