The Violinist
Chayym Zeldis, from Epic

We live on the 2nd floor too,
only at the opposite end of the building,
in the rear.
My brother and I share the Sherman Avenue bedroom,
through whose windows we one morning see
sixty-foot elms sailing WHAM! into the sky like toothpicks,
automobiles turtle-flipping WHOOSH! onto their backs,
telephone-poles dragging down CRASH! cables as they fall
in the Great Hurricane of '40 that tears up the East Coast.
My parents sleep (maybe even dream, who's to say?)
in the other bedroom whose low-silled windows
look out on a dark row of garage-rooftops.
We have no living-room, like the Mazers do,
our one & only radio, with green Cyclops-eye and
black-slit of pupil that expands & contracts as you hunt
for a station, rests preeminently
on a mahogany end-table in my parents' room.
When he's at home, my father exercises Absolute Control,
"listening-in" to the News every hour on the hour,
forbidding us to "make even a peep" while it's on.
My parents' room is also the concert-hall where,
egg-bald, bird-framed, hollow-chested, spindly-legged,
in undershirt and boxer-shorts (fly always open,)
eye-glasses glinting like holy-wafers,
sweat crawling down his forehead,
muscles taut as the strings of his fiddle,
music-stand before him
supplying the Rimsky-Korsakov, Bizet, Tschaikovsky et al.,
he plays "pieces" for himself (and the Angel-Hosts-On-High.)

In his twenties, my Pa leads two (count 'em!) orchestras:
"The Marimba Syncopators" and "The Dixie Jazz-band".
He plays Jewish weddings and bar-mitzvahs,
but, as he tells us mournfully, "Radio's pushed me out..."
My mother says that if she hadn't gone to a friend's
party and met him playing there, she'd have been
spared her "years of misery:"
She laughs when she tells the story:
but we believe
she means it.

Every damn word.

Chayym Zeldis

The violin

kept its notes
to itself

like birds
in a cage...

The man
kept his heart
to himself
like a hound
on a leash...

one day

the man
left the room
where he slept

and walked
into the room

where the violin

He picked up
the bow
lifted the violin
cradled it in
the hollow of
a shoulder,
and played...

The notes
were freed.

So was his

The Lord's Fiddle
Chayym Zeldis

Last night
I dreamed that God
decided He'd learn
to play the fiddle.

But there was none
to be found in heaven,
so He entered the
Great Vault behind the
in which reposed holy treasures,
such as the Tablets of the Law,
Aaron's rod,
Moses' wicker-basket,
Elijah's brand,
David's harp,
Yael's dagger
inter alia.

Taking a good sum of
cash (U.S. dollars are
always good)╩God departed
for earth.

But to His surprise,
He discovered that nowhere
was there a single fiddle
for sale.

The stores were empty:
it seemed that
everyone on the planet
was fiddling.

So He tried to borrow one.

But ╩Paganini, Heifetz and╩
Menuhin ╩were all dead,
and those alive - even the
jolly, good-natured Perlman -
refused to lend Him theirs.

"Never lend anyone your fiddle,
or your car, or your toothbrush,"
they told Him.

("Or your wife,"
murmured God.)

But then
an old Minskener
(who in 1907 emigrated
from Czar Nicolai's Russia
to NYC)
in a cubby-hole of a store
down on the Lower East Side
of Manhattan,
called out that he had
one fit fiddle left,
and would sell it to God
if He promised to play
lively tunes.

Back in heaven, though,
God couldn't find anyone
to teach him.

A wizened, little Angel
who'd played
backgammon with Abraham,
chess with Solomon,
pick-up-sticks with Gideon,
solitaire with Job,
explained ╩that ╩all the
famous violinists and teachers
no ╩longer had any connection╩
to fiddling.

"You see," ╩said the Angel,
"the violin has nothing to do
with heaven -
only with the pain of earth."

That was it.

So God took his fiddle -
glowing like a ruby
in the navel of the sky,
silent as a mute who knows
the secrets of the universe
but cannot╩╩utter a word of them -
to the Great Vault behind the
blessed it
and kissed it
and locked it away
along with╩╩Miriam's timbrel,
Samson's jawbone,
Joseph's vari-colored coat,
Jacob's ladder,
and the single pebble
that - crooning like
a shepherd's psalm -
put Goliath
to sleep.

Jacky, come give me thy fiddle

Jacky, come give me thy fiddle,
If ever thou mean to thrive.
Nay, I'll not give my fiddle
To any man alive.

If I should give my fiddle,
They'll think that I'm gone mad,
For many a joyful day
My fiddle and I have had.

The Ballad of the Fiddler
Seumas O'Sullivan

He had played by the cottage fire
Till the dancing all was done,
But his heart kept up the music
When the last folk had gone.

So he came through the half-door softly
And wandered up the hill,
In the glow of his heart's desire
That was on the music still.

And he passed the blackthorn thicket,
And he heard the branches groan,
As they bowed beneath the burden
Of the white fruit of the moon.

And he came to the fairy circle
Where none but the wise may sit:
And blindness was on him surely
For he sat in the midst of it.

And maybe his heart went dreaming,
Or maybe his thoughts went wide,
But he took his battered old fiddle
And he took the bow from his side.

And he said, "I will play them such music
As never a fairy heard."
He said, "I will play them the music
I stole from the throat of a bird."

And the sound of his lilt went straying
By valley and stream and sedge
Till the little white stars went dancing
Along the mountain's edge.

And things came out of the bushes
And out of the grassy mound
And joined their hands in a circle
And danced to the fiddle's sound.

And quicker and sweeter and stranger
The notes came hurrying out
And joined with a shriek and a whistle
In the dance of the Goblin Rout.

And all night long on the green lands
They danced in a 'wildered ring.
And every note of the fiddle
Was the shriek of a godless thing.

And when the winter morning
Came whitely up the glen,
The Fiddler's soul fled whistling
In the rout of the Fairy Men.

The Old Violin
Maurice Francis Egan

Though tuneless, stringless, it lies there in dust,
Like some great thought on a forgotten page;
The soul of music cannot fade or rust, -
The voice within it stronger grows with age;
Its strings and bow are only trifling things -
A master-touch! - its sweet soul wakes and sings.

He'd Nothing but His Violin
Mary Kyle Dallas

He'd nothing but his violin,
I'd nothing but my song,
But we were wed when skies were blue
And summer days were long;
And when we rested by the hedge,
The robins came and told
How they had dared to woo and win,
When early Spring was cold.

We sometimes supped on dew-berries,
Or slept among the hay,
But oft the farmers' wives at eve
Came out to hear us play;
The rare old songs, the dear old tunes, -
We could not starve for long
While my man had his violin,
And I my sweet love-song.

On Sivori's Violin
Frances Sargent Osgood

A dryad's home was once the tree
From which they carved this wondrous toy,
Who chanted lays of love and glee,
Till every leaflet thrilled with joy.

But when the tempest laid it low,
The exiled fay flew to and fro;
Till finding here her home once more,
She warbles wildly as before!

The Violin's Complaint
William Roscoe Thayer ("Paul Hermes")

Honest Stradivari made men:
With the gift of love he blest me;
Once, delight, a master played me,
Love awoke when he caressed me!

Oh the deep, ecstatic burning!
Oh the secrets low and tender!
Oh the passion and the yearning
At our love's complete surrender!
Heartless men, so long to hide me
With the costly toys you cherish;
I'm a soul - again confide me
To a lover, ere I perish!

The Violin Never Played
Chayym Zeldis
...such notes as warbl'd to the string,
drew iron tears down Pluto's cheeks...

- John Milton
The violin never played
rested on a dining-room table,
gathering as-yet-invisible dust motes,
numberless shades of
fading light.

Then it lay in darkness
as in a dumb
keeping shape as hidden
until dawn
crept back.

Passing it by
every day,
the boy dreamed
(he was a wrestler-of-dreams)
of playing the violin:
of filling the room,
the house,
the universe
(far out beyond
the billiard-ball planets,
pap-smear of Milky Way,
Ferris-wheel of galaxies)
with its notes.

But it was only in his mind
(and secretly in his heart)
that he played it:
in the actuality of things,
he never so much as
the violin.

It was because of the man.
The man played the violin,
chained it to his fingers,
flayed the notes out of it;
and when he was through
with the rape,
the man warned it
not to whisper a word
about what he'd done,
then froze it solid
to the table
with one demented medusa-stare.

So the boy just glanced
at it,
passed (as if idly) by:
but the boy would
never touch the violin-
let alone lift it from its place,
cradle it in his arms,
lift the bow
to its shimmering strings.

To touch the violin,
thought the boy,
would be defilement:
the soul of the man
who played it
might infect him

The boy grew up,
left the dining-room
and the house,
for good.
The man
choked to death
on insatiable rage

Never again
did the boy see the violin:
but occasionally,
he heard stories
about what
happened to it.

Some said the Dark Angel
smothered it with a pillow;
some said a gypsy fled with it
to a kingdom where madness
was considered reason:
some said it was stolen
by pirates who took it up
the Congo River in a canoe
and buried it 12 feet deep,
just next-door to
Kurz's coconut plantation;
some said the ghost of Nero
ran off to fiddle on it
at a Fire-Fighters' gala
in the Coliseum;
some said it was raffled off
in a country where the people
never slept and won by
a man in a coma;
and some said
the Devil made use of it
on weekends and holidays
to seduce virgins
and politicians.

The boy-now himself a man-
none of these stories:
in truth,
he'd heard enough malarkey
and old wives' tales
to last him twenty lifetimes.
He just smiled to himself:

because when traffic stopped,
he heard the violin
wailing like a jackal,
hallooing like a lost child,
crooning like a lover,
weeping like a widow,
cooing like an infant,
moaning like a woman in labor,
calling like a prophet in the wilderness
praying like a man on the gallows,
screaming like a banshee,
exulting like the newly-redeemed
atop Mount Zion:

O, he heard the violin
clearly, unmistakably,
and it wakened
all the unremembered memories
of the room,
the dining-table,
the light brimming,
the man
with the iron hands
who banished the boy
to Siberia.

