Study Guide

The Guitarist Tunes Up Analysis

  • Sound Check

    With musical references right there in the title, it shouldn't come as a surprise that "The Guitarist Tunes Up" sounds kind of music-y. This musical quality is due in part to those strong end rhymes and meter (see our "Form and Meter" section for more on this), but it also comes from some more subtle sources as well.

    In addition to all that rhyming, Cornford uses consonance to create a kind of musical sound. Take a look at line 4:

    Command both wire and wood

    Hear those repeated W and D sounds? That's our old pal consonance at work. This helps the music carry through the lines rather than only showing up in those heavy rhymes between the end words of one line and another.

    But Frances didn't stop there. She decided to throw some good old-fashioned repetition into the mix:

    What slight essential things she had to say
    Before they started, he and she, to play.

    The repetition of she in lines 7 and 8 really stands out when we hear the poem (and it stands out visually as well). In an eight-line poem, any repetition is going to get noticed. This one comes in the poem's final couplet, so it gets even more attention. The sound of the word she in line 7 is still ringing in our ears when we come to it again in line 8. It's even amplified by the he that precedes it (very close in sound and visually only one letter away from actually being she). The repetition functions kind of like a repeated note or chord in a song, tying things together and making the song feel like, well, a song.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The title of a poem often has a great deal to do with how we read it, and that's certainly the case with Cornford's "The Guitarist Tunes Up."

    The title of this one gets us thinking about musicians, guitars, and the preparation that goes into playing an instrument. You can't just grab the thing and go to town, you've got to tune it up, and that takes some attention to detail.

    With really short poems like this one, the title has an even greater influence because we never get very far away from it. The title doesn't really leave our sight. It just sits up there at the top of the page, usually in don't-forget-about-me bold. With longer poems, our eyes travel way down to the bottom of the page, or maybe we even turn the page and the title just kind of floats in our memory. Or we forget it entirely.

    Because "The Guitarist Tunes Up" is super short, it's really easy for us to apply all those music-y ideas from the title to the lovers that show up when things take a more figurative turn in the body of the poem. That's how a poem about a guitar player tuning up turns into a poem about the pursuit of love in just eight lines. Pretty neat trick, right?

  • Setting

    Cornford doesn't give us much to go on in terms of the setting in this one. With only eight lines, we're lucky to have a poem at all. Still, the content does give us kind of an indoor feeling with the mention of instruments. And musicians are an indoors-y bunch, right? Since the guitarist is tuning up, it feels a little more formal than just a dude noodling around on his guitar. Perhaps the speaker is at a guitar recital of some kind.

    When the speaker compares the guitarist and his guitar to lovers, we might mentally shift the setting to something a bit more private and romantic, but there certainly isn't anything in the poem that places us in the great outdoors.

  • Speaker

    Since "The Guitarist Tunes Up" is only 8 lines long, we don't get to spend much time with the speaker. Still, we're able to get some sense of who's talking in this one.

    Phrases like "attentive courtesy," "lordly conqueror," and "slight essential things" give us the feeling that this speaker is pretty refined. The language isn't particularly academic or artificially elevated in tone, but it does seem knowledgeable and subtle. And we know the speaker's observant, too, because she's noticing every little detail of this exchange between man and musical instrument.

    While it is always a good idea to separate the speaker from the poet, there isn't anything in these 8 lines to make us consider a speaker other than Cornford herself. So, that makes our speaker a knowledgeable, refined woman attending some kind of music recital but imagining something much more… personal.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (1) Sea Level

    If you are looking for an intense, life and death poetry trek, "The Guitarist Tunes Up" probably won't do the trick. This poem is more along the lines of strolling barefoot through a meadow. Go ahead, wiggle those toes in the soft green grass. But don't doze off. If you stay alert you'll be able to catch Cornford's crafty use of figurative language, which makes the poem all the more rewarding.

  • Calling Card

    Easy Peasy

    Many of Cornford's poems are on the short side, and they are often observational, commenting on the world she sees around her. Her poems are filled with natural imagery: birds, trees, animals, flowers, and sunlight galore. Shmoop figures that, being Charles Darwin's granddaughter, the nature stuff was probably in her blood.

    Despite occasionally dealing with some heavy, universal topics (death, the meaning of life, that kind of thing) her use of strong end rhyme and meter keeps things bouncing along and many of the poems have a light, musical quality. The poems also tend to be fairly direct. Cornford isn't the kind of poet that sends you running for (or clicking over to) your dictionary every other line. So, her poems tend to be pretty easy reads. Thanks, Frances.

    What's that? You want some examples? Glad you asked. Check out "Autumn Morning at Cambridge," "The New-born Baby's Song," and "The Watch," for more of Cornford doing her thing.

