Study Guide

The Guitarist Tunes Up

The Guitarist Tunes Up Summary

Don't blink, folks. This one is over before you can say "air-guitar."

Frances Cornford's "The Guitarist Tunes Up" is essentially a speaker's observation of (surprise, surprise) a guitarist tuning his guitar. In a single eight-line stanza, the speaker recounts how the musician bends over his guitar to tune it before beginning to play.

Even though this poem is very short, it's packed with figurative language like simile and metaphor. Which is a good thing, because without figurative language this would just be a description of a guy tuning his guitar (and you'd be well on your way through another poem by now). But by using simile and metaphor, Cornford is able to turn the fairly mundane task of guitar tuning into something much more interesting and maybe even a little racy.

See, the speaker compares the guitarist bending and listening intently to his instrument to "a man with a loved woman." Now what could be boring about that?

  • Lines 1-4

    Lines 1-2

    With what attentive courtesy he bent
    Over his instrument;

    • When we consider lines 1 and 2 along with the title, "The Guitarist Tunes Up," it's pretty easy to picture what is being described: the guitarist is bending over his instrument while he tunes it.
    • If you've ever tuned a guitar, or seen someone do it, it's easy to imagine the musician's head bent over the guitar as he listens carefully (with "attentive courtesy") to each note. If you have no idea what Shmoop is talking about, here's a picture—they're worth a thousand words, you know. 
    • That word "courtesy" kind of sticks out. Courtesy is something done out of consideration for another person. It seems a little strange to be courteous to a guitar. 
    • It's almost as if this musician is treating his guitar like a person. This guy must really like his guitar. Or he's crazy and he thinks it is a person. Either way, Cornford is using some subtle personification here to give us this sense.
    • You might have noticed something about the end words in lines 1 and 2: "bent" and "instrument." Yup, that's our old pal rhyme. Hope you like it, because it's going to stick around for the rest of the poem.

    Lines 3-4

    Not as a lordly conqueror who could
    Command both wire and wood,

    • Cornford uses a simile to describe how the guitarist attends to his instrument: "Not as a lordly conqueror."
    • This guy isn't the type to "command" the "wire and wood" that make up the guitar. He's not a tyrant—he's more of a listener. This is a two-way relationship.
    • The words conqueror and command stand out in these lines. These words bring to mind a certain type of figure. You know this guy, the macho, agro, perhaps military figure with a chest full of medals and no time for namby-pamby stuff like guitar tuning and listening to people.
    • Plus, those C-sounds make for some rather noticeable alliteration, wouldn't you say?
  • Lines 5-8

    Lines 5-6

    But as a man with a loved woman might,
    Inquiring with delight

    • Lines 3 and 4 gave us a simile comparing the guitar player to something he isn't like ("a lordly conqueror."). Now, in lines 5 and 6, Cornford uses another one. This time, she compares the guitar player to something he is like: "a man with a loved woman."
    • Because of Cornford's use of figurative language in these lines, our mental image of the scene changes. Instead of the guitarist bending over his guitar to listen for each note, we picture a man leaning in, bending down ever so slightly, to catch each whispered word from the woman he loves. If you're a romantic, this is some good stuff.
    • That phrase "inquiring with delight" sounds a little flirtatious. We can imagine the man listening with a smile or a smirk; delighted at the attention of the woman he is flirting with. Trying to catch each little thing she says. It's that little game of back and forth that flirting couples play. Come on, you know what Shmoop is talking about.

    Lines 7-8

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

    • Cornford ends the poem by further blurring the distinction between the literal couple (the musician and his instrument) and the figurative pair (the man and the woman). 
    • The he and she are the guitarist and his guitar. Those "slight essential things" are, literally, the notes the musician has to listen super carefully in order to make sure his instrument is in tune so he can play beautiful music. 
    • Figuratively, the he and she are lovers and those "essential things" are all those little sweet nothings the man is bending in to hear with such "delight." Like the musician, he has to listen very carefully and respond correctly to those "essential things" if he wants to "play," to make sweet music with the woman he loves. 
    • The structure of that last line, the way Cornford highlights the "he and she" by setting them apart from the rest of the line with commas, reinforces the image of the lovers alone and close together. The way the two words are separated even makes them look like a couple on the page. The words themselves are only one letter away from actually being the same—only one letter away from becoming one. Pretty tricky, Frances. Pretty tricky.
    • With this ending, the entire poem becomes one big extended metaphor for the relationship between lovers. When we look back at the poem's title and first two lines, it's almost impossible not to read the guitar player and his "instrument" as metaphorical representations of the man and the woman in love. Now that's swoon-worthy.