Orpheus and Eurydice
John Godfrey Saxe

Sir Orpheus, whom the poets have sung
In every metre and every tongue,
Was, you may remember, a famous musician, -
At least for a youth in his pagan condition, -
For historians tell he played on his shell
From morning till night, so remarkably well
That his music created a regular spell
On trees and stones in forest and dell!
What sort of an instrument his could be
Is really more than is known to me, -
For none of the books have told, d'ye see!
It's very certain those heathen "swells"
Knew nothing at all of oyster-shells,
And it's clear Sir Orpheus never could own a
Shell like those they make in Cremona;
But whatever it was, to "move the stones"
It must have shelled out some powerful tones,
And entitled the player to rank in my rhyme
As the very Vieuxtemps of the very old time!

But alas for the joys of this mutable life!
Sir Orpheus lost his beautiful wife -
Eurydice, who vanished one day
From Earth, in a very unpleasant way!
It chanced, as near as I can determine,
Through one of those vertebrated vermin
That lie in the grass so prettily curled,
Waiting to "snake" you out of the world!
And the poets tell she went to - well -
A place where Greeks and Romans dwell
After they burst their mortal shell;
A region that in deepest shade is,
And known by the classical name of Hades, -
A different place from the terrible furnace
Of Tartarus, down below Avernus.

Now, having a heart uncommonly stout,
Sir Orpheus didn't go whining about,
Nor marry another, as you would, no doubt,
But made up his mind to fiddle her out!
But near the gate he had to wait,
For there in state old Cerberus sate,
A three-headed dog, as cruel as Fate,
Guarding the entrance early and late;
A beast so sagacious, and very voracious,
So uncommonly sharp and extremely rapacious,
That it really may be doubted whether
He'd have his match, should a common tether
Unite three aldermen's heads together!

But Orpheus, not in the least afraid,
Tuned up his shell, and quickly essayed
What could be done with a serenade,
In short, so charming an air he played,
He quite succeeded in overreaching
The cunning cur, by musical teaching,
And put him to sleep as fast as preaching!

And now our musical champion, Orpheus,
Having given the janitor over to Morpheus,
Went groping around among the ladies
Who throng the dismal halls of Hades,
Calling aloud
To the shady crowd,
In a voice as shrill as a martial fife,
"O, tell me where in hell is my wife!"
(A natural question, 'tis very plain,
Although it may sound a little profane.)
"Eurydice! Eu-ryd-i-ce!"
He cried as loud as loud could be,
(A singular sound, and funny withal,
In a place where nobody rides at all!)
"Eurydice! - Eurydice!
O, come, my dear, along with me!"
And then he played so remarkably fine,
That it really might be called divine, -
For who can show,
On earth or below,
Such wonderful feats in the musical line?

E'en Tantalus ceased from trying to sip
The cup that flies from his arid lip;
Ixion, too, the magic could feel,
And, for a moment, blocked his wheel;
Poor Sisyphus, doomed to tumble and toss
The notable stone that gathers no moss,
Let go his burden, and turned to hear
The charming sounds that ravished his ear;
And even the Furies - those terrible shrews
Whom no one before could ever amuse,
Those strong-bodied ladies with strong-minded views
Whom even the Devil would doubtless refuse,
Were his Majesty only permitted to choose,
Each felt for a moment her nature desert her,
And wept like a girl o'er the "Sorrows of Werther."

And still Sir Orpheus chanted his song,
Sweet and clear and strong and long,
"Eurydice! - Eurydice!"
He cried as loud as loud could be;
And Echo, taking up the word,
Kept it up till the lady heard,
And came with joy to meet her lord.
And he led her along the infernal route,
Until he had got her almost out,
When, suddenly turning his head about,
(To take a peep at his wife, no doubt,)
He gave a groan,
For the lady was gone,
And had left him standing there all alone!
For by an oath the gods had bound
Sir Orpheus not to look around
Till he was clear of the sacred ground,
If he'd have Eurydice safe and sound;
For the moment he did an act so rash
His wife would vanish as quick as a flash!


Young women! beware, for goodness' sake,
Of every sort of "sarpent snake";
Remember the rogue is apt to deceive,
And played the deuce with grandmother Eve!

Young men! it's a critical thing to go
Exactly right with a lady in tow;
But when you are in the proper track,
Just go ahead, and never look back!

The Arkansas Traveler

Oh once upon a time in Arkansas
An old man sat in his little cabin door,
And fiddled at a tune that he liked to hear,
A jolly old tune that he played by ear.

It was raining hard but the fiddler didn't care
He sawed away at the popular air,
Though his roof tree leaked like a water fall
That didn't seem to bother that man at all

A traveler was riding by that day,
And stopped to hear him a-practicing away
The cabin was afloat and his feet were wet,
But still the old man didn't seem to fret.

So the stranger said: "Now the way it seems to me,
You'd better mend your roof," said he.
But the old man said, as he played away:
"I couldn't mend it now, it's a rainy day."

The traveler replied: "That's all quite true,
But this, I think, is the thing for you to do;
Get busy on a day that is fair and bright,
Then pitch the old roof till it's good and tight."

But the old man kept on a-playing at his reel,
And tapped the ground with his leathery heel:
"Get along," said he, "for you give me a pain;
My cabin never leaks when it doesn't rain."

Hans Spielman, der hat eine einzige Kuh

Hans Spielman, der hat
Eine einzige Kuh,
Verkauft seine Kuh,
Kriegt 'ne Fiedel dafčr,
Du gute, alte Violin,
Du Violin, du Fidel mein.

Hans Spielmann, der spielt,
Und die Fiedel, die sang;
Das Mädel tat weinen,
Der Bursche, der sprang.
Du gute, alte Violin,
Du Violin, du Fidel mein.

Und werd' ich so alt,
Wie der älteste Baum,
Ich tauscht' für 'ne Kuh
Meine Fiedel wohl kaum.
Du gute, alte Violin,
Du Violin, du Fidel mein.

Und werd' ich so alt
Wie das Moos auf dem Stein,
Ich tausch' für ne Kuh
Meine Fiedel nicht ein.
Du gute, alte Violin,
Du Violin, du Fidel mein.

Uncle Jim
Alice Corbin, from Echoes of Childhood (A Folk-Medley)

Old Uncle Jim was as blind as a mole,
But he could fiddle Virginia Reels,
Till you felt the sap run out of your heels,
Till you knew the devil had got your soul -
Down the middle and swing yo' partners,
Up agin and salute her low,
Shake yo' foot an' keep a-goin',
Down the middle an' do-se-do!

Mind yo' manners an' doan git keerless,
Swing yo' lady and bow full low,
S'lute yo' partner an' turn yo' neighbor,
Gran'-right-an-'left, and aroun' you go!

A Minuet of Mozart's
Sara Teasdale, from Helen of Troy And Other Poems

Across the dimly lighted room
The violin drew wefts of sound,
Airily they wove and wound
And glimmered gold against the gloom.

I watched the music turn to light,
But at the pausing of the bow,
The web was broken and the glow
Was drowned within the wave of night.

The Violin - A Little Bit Nervous [original Russian text]
Vladimir Mayakovskiy (transl. Dorian Rottenberg)

The violin got all worked up, imploring
then suddenly burst into sobs,
so child-like
that the drum couldn't stand it:
"All right, all right, all right!"
But then he got tired, couldn't wait till the violin ended,
slipped out on the burning Kuznetsky
and took flight.
The orchestra looked on, chilly,
while the violin wept itself out
without reason
or rhyme,
and only somewhere,
a cymbal, silly,
kept clashing:
"What is it,
what's all the racket about?"
And when the helicon,
brass-faced, sweaty,
Be still!"
I staggered,
on to my feet getting,
and lumbered
over the horror-stuck music stands,
"Good God"
why, I myself couldn't tell;
then dashed, my arms round the wooden neck to fling:
"You know what, violin,
we're awfully alike;
I too
always yell,
but can't prove a thing!"
The musicains commented,
contemptuously smiling:
"Look at him-
come to his wooden-bride -
But I don't care -
I'm a good guy-
"You know, what, violin,
let's live together,

Blind Jack
Edgar Lee Masters, from Spoon River Anthology

I had fiddled all day at the county fair.
But driving home "Butch" Weldy and Jack McGuire,
Who were roaring full, made me fiddle and fiddle
To the song of Susie Skinner, while whipping the horses
Till they ran away. Blind as I was, I tried to get out
As the carriage fell in the ditch,
And was caught in the wheels and killed.
There's a blind man here with a brow
As big and white as a cloud.
And all we fiddlers, from highest to lowest,
Writers of music and tellers of stories
Sit at his feet,
And hear him sing of the fall of Troy.

Lied des Unmuts [excerpt]
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, from West-östlicher Divan

Keinen Reimer wird man finden
Der sich nicht den besten hielte,
Keinen Fiedler, der nicht lieber
Eigne Melodien spielte.

Fiddler Jones
Edgar Lee Masters, from Spoon River Anthology

The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind's in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to "Toor-a-Loor."
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill-only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle -
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.

The Compleat Virtuoso
Edward Lear

There was an old man of the Isles,
Whose face was pervaded with smiles;
He sang "High dum diddle",
And played on the fiddle,
That amiable man of the Isles.

Carl Sandburg, from Chicago Poems

A man saw the whole world as a grinning skull and
cross-bones. The rose flesh of life shriveled from all
faces. Nothing counts. Everything is a fake. Dust to
dust and ashes to ashes and then an old darkness and a
useless silence. So he saw it all. Then he went to a
Mischa Elman concert. Two hours waves of sound beat
on his eardrums. Music washed something or other
inside him. Music broke down and rebuilt something or
other in his head and heart. He joined in five encores
for the young Russian Jew with the fiddle. When he
got outside his heels hit the sidewalk a new way. He
was the same man in the same world as before. Only
there was a singing fire and a climb of roses everlastingly
over the world he looked on.

