Study Guide

The Guitarist Tunes Up Quotes

  • Love

    But as a man with a loved woman might, (5)

    When we get to this simile comparing the guitar player and his guitar to a couple in love, it's pretty easy to start imagining the couple and kind of forget about that guy with the guitar. The lovers, in a sense, take over the poem. Let's face it. Romantic love is just way more interesting than guitar tuning. If you don't believe Shmoop try this: how many reality television shows can you name that are directly or indirectly about love (or at least hooking up)? Just about all of them, right? Now, how many are about tuning instruments? Case closed. Love wins.

    Inquiring with delight
    What slight essential things she had to say (6-7)

    Okay. It's honesty time. Have you ever, in the noble pursuit of love, pretended that what someone had to say was far more interesting or funnier than it actually was? Why do we do that? Well, Shmoop thinks it's because we want that other person to like us and to know we like them. It gives the relationship a chance to get to the next step. Sound familiar? That's basically what's going down in lines 6 and 7. She is saying "slight," or trivial, small things and he is acting as if they are "essential." He is just delighted to be there, talking to her, hoping that if he hangs on every word, he might have the chance to take things to the next level.

    Before they started, he and she, to play. (8)

    Looks like all that careful listening, hanging on every word, pays off. The lovers, "he and she," start "to play." You can read this "play" lots of different ways. It could be the game of courtship and flirting, or it could be something more, well, physical. But wait! Don't forget that guitar player and his guitar (see, Shmoop was right, you did forget, didn't you?). The she and he literally refer to the guitar player and his guitar, and what they "play" is, duh, music. Don't feel bad if you kind of forgot that the whole lovers thing was just a simile. After all, love is blind, and forgetful.

  • Women and Femininity

    Not as a lordly conqueror who could
    Command both wire and wood, (3-4)

    In a literal reading of these lines, the speaker is talking about our pal the guitar player and his beloved guitar. But since the poem ends up comparing the guitar to a woman, we have to consider these lines from a figurative perspective as well. From a figurative perspective, these two lines function as a very important qualifier that saves the guitar/woman comparison from taking an unfortunate turn. The guitar player (the man) is "bent over his instrument" (the woman) in a way not like a "conqueror." The speaker seems to be trying to make the relation between the guitar player and his instrument, well, respectful: not like a conqueror. Cornford might have felt this was necessary because without that qualifier all we have is a woman being compared to an object (the guitar) that is possessed and played by the musician (a man) and capable only of producing the sound or song the musician desires. Basically, the guitar/woman has no voice of her own. See? Without that qualifier, this comparison could start to seem pretty sexist pretty fast. Nice save, Frances.

    But as a man with a loved woman might,
    Inquiring with delight
    What slight essential things she had to say (5-7)

    Here's that simile that compares the guitar player, bending to tune his guitar, to a man bending to listen to a woman.That mid 20th century notion of femininity comes through again here. She is a woman, so she isn't saying important or interesting things. She's saying, "slight," unimportant, trivial things and the man is happy to feign interest in hopes that his attention might get him somewhere. In a figurative sense, these trivial things are only "essential" in that by paying careful attention to them, by hanging on her every word as if it were important and interesting, he might get to "play" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). What a dog, right? This mirrors the literal reading: it's just like the guitarist has to pay careful attention to the mundane, individual notes of the tuning process to get to play the song.

    Before they started, she and he, to play. (8)

    Well, it looks like that guy's strategy paid off. He listened to those "slight essential things she had to say" and, sure enough, they get together. Surprised? Probably not.

  • Men and Masculinity

    Not as a lordly conqueror who could
    Command both wire and wood, (3-4)

    These lines depict a stereotypical masculine attitude, a kind of "Hulk smash!" approach to the world. It's the kind of guy that's out there conquering and commanding—you know the type. This is not the attitude the speaker sees in the relationship between the guitarist and the instrument and not the kind of relationship the speaker imagines between the man and the woman in the next couplet.

    But as a man with a loved woman might,
    Inquiring with delight (5-6)

    These lines suggest that love changes the way men behave: that a man in love acts differently. No more commanding. No more conquering. Now he is "inquiring with delight." Sounds downright genteel. Wait a minute… does love make men into wussies?

    What slight essential things she had to say
    Before they started, he and she, to play. (7-8)

    Hmmm. He listens to her, and then they start "to play." Looks like listening is the way to go. The ol' macho ways of commanding and conquering might lead to success on the battlefield, but perhaps not in other, more romantic pursuits.

  • Art and Culture

    "The Guitarist Tunes Up" (Title)

    The title certainly puts us in a musical frame of mind. But it is important to note that the title asks the reader to consider the musician and the instrument as they prepare to play (tuning up). The musician has to prepare for the song, the act of making music, just as an artist must prepare to make art or a poet must prepare to write a poem. It is, perhaps, a subtler, less straightforward preparation than tuning an instrument, but it's there.

    With what attentive courtesy he bent
    Over his instrument; (1-2)

    The musician has to be "attentive." He has to listen carefully to the instrument to make sure it's in tune before beginning the song. Similarly, an artist has to be attentive and open to the muse that will inspire her work and allow her to create.

    Not as a lordly conqueror who could
    Command both wire and wood, (3-4)

    Creativity is kind of a shy, delicate thing. It can't be forced. It isn't something the musician/artist can conquer or command. Like it says in line 1, "attentive courtesy" is the best approach.

    But as a man with a loved woman might,
    Inquiring with delight (5-6)

    Passion is certainly a key ingredient in creativity—kind of like being in love, right? The artist has to ask herself delicate questions in order to see the final product, the final goal, realized. This art stuff takes some work, y'all.