Study Guide

The Guitarist Tunes Up Themes

  • Love

    Even though "The Guitarist Tunes Up" is about, well, a guitarist tuning up, there's that comparison to "a man with a loved woman." In fact, when you look for it, the theme of love runs throughout the entire poem. True, the entire poem is only 8 lines long, but still, it's there. And in this poem, love seems to be all about good communication. After all, the success of the guitarist's tune-up relies on a good ear as he listens to his instrument. And what loving relationship doesn't depend on a good ear, too?

    Questions About Love

    1. The first time you read the poem, when did you get the sense that there was more going on than just the description of a musician tuning his instrument? How could you tell?
    2. Do you think Cornford saw a guitarist tuning up and that observation led to the poem, or do you think she saw two lovers whispering to each other and that was the starting point? Why? And does the answer matter when it comes to understanding the poem?
    3. Would you consider "The Guitarist Tunes Up" a love poem? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    "The Guitarist Tunes Up" is not a poem about romantic love. Cornford compares the guitarist to the couple in love to give us a stronger sense of the passion the musician feels for his music and the instrument that allows him to play it.

    The title of this poem is a big, fat lie. "The Guitarist Tunes Up" is a love poem disguised as a poem about a guitar player. Nice try, Frances.

  • Women and Femininity

    Okay all you ladies out there, how do you feel about this poem? Is there anything about "The Guitarist Tunes Up" that has you feeling a little ticked off? How do you feel about being, figuratively speaking, the guitar? Not lovin' it? That could be a reaction to the poem's mid 20th century notion of what it was to be a woman, which is to say—not much. Back in ye olden times (okay, sixty years ago), women were often objectified in the name of love. Need an example? Oh, how about being compared to a guitar?

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. What words would you use to describe the she in the poem? We don't know too much about her (the poem is only 8 lines long) but what do you imagine her personality is like? Why?
    2. Why do you think Cornford chose to use a guitar in this poem as opposed to some other instrument? If you had to choose an instrument to represent you, what would it be? Why?
    3. Don't like the vibe of this poem? Change it. How might you rewrite the poem with a more modern sense of femininity and relationships?

    Chew on This

    Despite her qualifying description, "Not as a lordly conqueror," Cornford's depiction of femininity and male-female relationships still places the woman in a subservient position reflecting mid 20th century societal norms.

    In terms of describing male-female interaction from a female perspective, "The Guitarist Tunes Up" is basically like a mid 20th century version of Sex in the City.

  • Men and Masculinity

    "The Guitarist Tunes Up" is only eight lines long, but it manages to dive deep into the murky waters of male-female relationships and notions of masculinity in its short span. While some aspects of the poem might feel a little dated, Cornford seems to be a bit ahead of her time in some respects. Depending on how much you squint, she could be challenging some of the mid 20th century notions of masculinity in this one, even, perhaps, going as far as to prescribe that a man should show (gulp) his softer side.

    Questions About Men and Masculinity

    1. What words or phrases strike you as masculine in the poem? Why?
    2. What does Cornford have against conquerors? Why does she suggest that the he proceed "not as a lordly conqueror" in this case?
    3. Does guitar playing seem like a masculine activity, a feminine activity, or neither? Why?

    Chew on This

    "The Guitarist Tunes Up" suggests that quietude and attentiveness are more prized masculine qualities than a conqueror's commanding brawn.

    The he in the poem is a dog in sheep's clothing. He might not be acting like a "conqueror," but his goal is the same. He still wants to assert his masculine will over the female.

  • Art and Culture

    Poetry and music go together like, well, you get the picture. Sound and musicality are a big deal in poetry, so a poem about a musician and his instrument kind of makes sense. In "The Guitarist Tunes Up," the preparation and performance clearly have a big impact on the speaker. Like most art forms, music has the ability to transport us and to make us see the world a little differently. In this case, Cornford may have seen some similarities between the process of creating music and her own creative process.

    Questions About Art and Culture

    1. What has a greater influence on the speaker, the visual impression of the musician and his instrument or the sound of the musician tuning up and then playing his song? Why?
    2. Do you think the speaker would have made the same comparison between the musician and his instrument and the lovers if she had attended some other kind of musical recital? Why or why not? How might a different kind of performance change the poem?
    3. Does Cornford use any figurative language to demonstrate the speaker's transformed view of the guitarist tuning his guitar? If you said yes, what kind of figurative language does she use and why? If you said no, think again.

    Chew on This

    Music often inspires artists working in other mediums. "The Guitarist Tunes Up" is an example of a poem that could not have been written without the inspiration offered by music and musicians.

    Despite its title, music is a secondary concern in "The Guitarist Tunes Up." Cornford could have written the same poem using a painter and his paintbrush as comparison points. What inspired the poem was the creative energy and passion that is present in almost any artistic pursuit.