Carl Sandburg, from Cornhuskers


Sell me a violin, mister, of old mysterious wood.
Sell me a fiddle that has kissed dark nights on the forehead where men kiss sisters they love.
Sell me dried wood that has ached with passion clutching the knees and arms of a storm.
Sell me horsehair and rosin that has sucked at the breasts of the morning sun for milk.
Sell me something crushed in the heartsblood of pain readier than ever for one more song.

Best Violin
Emily Pohl-Weary

with the very best violin
strapped to the back
of his dad's grey trench coat
he survived somehow
wrote bad poetry
rode that rotting skateboard
like a blocked beat poet in search of inspiration
and God, the class belle loved his scent of pallid suicide

skipping class, palms sweaty
he was chubby acid-wash jeans
she was laughing blue eye shadow, mascara smudged, black cat earrings
oh, could they ever talk on the phone for hours

they were Betty and Archie
skating in Kensington Market
a year of punks,
subway stations,
vintage clothing shops

he wrote love in her yearbook
she introduced her mother
and, though she faked it,
she never could play the violin to save her life

Hombres con Violín
Carmen Conde

Esos hombres del violín llevan su voz en el brazo
como la vena firme de una canción muchacha.
Van celándola dulces, con los ojos cerrados,
todos brasa y suspiro del ensueño que llueve
diminuto rocío de aprisionadas flores
en los cuerpos fragrantes de sus violínes mťsicos,
aun con hojas y aromas del encendido bosque.

Un violín es la voz de una fuente con viento
a la que brizan ásperos y dulcĺsimos soplos.
Lo sabe quien lo pulsa, y flotan sus cabellos
como yerba que sube por el tronco de un árbol,
mientras la mano empuja hacia el cielo las cuerdas
y la otra recorre con el arco un zodíaco.

En rubio; huele a nardo en la noche con luna,
y de jazmines siembra la abandonada tarde.
Tan delgado y ligero como fueron las ninfas,
sinuoso y con algas, como verde sirena.
Es la voz que prefiere la Primavera fría.
Y al Otoño le cuenta que se fueron las aves.
Los cipreses la exhalan. El calor de los vuelos
en los violínes junta con las plumas los nidos.

The Touch of the Master's Hand
Myra Brooks Welch

Twas battered and scarred,
And the old auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
to waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile:

"What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,
"Who'll start the bidding for me?"
"A dollar, a dollar"; then, "Two!" "Only two?
Two dollars, and who'll make it three?
Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
going for three ..." but no.
From the room far back, a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;

Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said; "What am I bidden for the old violin?"
And he held it up with the bow.
"A thousand! And who'll make it two?
Two thousand! And who'll make it three?
Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,
And going, and gone," said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
"We do not quite understand
What changed it's worth." Swift came the reply:
"The touch of the master's hand."

And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
Much like this old violin.
A "mess of pottage,"
a glass of wine;
A game; and he travels on.
He is "going" once,
"going" twice,
He's "going" and almost "gone."

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that's wrought
By the touch of the Master's hand.

The Devil in the Violin [excerpt]
C. Dale Young

I was right. The poem was coming. I was pretty sure of it yesterday when I started knowing where the lines went, that one was the opening line, another the ultimate line. And I started seeing how other lines would fit here and there. And I called Jacob and pestered him about the opening of Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre." And I knew it right then and there the poem was taking on a life of its own. He must have heard the poem talking when I began to ask about the "devil" in the violin. He must have known when I asked him to define "Tritone," to explain to me how an augmented Fourth works. And when he told me how the violin must be tuned specifically to play this piece, the poem went nuts. THAT was it. That was IT.

April Played a Fiddle
Frank Sinatra

April played a fiddle
And my heart began to dance
And I was so surprised to find
My arms around romance.
April played a fiddle
And I memorized the tune
And later on, a dream and i
Went singing to the moon.
Then may began to gossip,
And june just winked her eye,
And you should have seen
The know-it-all expression on July.
April played a fiddle
Ah but here's the funny part,
I had to pay the fiddler
With my one and only heart.

A Seasonal Tradition
Pattiann Rogers, from Firekeeper: Selected Poems

Felicia's music teacher gives a concert for Sonia,
Cecil, Albert, Gordon and Felicia and her insane uncle
In the front parlor every holiday season.
After her traditional repertoire she always plays
One piece on her violin in a register so high
The music can't be heard.

The silence of the parlor during that piece
Is almost complete, broken only by the sputter
Of a candle, a creaking yawn from one of the dogs.

Albert admires the entranced look
On the music teacher's face and the curious trembling
Form other fingers as she plays. He thinks
He can hear the unheard music in the same way he can hear
Wind among the black strings of the icy willows blowing
In the tundra night. He thinks the silence he hears
Is the same silence found in the eyes of the frogs living
Below the mud at the bottom of the frozen bays.

With tears in her eyes, Felicia says the unheard song
Reminds her of the cries of unborn rice rats
And bog lemmings buried in the winter marsh
And the humming of the white hobblebush blossom still
In its seed and the trill of the unreal bird discovered
In the river trees by the river sun.

Watching the violinist swaying in her velvet gown,
Closing her eyes, pursing her lips, Cecil knows
Sonia is the only possible theme of this composition.

Hoping for a cure for Felicia's uncle, Sonia thinks
The inaudible music might be the unspoken speech
In which he is thought to have lost himself years ago.

At the conclusion of the piece (signaled
By the lowering of the violin) there is always spontaneous
Applause and much barking and leaping by the dogs.

The unheard composition is the one song
Most discussed later over tea and pastries,
And, although it was the subject of the quarrel
During which Cecil knocked Albert's doughnut
From his hand last year, it is still generally considered
The evening's greatest success.

36th Light Poem: In Memoriam Buster Keaton [excerpt]
Jackson Mac Low, from 9 Light Poems

As a Violinist
Buster surpasses Paganini
until Boston-Concert-Hall Light
Poisons him with Love for a Proper Bostonian Maiden

Thank God I'm a Country Boy
John Martin Sommers

Well life on the farm is kinda laid back
Ain't much an old country boy like me can't hack
It's early to rise, early in the sack
Thank God I'm a country boy

Well a simple kinda life never did me no harm
A raisin' me a family and workin' on a farm
My days are all filled with an easy country charm
Thank God I'm a country boy

Well I got me a fine wife I got me a fiddle
When the sun's comin' up I got cakes on the griddle
Life ain't nothin' but a funy funny riddle
Thank God I'm a country boy

When the work's all done and the sun's settlin' low
I pull out my fiddle and I rosin up the bow
The kids are asleep so I keep it kinda low
Thank God I'm a country boy

I'd play "Sally Goodin'" all day if I could
But the lord and my wife wouldn't take it very good
So I fiddle when I could, work when I should
Thank God I'm a country boy

Well I got me a fine wife, etc.

Well I wouldn't trade my life for diamonds and jewels
I never was one of them money hungry fools
Iid rather have my fiddle and my farmin' tools
Thank God I'm a country boy

Yeah, city folk drivin' in a black limousine
A lotta sad people thinkin' that's mighty keen
Son, let me tell ya now exactly what I mean
Thank God I'm a country boy

Well I got me a fine wife, etc.

Well, my fiddle was my daddy's till the day he died
And he took me by the hand and held me close to his side
Said, "live a good life and play my fiddle with pride
And thank God you're a country boy"

My daddy taught me young how to hunt and how to whittle
Taught me how to work and play a tune on the fiddle
Taught me how to love and how to give just a little
Thank God I'm a country boy

Well I got me a fine wife, etc.

Veronica Veronese [inscription]
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, from (spurious) Lettres de Girolamo Ridolfi

Se penchant vivement, la Veronica jeta les premières notes sur la feuille vierge. Ensuite elle prit l'archet du violon pour réaliser son rêve; mais avant de décrocher l'instrument suspendu, elle resta quelques instants immobile en écoutant l'oiseau inspirateur, pendant que sa main gauche errait sur les cordes cherchant le motif suprème encore eloigné. C'était le mariage des voix de la nature et de l'âme - l'aube d'une création mystique.

The Training of the Poet [excerpt]
James Fenton, from An Introduction to English Poetry

One problem we face, as aspiring poets, comes from the lack of any agreed sense of how we should be working in order to train ourselves to write poetry. The old joke - 'Can you play the violin?' 'I don't know-I've never tried' - depends on an understanding of a state of affairs that many a poet might find enviable: there is agreement as to what training and practice might be.

We know, of course, that we will never play the violin on the basis of inspiration alone, and we know that we are unlikely to work out the technique for ourselves, based on first principles. We know we need training and we know we need practice. Whichever direction our efforts lead us in, whether it is the concert hall or the gypsy band, we will know whether we come to be able to do what our peers or our mentors can do.

Supposing that we rise to the heights of our musical profession, we may reach a point when we cannot know for certain, because such things cannot be known by any artist, whether we are merely very good, or whether we have secured a truly distinguished place in the history of violin-playing. But, unless we are engaged in some gross and elaborate form of self-deception, we will roughly know what bracket we belong in.

Kindertoten [excerpt]
Nigel Jarrett

Berg's violin concerto commemorates
an "angel" đ it soars at the end
after much thunder, as sunlight
rallies this plot, climbing the wall
like a little juice-smudged scrumper.

Fairy Tale
Katherine Mansfield

Now this is the story of Olaf
Who ages and ages ago
Lived right on the top of a mountain,
A mountain all covered with snow.

And he was quite pretty and tiny
With beautiful curling fair hair
And small hands like delicate flowers -
Cheeks kissed by the cold mountain air.

He lived in a hut made of pinewood
Just one little room and a door
A table, a chair, and a bedstead
And animal skins on the floor.

Now Olaf was partly fairy
And so never wanted to eat;
He thought dewdrops and raindrops were plenty
And snowflakes and all perfumes sweet.

In the daytime when sweeping and dusting
And cleaning were quite at an end,
He would sit very still on the doorstep
And dream - O, that he had a friend!

Somebody to come when he called them,
Somebody to catch by the hand,
Somebody to sleep with at night time,
Somebody who'd quite understand.

