But as a man with a loved woman might, Inquiring with delight
Lines 3 and 4 gave us a similecomparing 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.
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.