An Elegy for the Foghorn

By scholar Jennifer Lucy Allan

Jennifer Lucy Allan recently completed a PhD focused on the social and cultural history of the foghorn. A new BBC Radio 4 piece this week gives us glimpses into both what she’s learned along the way, and how she learned it. “Life, Death and the Foghorn” take us through the real life consequences of fog, as well as the poetry the horns inspire, how a generation raised in the horns’ growing absence copes with their faded glory, and how a composer can employ them as an instrument.

A lot is packed into the half hour, and we’re left with the clear impression there is far more in store. I’m hopeful Allan’s dissertation will make it to book form. One highlight of the BBC broadcast is hearing her converse with a former seaman who can’t quite comprehend the nostalgia and affection that we landlubbers associate with the foghorns. To him, they are an indelible reminder of the majority of his nearest career-ending (and, one imagines, life-threatening) experiences at sea.

Listen at The piece was uploaded yesterday, Tuesday, June 28. It’s unclear for how long it will be available in streaming form. If the foghorns have taught us anything, it’s that nothing lasts forever. More from Allan at

2 thoughts on “An Elegy for the Foghorn

  1. As a former Lighthouse keeper ( relief keeper for my father Val D’Or, and an avid ambient sound lover, I look forward to hearing Jennifer’s recordings of foghorns. Green Island’s foghorn (off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) was a deep blast of sound that jolted one awake when you first hear it commence, but soon after, the ears seem to tune it out and it become part of the ambient background of sound. Jp

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