One night in the middle of Winter
He lay wide awake on his bed,
Outside there was fury of tempest
And calling of wolves to be fed -

Thin wolves, grey and silent as shadows;
And Olaf was frightened to death.
He had peeped through a crack in the doorpost,
He had seen the white smoke of their breath.

But suddenly over the storm wind
He heard a small voice pleadingly
Cry, "I am a snow fairy, Olaf,
Unfasten the window for me."

So he did, and there flew through the opening
The daintiest, prettiest sprite
Her face and her dress and her stockings,
Her hands and her curls were all white.

And she said, "O you poor little stranger
Before I am melted, you know,
I have brought you a valuable present,
A little brown fiddle and bow.

So now you can never be lonely,
With a fiddle, you see, for a friend,
But all through the Summer and Winter
Play beautiful songs without end."

And then, - O she melted like water,
But Olaf was happy at last;
The fiddle he tucked in his shoulder,
He held his small bow very fast.

So perhaps on the quietest of evenings
If you listen, you may hear him soon,
The child who is playing the fiddle
Away up in the cold, lonely moon.

The Spirit lasts - but in what mode - [excerpt]
Emily Dickinson

The Music in the Violin
Does not emerge alone
But Arm in Arm with Touch, yet Touch
Alone - is not a Tune -

I think the longest Hour of all [excerpt]
Emily Dickinson

Then I - my timid service done -
Tho' service 'twas, of Love -
Take up my little Violin -
And further North - remove.

Béranger's "Broken Fiddle"
Eugene Field

There, there, poor dog, my faithful friend,
Pay you no heed unto my sorrow:
But feast to-day while yet you may, -
Who knows but we shall starve to-morrow!

"Give us a tune," the foemen cried,
In one of their profane caprices;
I bade them "No" - they frowned, and, lo!
They dashed this innocent in pieces!

This fiddle was the village pride -
The mirth of every fÉte enhancing;
Its wizard art set every heart
As well as every foot to dancing.

How well the bridegroom knew its voice,
As from its strings its song went gushing!
Nor long delayed the promised maid
Equipped for bridal, coy and blushing.

Why, it discoursed so merrily,
It quickly banished all dejection;
And yet, when pressed, our priest confessed
I played with pious circumspection.

And though, in patriotic song,
It was our guide, compatriot, teacher,
I never thought the foe had wrought
His fury on the helpless creature!

But there, poor dog, my faithful friend,
Pay you no heed unto my sorrow;
I prithee take this paltry cake, -
Who knows but we shall starve to-morrow!

Ah, who shall lead the Sunday choir
As this old fiddle used to do it?
Can vintage come, with this voice dumb
That used to bid a welcome to it?

It soothed the weary hours of toil,
It brought forgetfulness to debtors;
Time and again from wretched men
It struck oppression's galling fetters.

No man could hear its voice, and hate;
It stayed the teardrop at its portal;
With that dear thing I was a king
As never yet was monarch mortal!

Now has the foe - the vandal foe -
Struck from my hands their pride and glory;
There let it lie! In vengeance, I
Shall wield another weapon, gory!

And if, O countrymen, I fall,
Beside our grave let this be spoken:
"No foe of France shall ever dance
Above the heart and fiddle, broken!"

So come, poor dog, my faithful friend,
I prithee do not heed my sorrow,
But feast to-day while yet you may,
For we are like to starve to-morrow.

Der Nachbar
Rainer Maria Rilke

Fremde Geige, gehst du mir nach?
In wieviel fernen Städten schon sprach
deine einsame Nacht zu meiner?
Spielen dich hunderte? Spielt dich einer?

Gibt es in allen großen Städten
solche, die sich ohne dich
schon in den Flüßen verloren hŐtten?
Und warum trifft es immer mich?

Warum bin ich immer der Nachbar derer,
die dich bange zwingen zu singen
und zu sagen: Das Leben ist schwerer
als die Schwere von allen Dingen

Rainer Maria Rilke

Wie kann ich meine Seele in mir halten, damit
sie nicht Ihre Seele berührt? Wie kann ich sie stark genug,
hinter Ihnen, zu anderen Sachen anheben?
Ich möchte sie, unter verlorenen
entferntgegenständen, in irgendeinem dunklem und leisem Platz
schützen, der nicht wenn Ihr Tiefen resound mitschwingt.
Dennoch nimmt alles, das uns, mich und Sie
berührt, uns zusammen wie der Bogen einer Violine,
der eine Stimme aus zwei seperate Zeichenketten heraus zeichnet.
Nach welchem Instrument sind wir zwei überspannten?
Und welcher Musiker hält uns in seiner Hand?
OH - süssestes Lied.

Amphion [excerpt]
Alfred Lord Tennyson

O had I lived when song was great
In days of old Amphion,
And ta'en my fiddle to the gate,
Nor cared for seed or scion!
And had I lived when song was great,
And legs of trees were limber,
And ta'en my fiddle to the gate,
And fiddled in the timber!

The Man in the Moon Came Down too Soon
J.R.R. Tolkien

There is an inn, a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill.

The ostler has a tipsy cat
that plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he saws his bow
Now squeaking high, now purring low,
now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog
that is mighty fond of jokes;
When there's good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests
and laughs until he chokes.

They also keep a hornéd cow
as proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail
and dance upon the green.

And O! the rows of silver dishes
and the store of silver spoons!
For Sunday there's a special pair,
And these they polish up with care
on Saturday afternoons.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,
and the cat began to wail;
A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced
and the little dog chased his tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,
and then rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale,
and dawn was in the air.

Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat:
'The white horses of the Moon,
They neigh and champ their silver bits;
But their master's been and drowned his wits,
and the Sun'll be rising soon!'

So the cat on the fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
a jig that would wake the dead:
He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon:
'It's after three!' he said.

They rolled the Man slowly up the hill
and bundled him into the Moon,
While his horses galloped up in rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
and a dish ran up with the spoon.

Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;
the dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
The guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor.

With a ping and a pang the fiddle-strings broke!
the cow jumped over the Moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
with the silver Sunday spoon.

The Nightingale [excerpt]

They hadn't been standin' a minute or two,
When out of his knapsack a fiddle he drew;
And the tune that he played made the valleys all ring,
Made the waters go glidin', made the nightingale sing!

The Waggoner: Canto Second
William Wordsworth

If Wytheburn's modest House of prayer,
As lowly as the lowliest dwelling,
Had, with its belfry's humble stock,
A little pair that hang in air,
Been mistress also of a clock,
(And one, too, not in crazy plight)
Twelve strokes that clock would have been telling
Under the brow of old Helvellyn -
Its bead-roll of midnight,
Then, when the Hero of my tale
Was passing by, and, down the vale
(The vale now silent, hushed I ween
As if a storm had never been)
Proceeding with a mind at ease;
While the old Familiar of the seas,
Intent to use his utmost haste,
Gained ground upon the Waggon fast,
And gives another lusty cheer;
For spite of rumbling of the wheels,
A welcome greeting he can hear; -
It is a fiddle in its glee
Dinning from the CHERRY TREE!
Thence the sound - the light is there - 0
As Benjamin is now aware,
Who, to his inward thoughts confined,
Had almost reached the festive door,
When, startled by the Sailor's roar,
He hears a sound and sees a light,
And in a moment calls to mind
That 'tis the village MERRY-NIGHT!
Although before in no dejection,
At this insidious recollection
His heart with sudden joy is filled, -
His ears are by the music thrilled,
His eyes take pleasure in the road
Glittering before him bright and broad;
And Benjamin is wet and cold,
And there are reasons manifold
That make the good, tow'rds which he's yearning,
Look fairly like a lawful earning.
Nor has thought time to come and go,
To vibrate between yes and no;
For, cries the Sailor, "Glorious chance
That blew us hither! - let him dance,
Who can or will! - my honest soul,
Our treat shall be a friendly bowl!"
He draws him to the door - "Come in,
Come, come," cries he to Benjamin!
And Benjamin - ah, woe is me!
Gave the word - the horses heard
And halted, though reluctantly.
"Blithe souls and lightsome hearts have we,
Feasting at the CHERRY TREE!"
This was the outside proclamation,
This was the inside salutation;
What bustling - jostling - high and low!
A universal overflow!
What tankards foaming from the tap!
What store of cakes in every lap!
What thumping - stumping - overhead!
The thunder had not been more busy:
With such a stir you would have said,
This little place may well be dizzy!
'Tis who can dance with greatest vigour -
'Tis what can be most prompt and eager;
As if it heard the fiddle's call,
The pewter clatters on the wall;
The very bacon shows its feeling,
Swinging from the smoky ceiling!
A steaming bowl, a blazing fire,
What greater good can heart desire?
'Twere worth a wise man's while to try
The utmost anger of the sky:
To 'seek' for thoughts of a gloomy cast,
If such the bright amends at last.
Now should you say I judge amiss,
The CHERRY TREE shows proof of this;
For soon of all the happy there,
Our Travellers are the happiest pair;
All care with Benjamin is gone -
A Caesar past the Rubicon!
He thinks not of his long, long strife; -
The Sailor, Man by nature gay,
Hath no resolves to throw away;
And he hath now forgot his Wife,
Hath quite forgotten her - or may be
Thinks her the luckiest soul on earth,
Within that warm and peaceful berth,
Under cover,
Terror over,
Sleeping by her sleeping Baby,
With bowl that sped from hand to hand,
The gladdest of the gladsome band,
Amid their own delight and fun,
They hear - when every dance is done,
When every whirling bout is o'er -
The fiddle's 'squeak' - that call to bliss,
Ever followed by a kiss;
They envy not the happy lot,
But enjoy their own the more!
While thus our jocund Travellers fare,
Up springs the Sailor from his chair -
Limps (for I might have told before
That he was lame) across the floor -
Is gone - returns - and with a prize;
With what? - a Ship of lusty size;
A gallant stately Man-of-war,
Fixed on a smoothly-sliding car.
Surprise to all, but most surprise
To Benjamin, who rubs his eyes,
Not knowing that he had befriended
A Man so gloriously attended!
"This," cries the Sailor, "a Third-rate is -
Stand back, and you shall see her gratis!
This was the Flag-ship at the Nile,
The Vanguard - you may smirk and smile,
But, pretty Maid, if you look near,
You'll find you've much in little here!
A nobler ship did never swim,
And you shall see her in full trim:
I'll set, my friends, to do you honour,
Set every inch of sail upon her."
So said, so done; and masts, sails, yards, 0
He names them all; and interlards
His speech with uncouth terms of art,
Accomplished in the showman's part;
And then, as from a sudden check,
Cries out - "'Tis there, the quarter-deck
On which brave Admiral Nelson stood -
A sight that would have roused your blood!
One eye he had, which, bright as ten,
Burned like a fire among his men;
Let this be land, and that be sea,
Here lay the French - and 'thus' came we!"
Hushed was by this the fiddle's sound,
The dancers all were gathered round,
And, such the stillness of the house,
You might have heard a nibbling mouse;
While, borrowing helps where'er he may,
The Sailor through the story runs
Of ships to ships and guns to guns;
And does his utmost to display
The dismal conflict, and the might
And terror of that marvellous night!
"A bowl, a bowl of double measure,"
Cries Benjamin, "a draught of length,
To Nelson, England's pride and treasure,
Her bulwark and her tower of strength!"
When Benjamin had seized the bowl,
The mastiff, from beneath the waggon,
Where he lay, watchful as a dragon,
Rattled his chain; - 'twas all in vain,
For Benjamin, triumphant soul!
He heard the monitory growl;
Heard - and in opposition quaffed
A deep, determined, desperate draught!
Nor did the battered Tar forget,
Or flinch from what he deemed his debt:
Then, like a hero crowned with laurel,
Back to her place the ship he led;
Wheeled her back in full apparel;
And so, flag flying at mast head,
Re-yoked her to the Ass: - anon,
Cries Benjamin, "We must be gone.
Thus, after two hours' hearty stay,
Again behold them on their way!

