Study Guide

The Guitarist Tunes Up Introduction

By Frances Cornford

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The Guitarist Tunes Up Introduction

Hold onto your hats, Shmoopers. Frances Cornford's "The Guitarist Tunes Up" has got it all. Seriously.

Musicians? Check. Conquerors? Check. Lovers? You bet. This poem is practically a Game of Thrones episode. Okay, it might not be quite all that, but the poem does throw these components together in a pretty interesting way.

Cornford (1886-1960) was an English poet who relied heavily on observation in her poetry. She liked to check stuff out and then write about what she saw. In the case of "The Guitarist Tunes Up," observing a musician tuning his guitar makes Cornford's speaker think, ultimately, of lovers and relationships. In just eight lines (and with the help of some figurative language), she is able to make a simple observation of a man holding his guitar contain far more meaning and intimacy than the literal description alone. Hey, figurative language can be pretty powerful stuff, and Cornford knew how to use it.

Frances Cornford might not be a household name like her predecessor Emily Dickinson or contemporaries like Virginia Woolf, but she definitely had a successful creative career. After publishing many volumes, Cornford's Collected Poems appeared in 1954. She went on to win the prestigious Queen's Medal for Poetry in 1959. "The Guitarist Tunes Up" appeared in the final book of poems she wrote, On a Calm Shore, published the year she died.

What is The Guitarist Tunes Up About and Why Should I Care?

Have you ever been walking down the street and something catches your eye and you just have to stop and click a pic? Sure you have. And we're not talking about something big and dramatic, like a car crash, which would catch everyone's attention. We're talking something small, maybe even an everyday kind of thing. No one else notices it, but it totally grabs your attention.

For some reason (the late-afternoon light, your mood, the song playing in your headphones) something about that image makes you pause. Let's say it's a rusty bike leaning against a chain link fence. The image of that bike, in that moment, speaks to you and you've just got to capture it and share it with your Instagram followers. Maybe that bicycle makes you feel or remember something significant—your childhood or a long lost friend that you haven't thought about in years. Whatever the case, you take the pic and post it somewhere with a few lines of text explaining how it made you feel or what it made you think about.

Frances Cornford's poem "The Guitarist Tunes Up" is basically that experience. Remember, she wrote this poem a fair few years before iPhones. But even way back then, people still had that same impulse to capture what they saw and experienced, to save it and share it. It's just that back then you had to write it down and call it poetry. What a drag, right?

And you thought you didn't have anything in common with 20th century poets.

The Guitarist Tunes Up Resources


Cornford from Beginning to End
Dying to know all there is to know about Frances Cornford? You're in luck. Here's her bio.

Can't Get Enough Cornford?
Here's a link to lots more of her poems.


"A Guitarist Tunes Up": The Song
For a school project, these students set the song to music. Guitar music, that is.


"The Watch"
As we mentioned in our "Calling Card" section, "The Watch" is classic Cornford. Give it a listen.


Tea Time
Here's a picture of Frances later in life enjoying a cup of tea (or something).

End of the Line
Here's Frances Cornford's tombstone at Ascension Parish Burial Ground in Cambridge.

Articles and Interviews

The Spectator on Cornford
This review of Cornford's first Collected Poems in the December 1954 issue of The Spectator isn't exactly glowing. (Be sure to click on "Zoom Page" for a better view.)


Stay Calm
Here's Cornford's On a Calm Shore—the book "The Guitarist Tunes Up" appeared in.

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