  • Form and Meter

    Iambic, End-rhymed Lines

    This poem is a shorty, but it packs a pretty good metrical punch. It makes sense that form and meter are a big deal in this one since there's a reference to music right there in the title. Form and meter are, after all, a big part of what gives some poetry its musical qualities.

    The first thing you probably noticed is that the end words rhyme in an AABBCCDD pattern. That pattern of rhyme is called the poem's rhyme scheme. These strong end rhymes not only give the poem a kind of musical feel associated with the way some song lyrics rhyme, it also makes the poem feel like a very cohesive unit. All the parts feel like they are working together. The poet William Carlos Williams said, "a poem is a small (or large) machine made of words" (source). Seems like he might be right.

    Two by Two

    The fact that the rhymes come in consecutive lines does something else. It subtly brings to mind the idea of pairs as we read. Pairs—as in couples. Get it?

    In addition to those end rhymes, you might have also noticed that most of the lines have a similar kind of rhythm, a kind of daDUM daDUM daDUM feel. That pattern of an unstressed and stressed syllable is an iamb. You can really hear those iambs in line 7 if you read it aloud (don't be shy, Shmoop won't judge):

    What slight essential things she hadto say
    Hear it?

    The lines alternate between five iambs (or feet) per long line and three in the short lines.

    Shake It Up, Baby

    Shmoop knows what you're thinking (or, perhaps, screaming at your computer screens): "Some of these lines don't sound very daDUM-y to me. What gives, Shmoop?" Okay. Good point. There are some places where Cornford varies from the iambic metrical pattern. Why does she do it, you ask? Well let's take a closer look. Here's line 2:

    ver his instrument

    This metrical change from iambs to dactyls (DUMdada) makes the word over stand out. That stressed "O" hits our ears pretty hard because line 1 makes us anticipate an unstressed first syllable. Sneaky.

    By doing this, Cornford really emphasizes the image of the player bending over the guitar, making it even clearer in our minds. This initial image (the guitarist bent over his guitar) is important. We need that first image to be crystal clear if we are going to picture the man leaning over the "loved" woman later in poem.

    So, Cornford makes the line sound different to make it stand out. It's kind of like how when the rhythm changes in a song it really gets your attention. You can't keep dancing to it the same way you were dancing before the rhythm changed because you'd look like a fool. Unfortunately, Shmoop knows this is true from experience.

    The Look of the Thing

    One more thing: the way this single-stanza poem looks on the page mirrors the content. How? Shmoop is glad you asked.

    The poem's first six lines follow a kind of back and forth pattern: a long line followed by a short line. The lines stay pretty iambic but there are some small variations. Things change in the last two lines. Lines 7 and 8 are both long and there is no metrical variation at all—things get super iambic.

    The back and forth in lines 1-6 mirrors the back and forth, the flirtation, between the lovers. When the lines become the same length and metrically identical in the poem's final couplet, it foreshadows the coming together of the lovers.

  • Guitarists, Guitars, Guys, and Gals

    In "The Guitarist Tunes Up," Cornford uses figurative language to blur the line between a literal situation (a guitarist tuning his guitar) and an imagined situation (two lovers embracing).

    By creating a clear image of the guitarist in beginning, Cornford is able to transfer elements of that real, literal image to an imagined image later in the poem in a very seamless way with simile.

    In the end, the poem's final word, "play," operates simultaneously on literal and figurative levels and the entire poem becomes a kind of extended metaphor for the relationship between lovers.

    Not bad for an eight-line poem.

    • Title: The title sets the scene. We are told, in no uncertain terms, what is going to be discussed in this poem: a guitarist tuning his guitar.
    • Lines 1-2: The poem's first two lines reinforce the title. We naturally associate the "he" in line 1 with the guitarist from the title and the "instrument" with (duh) the guitar. Plus, the guitarist is described bending over the guitar. It is a very familiar pose (think music videos, dorm rooms, 5th period jazz band) that we can easily picture in our minds. 
    • Lines 5-7: When Cornford uses the simile, "as a man with a loved woman might, / inquiring with delight," to elaborate on how the guitarist bends over to listen to his guitar as he tunes it, it's easy for us to transfer the musician's attentive bend over his instrument to a man bending to hear "slight essential things" from his lover.
    • Line 8: With the image of the lover bending to hear whispered words from his beloved fresh in our minds, the last line takes a potentially racy turn. We picture the "he and she" as the figurative lovers and their "play" as, well, the kind of sweet music lovers make. At the same time, the he is the musician, echoing the he in line 1, the she is the instrument, and the play is whatever piece the musician begins after tuning the guitar. Cornford manages to get the literal and the figurative all mixed up together in just eight little lines, but, in the end, it's kind of a fun tangle.
    • Steaminess Rating


      This one doesn't quite make it to racy, but if you use your imagination it seems to be heading in that direction.