Nauka [excerpt]
Anton Chekhov

To regard one's immortality as an exchange of matter is as strange as predicting the future of a violin case once the expensive violin it held has broken and lost its worth.

The Violinist
Archibald Lampman

In Dresden in the square one day,
His face of parchment, seamed and gray,
With wheezy bow and proffered hat,
An old blind violinist sat.

Like one from whose worn heart to heat
Of life had long ago retired,
He played to the unheeding street
Until the thin old hands were tired.

Few marked the player how he played,
Or how the child beside his knee
Besought the passers-by for aid
So softly and so wistfully.

A stranger passed. The little hand
Went forth, so often checked and spurned.
The stranger wavered, came to stand,
Looked round with absent eyes and turned.

He saw the sightless withered face,
The tired old hands, the whitened hair,
The child with such a mournful grace,
The little features pinched and spare.

"I have no money, but," said he,
"Give me the violin and bow.
I'll play a little, we shall see,
Whether the gold will come or no."

With lifted brow and flashing eyes
He faced the noisy street and played.
The people turned in quick surprise,
And every foot drew near and stayed.

First from the shouting bow he sent
A summons, an impetuous call;
Then some old store of grief long pent
Broke from his heart and mastered all.

Th tumult sank at his command,
The passing wheels were hushed and stilled;
The burning soul, the sweeping hand
A sacred ecstasy fulfilled.

The darkness of the outer strife,
The weariness and want within,
The giant wrongfulness of life,
Leaped storming from the violin.

Th jingling round of pleasure broke,
Gay carriages were drawn anear,
And all the proud and haughty folk
Leaned from their cushioned seats to hear.

And then the player changed his tone,
And wrought another miracle
Of music, half a prayer, half moan,
A cry exceeding sorrowful.

A strain of pity for the weak,
The poor that fall without a cry,
The common hearts that never speak,
But break beneath the press and die.

Throughout the great and silent crowd
The music fell on human ears,
And many kindly heads were bowed,
And many eyes were warm with tears.

"And now your gold," the player cried,
"While love is master of your mood;"
He bowed, and turned, and slipped aside,
And vanished in the multitude.

And all the people flocked at that,
The money like a torrent rolled,
Until the gray old battered hat
Was bursting to the brim with gold.

And loudly as the giving grew,
The question rose on every part,
If any named or any knew
The stranger with so great a heart,

Or what the moving wonder meant,
Such playing never heard before;
A lady from her carriage leant,
And murmured softly, "It was Spohr."

Prayer to Escape the East [excerpt]
Christopher Buckley

Down a side street, the wind goes on
tuning its violin, a pizzicato off
the thin strings of hope, a melody
of dust.

Blue Blooded Woman
Alan Jackson

She loves a violin, I love a fiddle
We go separate ways but we meet in the middle
Don't see eye to eye but we're hand in hand
A blue blooded woman and a redneck man

The lady I love loves silk and satin
She was raised uptown with a silver spoon
Well, I was born on a farm just south of Jackson
We had an old ford tractor and a country moon

She loves a violin, etc.

She's Saks Fifth Avenue perfection
Caviar and dignified
Well, I live my life in Wal-Mart fashion
And I like my sushi southern fried

She loves a violin, etc.

The Dancing Seal
Wilfred Wilson Gibson

When we were building Skua Light -
The first men who had lived a night
Upon that deep-sea Isle -
As soon as chisel touched the stone,
The friendly seals would come ashore;
And sit and watch us all the while,
As though they'd not seen men before;
And so, poor beasts, had never known
Men had the heart to do them harm.
They'd little cause to feel alarm
With us, for we were glad to find
Some friendliness in that strange sea;
Only too pleaed to let them be
And sit as long as they'd a mind
To watch us: for their eyes were kind
Like women's eyes, it seemed to me.
So, hour on hour, they sat: I think
They liked to hear the chisels clink:
And when the boy sang loud and clear,
They scrambled closer in to hear;
And if he whistled sweet and shrill,
The queer beasts shuffled nearer still:
But every sleek and sheeny skin
Was mad to hear his violin.

When, work all over for the day,
He'd take his fiddle down and play
His merry tunes beside the sea,
Their eyes grew brighter and more bright,
And burned and twinkled merrily:
And as I watched them one still night,
And saw their eager sparkling eyes,
I felt those lively seals would rise
Some shiny night ere he could know,
And dance about him, heel and toe,
Unto the fiddle's heady tune.

And at the rising of the moon,
Half-daft, I took my stand before
A young seal lying on the shore;
And called on her to dance with me.
And it seemed hardly strange when she
Stood up before me suddenly,
And shed her black and sheeny skin;
And smiled, all eager to begin...
And I was dancing, heel and toe,
With a young maiden, white as snow,
Unto a crazy violin.

We danced beneath the dancing moon
All night, beside the dancing sea,
With tripping toes and skipping heels:
And all about us friendly seals
Like Christian folk were dancing reels
Unto the fiddle's endless tune
That kept on spinning merrily
As though it never meant to stop.
And never once the snow-white maid
A moment stayed
To take a breath,
Though I was fit to drop:
And while those wild eyes challenged me,
I knew as well as well could be
I must keep step with that young girl,
Though we should dance to death.

Then with a skirl
The fiddle broke:
The moon went out:
The sea stopped dead:
And, in a twinkling, all the rout
Of dancing folk had fled...
And in the chill bleak dawn I woke
Upon the naked rock, alone.

They've brought me far from Skua Isle...
I laugh to think they do not know
That as, all day I chip the stone,
Among my fellows here inland,
I smell the sea-wrack on the shore...
And see her snowy-tossing hand,
And meet again her merry smile...
And dream I'm dancing all the while,
I'm dancing ever, heel and toe,
With a seal-maiden, white as snow,
On that moonshiny Island-strand,
For ever and for evermore.

If You're Gonna Play in Texas
Dan Mitchell and Murray Kellum

If you're gonna play in Texas,
You gotta have a fiddle in the band.
That lead guitar is hot,
But not for Lousiana man.
So rosin up that bow for faded love
And let's all dance.
If you're gonna play in Texas,
You gotta have a fiddle in the band.

I remember down in Houston
We were puttin' on a show
When a cowboy in the back stood up and yelled,
Cotton-eyed Joe!
He said, we love what you're doin'.
Boys don't get us wrong,
There's just somethin' missin' in your song.

So we dusted off our boots and put our cowboy hats on straight.
Them Texans raised the roof when jeff opened up his case.
You say y'all all wanna two-step. you say ya wanna doe-si-doe.
Well, here's a fiddlin' song before we go.

Nacken - Water Demon
Erik Johan Stagnelius

The evening is festooned with golden clouds
the fairies dance in the meadow
and the leaf-crowned Nacken
plays his fiddle in the silvery brook.
Little boy in the brush on the bank
resting in the violet vapor
hears the noise from the chilly water
calls out in the night.

"Poor old fellow, why do you play?
will it take the pain away?
you bring the woods and the fields to life
but you'll never be a child of God.

Paradise's moonlit nights
eden's flower-crowned plains
angels of the light on high -
never to be beheld by your eye."

Tears stream down the old man's face
down he dives into the rapids
the fiddle silences.
And the Nacken will never
play again in the silvery brook.

the talented family [excerpts]
Robert Peters, from Holy Cow: Parable Poems


my father makes mandolins
of rosin and turtle shells.
my mother plays the violin.
my brother raises poodles for
senior citizens. my sister
has few brains. each day
she explains by letter
that she's getting better.
she knows that roses glow
when the desert hot winds blow.


my dad was dead: he'd tried to shoot
a rabid dog and missed. my mother's
face was covered with paste. her
breasts were bare. "Come in," she said,
in bed. She took her violin. She
lit a candle and played a little air
from Handel. "Your sister, I'm afraid
is off her rocker. Your brother's trade
in pets is through, he's screwing
the old women. Now, son, tell me
what you've done."

That fiddle's got the devil in it!
Scott Emmons


Paganini, Paganini,
Mortal, demon, witch or genie,
Mephistophelean maestro
Of the mystic violin!
With the sting of your staccato
And your prickly pizzicato,
When you'd diddle on your fiddle,
It was little short of sin.

Paganini, Paganini,
Lean and lanky like linguine,
With a manner that was manically
Satanic when you played,
How your haunting hint of Hades
Would inflame the local ladies.
You were fiery, you were wiry,
You were very often laid!

Paganini, Paganini,
You're the fiddler's own Houdini,
A magician-cum-musician,
Be you devil, be you man.
Give the opera buffs Rossini,
Give 'em Verdi and Puccini.
Call me geek or call me weenie,
I'm a Paganini fan!

To a Gentleman, who presented the Author with a Violin
Charles Valentine Le Grice

O! Harmony, sweet minstrel of the spheres,
Who know'st to raise the rapturous glow,
Or wake the tenderest tear of woe,
Come, dear companion of my future years!
Oft in sorrow's saddest hour
The softest magic of thy power,
Shall sooth my troubled breast to peace,
Till the hushed storm shall seem to cease;
Oft, when the tumults of my joy run high,
Shall lull my melted soul in extasy.
- While still, O L - n, still shall Memory
Uprear her listening head, and, as they float,
Still catch the cadence of each thrilling note
Thinking it sounds of Gratitude and Thee.

Sheila Black

You must use the body - its curves,
its hollows, the spring of the sound, which
brings back what is absent, what has
been and is now gone, fading. Cat-gut,
fret, the busy machinery of longing,
which takes its strength from the
presence of absence, the body's darkness,
the wood carved out, thinned and
made to flex. There is a pain at the
source of it - so easily broken, this tree
without a heart, the sap dried to amber
patina. Only in the sound can you
hear it move, the veins in the blood of
the body that is no more. The bow pulled
along the taut strings, a pitch that
is all but unbearable.

The Fiddler
Hans Christian Andersen

In the little town there is much festivity:
they are holding a wedding there with dance and play.
To the happy man, the wine sparkles so red;
but the bride looks like whitewashed death.

Yes, dead she is to him whom she cannot forget;
he is at the feast but not as the bridegroom.
He stands among the guests at the inn,
stroking his fiddle cheerily enough.

He strokes his fiddle, his hair turning grey.
The strings resound: shrill and loud;
he presses it to his heart, paying no heed
whether it breaks into a thousand pieces.

It is quite hideous when one dies this way,
his heart young and still striving for joy.
I cannot and will not watch any longer!
It will make my head spin.

Who are you, with your fingers pointing at me?
O God - graciously protect us
from the madness that may overwhelm us.
For I am myself a poor musician.

Playing Violin in Seventh Grade
Dick Allen, from Ode to the Cold War: Poems New and Selected

I kept my eyes on the teacher conducting, his eyebrows
arched, his arms lifted like birds over a field. He sucked in his breath,
and I placed my violin with its chin pad the color of fertile ground
under my jaw, positioned my bow on the strings above the little bridge
like one my family drove over each fall to the apple cider mill.

I heard my father clear his throat in an otherwise silent
auditorium, the soft horse hair of my bow a bundle of brittle
leaves rasping across concrete. I closed my eyes, saw the cider mill's
wishing well with shining coins under water, my shoulders
hunched high as the bucket, its rope tight around the windlass.

The Violin-Maker
Michael Cope, from Some Examples of Silence

Joey Finkl calls himself the last anarchist in town.
He's been here over fifty years, making fiddles,
right here (except the wars) six days each week,
sometimes seven. "I don't go with religion.
I work when I like. That's most of the time,
because, you see, I love to make them,
my babies, hmmm." He reaches among
the shavings and tools and dried out glue pots
and oil rags for a block of wood on which
is drawn the fine curved outline of a violin.

He holds the block up to his ear, knocks
with a knuckle whose backlit white hairs
make lines of light. He says, "Listen to that.
With care it will sing. You can hear it. Listen."

He says, "Most people don't take care,
and you know why? Because they don't care.
Look at it for yourself: Apartheid, the rich
robbing the poor, the poor, they rob each other.
Sure, some people fight for them, and a few
of the poor fight too, but that's not enough,
all of the people must care enough
to stand up for themselves. I fought in Spain,
and against Hitler, in Africa.
Then I got tired of fighting.
It has no heart. Music is better."

He tucks the block of wood under his chin
and humming, bows the air left-handed. He says:
"We can live without money, without nations,"
and he spits into the shavings,
"without rabbis and priests,"
he moves his hand to pat his heart
and the block falls to the dust and he ignores it,
touching his breast: "But without this heart
we are nothing, and less than nothing."

The Autocrat of the Breakfast-table [excerpt]
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Violins, too, - the sweet old Amati! - the divine Stradivarius! Played on by ancient MAESTROS until the bow-hand lost its power and the flying fingers stiffened. Bequeathed to the passionate, young enthusiast, who made it whisper his hidden love, and cry his inarticulate longings, and scream his untold agonies, and wail his monotonous despair. Passed from his dying hand to the cold VIRTUOSO, who let it slumber in its case for a generation, till, when his hoard was broken up, it came forth once more and rode the stormy symphonies of royal orchestras, beneath the rushing bow of their lord and leader. Into lonely prisons with improvident artists; into convents from which arose, day and night, the holy hymns with which its tones were blended; and back again to orgies in which it learned to howl and laugh as if a legion of devils were shut up in it; then again to the gentle DILETTANTE who calmed it down with easy melodies until it answered him softly as in the days of the old MAESTROS. And so given into our hands, its pores all full of music; stained, like the meerschaum, through and through, with the concentrated hue and sweetness of all the harmonies which have kindled and faded on its strings.

The Violin
J.E. Ball

The Violin, all good musicians say,
While yet in babyhood you must begin;
And so, beneath my little rounded chin,
'Twas promptly tucked, and I began to play
          The Violin.

No ear had I, or skill; but Discipline
Recked not of that; and so I sawed away,
And rent the air with Purgatorial din;
Pondering the while, profoundly, day by day,
Of dark recesses, secret nooks, wherein
I might (with Providential aid) mislay
          The Violin.

Taking Violin at School
April Halprin Wayland, from Girl Coming in for a Landing - A Novel in Poems

I open my case
tighten my bow
pluck a string to tune.
I love to listen to it chirp across the echoing room.

My friends are in class
reading about
a famous English king.
But I am training this wooden bird upon my arm to sing.

The Corn Stalk Fiddle
Paul Laurence Dunbar

When the corn's all cut and the bright stalks shine
Like the burnished spears of a field of gold;
When the field-mice rich on the nubbins dine,
And the frost comes white and the wind blows cold;
Then it 's heigho! fellows and hi-diddle-diddle,
For the time is ripe for the corn-stalk fiddle.

And you take a stalk that is straight and long,
With an expert eye to its worthy points,
And you think of the bubbling strains of song
That are bound between its pithy joints -
Then you cut out strings, with a bridge in the middle,
With a corn-stalk bow for a corn-stalk fiddle.

Then the strains that grow as you draw the bow
O'er the yielding strings with a practised hand!
And the music's flow never loud but low
Is the concert note of a fairy band.
Oh, your dainty songs are a misty riddle
To the simple sweets of the corn-stalk fiddle.

When the eve comes on, and our work is done,
And the sun drops down with a tender glance,
With their hearts all prime for the harmless fun,
Come the neighbor girls for the evening's dance,
And they wait for the well-known twist and twiddle -
More time than tune - from the corn-stalk fiddle.

Then brother Jabez takes the bow,
While Ned stands off with Susan Bland,
Then Henry stops by Milly Snow,
And Jolm takes Nellie Jones's hand,
While I pair off with Mandy Biddle,
And scrape, scrape, scrape goes the corn-stalk fiddle.

"Salute your partners," comes the call,
"All join hands and circle round,"
"Grand train back," and "Balance all,"
Footsteps lightly spurn the ground.
"Take your lady and balance down the middle"
To the merry strains of the corn-stalk fiddle.

So the night goes on and the dance is o'er,
And the merry girls are homeward gone,
But I see it all in my sleep once more,
And I dream till the very break of dawn
Of an impish dance on a red-hot griddle
To the screech and scrape of a corn-stalk fiddle.

The "Borried" Fiddle
Dee Strickland Johnson

We all went down to Pueblo Park
     to hear Don Johnson play;
      He's durn sure the finest fiddler
that has wandered out this way!
But I 'spose you've heard Don fiddle;
      if you haven't, well you should.
I name him best in the whole Southwest -
     and that is mighty good!

Well,this old gent came ambling by,
     said his name was L.B. Wray,
'llowed as how he's from Illinois,
     and if he had a fiddle, he'd play.
"Well," said that Johnson feller,
     "We'd sure like to hear you play!"
And he handed him his fiddle -
     all tuned to a perfect "A".

Well, the old man took Don's fiddle
     and adjusted all the strings;
He listened carefully and long
     before he played a thing.
For it isn't just perfection
     that you're listening to hear
It must fit the heart that's playing,
     as well as please the ear.
And when he'd tightened up the bow,
     and rechecked all the strings,
He took that bow in his old right hand,
     and he made that fiddle sing!

Oh, it wasn't to the quality
     of Johnson's, understand,
But you had to make allowance
     for the trembling of the hands,
And the years without a fiddle,
     and the mind a-running back
Over waltzes, reels, and hoedowns
     that he'd fiddled in the past.

And when he'd finished playing,
      there was silence - then applause,
But you couldn't help but notice
     that little bit of pause;
It's the highest form of honor
     that an audience imparts
It's a tribute to musicians -
     for they know they've touched your hearts.

So I love this sad old picture
     of the fiddler L.B. Wray
When he "tuned" that "borried" fiddle,
     and he "reckoned" he would play.

Angel with a Fiddle
Bette Wolf Duncan

Tall 'n lean 'n lanky,
with a fiddle 'neath his chin....
the days weren't quite so cruel
when he played his violin.
Depression years - the thirties-
hard times all around.
When Palmer played his fiddle,
trouble filtered through the sound
and somehow seemed more bearable-
more apt t' go away;
and listenin' folks were certain-
there would be a kinder day.

With pennies in their pockets
and debits by the score
when Palmer started fiddlin'
none a' them were poor.
Magical it was, the way
cares filtered through the sound;
till folks were certain, down the road
times 'd turn around.
When Palmer played his fiddle
couldn't hear no angels sing...
but in the harshest winter
it felt a bit like Spring.

The Vagabonds
John Townsend Trowbridge

We are two travellers, Roger and I.
Roger's my dog. - Come here, you scamp!
Jump for the gentlemen, - mind your eye!
Over the table, - look out for the lamp!
The rogue is growing a little old;
Five years we've tramped through wind and weather,
And slept out-doors when nights were cold,
And ate and drank - and starved - together.

We've learned what comfort is, I tell you!
A bed on the floor, a bit of rosin,
A fire to thaw our thumbs (poor fellow!
The paw he holds up there's been frozen),
Plenty of catgut for my fiddle
(This out-door business is bad for strings),
Then a few nice buckwheats hot from the griddle,
And Roger and I set up for kings!

No, thank ye, Sir, - I never drink;
Roger and I are exceedingly moral, -
Are n't we, Roger? - See him wink! -
Well, something hot, then, - we won't quarrel.
He's thirsty, too, - see him nod his head?
What a pity, Sir, that dogs can't talk!
He understands every word that's said, -
And he knows good milk from water-and-chalk.

The truth is, Sir, now I reflect,
I've been so sadly given to grog,
I wonder I've not lost the respect
(Here's to you, Sir!) even of my dog.
But he sticks by, through thick and thin;
And this old coat, with its empty pockets,
And rags that smell of tobacco and gin,
He'll follow while he has eyes in his sockets.

There is n't another creature living
Would do it, and prove, through every disaster,
So fond, so faithful, and so forgiving,
To such a miserable, thankless master!
No, Sir! - see him wag his tail and grin!
By George! it makes my old eyes water!
That is, there's something in this gin
That chokes a fellow. But no matter!

We'll have some music, if you're willing,
And Roger (hem! what a plague a cough is, Sir!)
Shall march a little - Start, you villain!
Paws up! Eyes front! Salute your officer!
'Bout face! Attention! Take your rifle!
(Some dogs have arms, you see!) Now hold your
Cap while the gentlemen give a trifle,
To aid a poor old patriot soldier!

March! Halt! Now show how the rebel shakes
When he stands up to hear his sentence.
Now tell us how many drams it takes
To honor a jolly new acquaintance.
Five yelps, - that's five; he's mighty knowing!
The night's before us, fill the glasses! -
Quick, Sir! I'm ill, - my brain is going! -
Some brandy, - thank you, - there! - it passes!

Why not reform? That's easily said;
But I've gone through such wretched treatment,
Sometimes forgetting the taste of bread.
And scarce remembering what meat meant,
That my poor stomach's past reform;
And there are times when, mad with thinking,
I'd sell out heaven for something warm
To prop a horrible inward sinking.

Is there a way to forget to think?
At your age, Sir, home, fortune, friends,
A dear girl's love, - but I took to drink, -
The same old story; you know how it ends.
If you could have seen these classic features, -
You need n't laugh, Sir; they were not then
Such a burning libel on God's creatures:
I was one of your handsome men!

If you had seen her, so fair and young,
Whose head was happy on this breast!
If you could have heard the songs I sung
When the wine went round, you wouldn't have guessed
That ever I, Sir, should be straying
From door to door, with fiddle and dog,
Ragged and penniless, and playing
To you to-night for a glass of grog!

She's married since, - a parson's wife:
'T was better for her that we should part, -
Better the soberest, prosiest life
Than a blasted home and a broken heart.
I have seen her? Once: I was weak and spent
On the dusty road: a carriage stopped:
But little she dreamed, as on she went,
Who kissed the coin that her fingers dropped!

You've set me talking, Sir; I'm sorry;
It makes me wild to think of the change!
What do you care for a beggar's story?
Is it amusing? you find it strange?
I had a mother so proud of me!
'T was well she died before. - Do you know
If the happy spirits in heaven can see
The ruin and wretchedness here below?

Another glass, and strong, to deaden
This pain; then Roger and I will start.
I wonder, has he such a lumpish, leaden,
Aching thing in place of a heart?
He is sad sometimes, and would weep, if he could,
No doubt remembering things that were, -
A virtuous kennel, with plenty of food,
And himself a sober, respectable cur.

I'm better now; that glass was warming. -
You rascal! limber your lazy feet!
We must be fiddling and performing
For supper and bed, or starve in the street. -
Not a very gay life to lead, you think?
But soon we shall go where lodgings are free,
And the sleepers need neither victuals nor drink: -
The sooner, the better for Roger and me!

The Fiddler of Dooney
William Butler Yeats, from The Wind Among the Reeds

When I play on my fiddle in Dooney,
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,
My brother in Moharabuiee.

I passed my brother and cousin:
They read in their books of prayer;
I read in my book of songs
I bought at the Sligo fair.

When we come at the end of time,
To Peter sitting in state,
He will smile on the three old spirits,
But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,
They will all come up to me,
With 'Here is the fiddler of Dooney!'
And dance like a wave of the sea.

To My Father's Violin
Thomas Hardy

Does he want you down there
In the Nether Glooms where
The hours may be a dragging load upon him,
As he hears the axle grind
Round and round
Of the great world, in the blind
Still profound
Of the night-time? He might liven at the sound
Of your string, revealing you had not forgone him.

In the gallery west the nave,
But a few yards from his grave,
Did you, tucked beneath his chin, to his bowing
Guide the homely harmony
Of the quire
Who for long years strenuously -
Son and sire -
Caught the strains that at his fingering low or higher
From your four thin threads and eff-holes came outflowing.

And, too, what merry tunes
He would bow at nights or noons
That chanced to find him bent to lute a measure,
When he made you speak his heart
As in dream,
Without book or music-chart,
On some theme
Elusive as a jack-o'-lanthorn's gleam,
And the psalm of duty shelved for trill of pleasure.

Well, you can not, alas,
The barrier overpass
That screens him in those Mournful Meads hereunder,
Where no fiddling can be heard
In the glades
Of silentness, no bird
Thrills the shades;
Where no viol is touched for songs or serenades,
No bowing wakes a congregation's wonder.

He must do without you now,
Stir you no more anyhow
To yearning concords taught you in your glory;
While, your strings a tangled wreck,
Once smart drawn,
Ten worm-wounds in your neck,
Purflings wan
With dust-hoar, here alone I sadly con
Your present dumbness, shape your olden story.

At the Railway Station, Upway
Thomas Hardy

"There is not much that I can do,
For I've no money that's quite my own!"
Spoke up the pitying child -
A little boy with a violin
At the station before the train came in, -
"But I can play my fiddle to you,
And a nice one 'tis, and good in tone!"

The man in the handcuffs smiled;
The constable looked, and he smiled, too,
As the fiddle began to twang;
And the man in the handcuffs suddenly sang
"This life so free
Is the thing for me!"
And the constable smiled, and said no word,
As if unconscious of what he heard;
And so they went on till the train came in -
The convict, and boy with the violin.

He Plays the Violin
Sherman Edwards, from 1776

He plays the violin
He tucks it right under his chin
And he bows, oh he bows
For he knows, yes he knows
That it's hi-hi-hi-diddle diddle
It's my heart, Tom and his fiddle
My strings are unstrung
I am undone

I hear his violin
And I get that feeling within
And I sigh, oh I sigh
He draws near, very near
And it's hi-hi-hi-diddle diddle
Goodbye to the fiddle
My strings are unstrung
I'm always undone

When heaven calls to me
Sing me no sad eulogy
Say I die, loving bride
Loving wife, loving life

For it was hi-hi-hi-hi-diddle diddle
'Twixt my heart, Tom, and his fiddle
And ever 'twill be
Through eternity

He plays the violin.

The Fiddler
Lola Ridge, from The Ghetto and Other Poems

In a little Hungarian cafe
Men and women are drinking
Yellow wine in tall goblets.

Through the milky haze of the smoke,
The fiddler, under-sized, blond,
Leans to his violin
As to the breast of a woman.
Red hair kindles to fire
On the black of his coat-sleeve,
Where his white thin hand
Trembles and dives,
Like a sliver of moonlight,
When wind has broken the water.

A Fiddler in the North
Robert Burns (tune: "The King o' France he rade a race")

Amang the trees, where humming bees,
At buds and flowers were hinging, O,
Auld Caledon drew out her drone,
And to her pipe was singing, O:
'Twas Pibroch, Sang, Strathspeys, and Reels,
She dirl'd them aff fu' clearly, O:
When there cam' a yell o' foreign squeels,
That dang her tapsalteerie, O.

Their capon craws an' queer "ha, ha's,"
They made our lugs grow eerie, O;
The hungry bike did scrape and fyke,
Till we were wae and weary, O:
But a royal ghaist, wha ance was cas'd,
A prisoner, aughteen year awa',
He fir'd a Fiddler in the North,
That dang them tapsalteerie, O.

O Rattlin', Roarin' Willie
Robert Burns

O Rattlin', roarin' Willie,
O he held to the fair,
An' for to sell his fiddle
And buy some other ware;
But parting wi' his fiddle,
The saut tear blin't his e'e;
And Rattlin', roarin' Willie,
Ye're welcome hame to me.

O Willie, come sell your fiddle,
O sell your fiddle sae fine;
O Willie, come sell your fiddle,
And buy a pint o' wine;
If I should sell my fiddle,
The warl' would think I was mad,
For mony a rantin' day
My fiddle and I hae had.

As I cam by Crochallan
I cannily keekit ben,
Rattlin', roarin' Willie
Was sitting at yon boord-en',
Sitting at yon boord-en',
And amang guid companie;
Rattlin', roarin' Willie,
Ye're welcome hame to me!

Stravinsky's Three Pieces "Grotesques", for String Quartet: Second Movement
Amy Lowell

Pale violin music whiffs across the moon,
A pale smoke of violin music blows over the moon,
Cherry petals fall and flutter,
And the white Pierrot,
Wreathed in the smoke of the violins,
Splashed with cherry petals falling, falling,
Claws a grave for himself in the fresh earth
With his finger-nails.

The Cremona Violin
Amy Lowell, from Men, Women and Ghosts Part 01

Frau Concert-Meister Altgelt shut the door.
A storm was rising, heavy gusts of wind
Swirled through the trees, and scattered leaves before
Her on the clean, flagged path. The sky behind
The distant town was black, and sharp defined
Against it shone the lines of roofs and towers,
Superimposed and flat like cardboard flowers.

A pasted city on a purple ground,
Picked out with luminous paint, it seemed. The cloud
Split on an edge of lightning, and a sound
Of rivers full and rushing boomed through bowed,
Tossed, hissing branches. Thunder rumbled loud
Beyond the town fast swallowing into gloom.
Frau Altgelt closed the windows of each room.

She bustled round to shake by constant moving
The strange, weird atmosphere. She stirred the fire,
She twitched the supper-cloth as though improving
Its careful setting, then her own attire
Came in for notice, tiptoeing higher and higher
She peered into the wall-glass, now adjusting
A straying lock, or else a ribbon thrusting

This way or that to suit her. At last sitting,
Or rather plumping down upon a chair,
She took her work, the stocking she was knitting,
And watched the rain upon the window glare
In white, bright drops. Through the black glass a flare
Of lightning squirmed about her needles. "Oh!"
She cried. "What can be keeping Theodore so!"

A roll of thunder set the casements clapping.
Frau Altgelt flung her work aside and ran,
Pulled open the house door, with kerchief flapping
She stood and gazed along the street. A man
Flung back the garden-gate and nearly ran
Her down as she stood in the door. "Why, Dear,
What in the name of patience brings you here?

Quick, Lotta, shut the door, my violin
I fear is wetted. Now, Dear, bring a light.
This clasp is very much too worn and thin.
I'll take the other fiddle out to-night
If it still rains. Tut! Tut! my child, you're quite
Clumsy. Here, help me, hold the case while I -
Give me the candle. No, the inside's dry.

Thank God for that! Well, Lotta, how are you?
A bad storm, but the house still stands, I see.
Is my pipe filled, my Dear? I'll have a few
Puffs and a snooze before I eat my tea.
What do you say? That you were feared for me?
Nonsense, my child. Yes, kiss me, now don't talk.
I need a rest, the theatre's a long walk."

Her needles still, her hands upon her lap
Patiently laid, Charlotta Altgelt sat
And watched the rain-run window. In his nap
Her husband stirred and muttered. Seeing that,
Charlotta rose and softly, pit-a-pat,
Climbed up the stairs, and in her little room
Found sighing comfort with a moon in bloom.

But even rainy windows, silver-lit
By a new-burst, storm-whetted moon, may give
But poor content to loneliness, and it
Was hard for young Charlotta so to strive
And down her eagerness and learn to live
In placid quiet. While her husband slept,
Charlotta in her upper chamber wept.

Herr Concert-Meister Altgelt was a man
Gentle and unambitious, that alone
Had kept him back. He played as few men can,
Drawing out of his instrument a tone
So shimmering-sweet and palpitant, it shone
Like a bright thread of sound hung in the air,
Afloat and swinging upward, slim and fair.

Above all things, above Charlotta his wife,
Herr Altgelt loved his violin, a fine
Cremona pattern, Stradivari's life
Was flowering out of early discipline
When this was fashioned. Of soft-cutting pine
The belly was. The back of broadly curled
Maple, the head made thick and sharply whirled.

The slanting, youthful sound-holes through
The belly of fine, vigorous pine
Mellowed each note and blew
It out again with a woody flavour
Tanged and fragrant as fir-trees are
When breezes in their needles jar.

The varnish was an orange-brown
Lustered like glass that's long laid down
Under a crumbling villa stone.
Purfled stoutly, with mitres which point
Straight up the corners. Each curve and joint
Clear, and bold, and thin.
Such was Herr Theodore's violin.

Seven o'clock, the Concert-Meister gone
With his best violin, the rain being stopped,
Frau Lotta in the kitchen sat alone
Watching the embers which the fire dropped.
The china shone upon the dresser, topped
By polished copper vessels which her skill
Kept brightly burnished. It was very still.

An air from 'Orfeo' hummed in her head.
Herr Altgelt had been practising before
The night's performance. Charlotta had plead
With him to stay with her. Even at the door
She'd begged him not to go. "I do implore
You for this evening, Theodore," she had said.
"Leave them to-night, and stay with me instead."

"A silly poppet!" Theodore pinched her ear.
"You'd like to have our good Elector turn
Me out I think." "But, Theodore, something queer
Ails me. Oh, do but notice how they burn,
My cheeks! The thunder worried me. You're stern,
And cold, and only love your work, I know.
But Theodore, for this evening, do not go."

But he had gone, hurriedly at the end,
For she had kept him talking. Now she sat
Alone again, always alone, the trend
Of all her thinking brought her back to that
She wished to banish. What would life be? What?
For she was young, and loved, while he was moved
Only by music. Each day that was proved.

Each day he rose and practised. While he played,
She stopped her work and listened, and her heart
Swelled painfully beneath her bodice. Swayed
And longing, she would hide from him her smart.
"Well, Lottchen, will that do?" Then what a start
She gave, and she would run to him and cry,
And he would gently chide her, "Fie, Dear, fie.

I'm glad I played it well. But such a taking!
You'll hear the thing enough before I've done."
And she would draw away from him, still shaking.
Had he but guessed she was another one,
Another violin. Her strings were aching,
Stretched to the touch of his bow hand, again
He played and she almost broke at the strain.

Where was the use of thinking of it now,
Sitting alone and listening to the clock!
She'd best make haste and knit another row.
Three hours at least must pass before his knock
Would startle her. It always was a shock.
She listened - listened - for so long before,
That when it came her hearing almost tore.

She caught herself just starting in to listen.
What nerves she had: rattling like brittle sticks!
She wandered to the window, for the glisten
Of a bright moon was tempting. Snuffed the wicks
Of her two candles. Still she could not fix
To anything. The moon in a broad swath
Beckoned her out and down the garden-path.

Against the house, her hollyhocks stood high
And black, their shadows doubling them. The night
Was white and still with moonlight, and a sigh
Of blowing leaves was there, and the dim flight
Of insects, and the smell of aconite,
And stocks, and Marvel of Peru. She flitted
Along the path, where blocks of shadow pitted

The even flags. She let herself go dreaming
Of Theodore her husband, and the tune
From 'Orfeo' swam through her mind, but seeming
Changed - shriller. Of a sudden, the clear moon
Showed her a passer-by, inopportune
Indeed, but here he was, whistling and striding.
Lotta squeezed in between the currants, hiding.

"The best laid plans of mice and men," alas!
The stranger came indeed, but did not pass.
Instead, he leant upon the garden-gate,
Folding his arms and whistling. Lotta's state,
Crouched in the prickly currants, on wet grass,
Was far from pleasant. Still the stranger stayed,
And Lotta in her currants watched, dismayed.

He seemed a proper fellow standing there
In the bright moonshine. His cocked hat was laced
With silver, and he wore his own brown hair
Tied, but unpowdered. His whole bearing graced
A fine cloth coat, and ruffled shirt, and chased
Sword-hilt. Charlotta looked, but her position
Was hardly easy. When would his volition

Suggest his walking on? And then that tune!
A half-a-dozen bars from 'Orfeo'
Gone over and over, and murdered. What Fortune
Had brought him there to stare about him so?
"Ach, Gott im Himmel! Why will he not go!"
Thought Lotta, but the young man whistled on,
And seemed in no great hurry to be gone.

Charlotta, crouched among the currant bushes,
Watched the moon slowly dip from twig to twig.
If Theodore should chance to come, and blushes
Streamed over her. He would not care a fig,
He'd only laugh. She pushed aside a sprig
Of sharp-edged leaves and peered, then she uprose
Amid her bushes. "Sir," said she, "pray whose

Garden do you suppose you're watching? Why
Do you stand there? I really must insist
Upon your leaving. 'Tis unmannerly
To stay so long." The young man gave a twist
And turned about, and in the amethyst
Moonlight he saw her like a nymph half-risen
From the green bushes which had been her prison.

He swept his hat off in a hurried bow.
"Your pardon, Madam, I had no idea
I was not quite alone, and that is how
I came to stay. My trespass was not sheer
Impertinence. I thought no one was here,
And really gardens cry to be admired.
To-night especially it seemed required.

And may I beg to introduce myself?
Heinrich Marohl of Munich. And your name?"
Charlotta told him. And the artful elf
Promptly exclaimed about her husband's fame.
So Lotta, half-unwilling, slowly came
To conversation with him. When she went
Into the house, she found the evening spent.

Theodore arrived quite wearied out and teased,
With all excitement in him burned away.
It had gone well, he said, the audience pleased,
And he had played his very best to-day,
But afterwards he had been forced to stay
And practise with the stupid ones. His head
Ached furiously, and he must get to bed.

Part 02

Herr Concert-Meister Altgelt played,
And the four strings of his violin
Were spinning like bees on a day in Spring.
The notes rose into the wide sun-mote
Which slanted through the window,
They lay like coloured beads a-row,
They knocked together and parted,
And started to dance,
Skipping, tripping, each one slipping
Under and over the others so
That the polychrome fire streamed like a lance
Or a comet's tail,
Behind them.
Then a wail arose - crescendo -
And dropped from off the end of the bow,
And the dancing stopped.
A scent of lilies filled the room,
Long and slow. Each large white bloom
Breathed a sound which was holy perfume from a blessed censer,
And the hum of an organ tone,
And they waved like fans in a hall of stone
Over a bier standing there in the centre, alone.
Each lily bent slowly as it was blown.
Like smoke they rose from the violin -
Then faded as a swifter bowing
Jumbled the notes like wavelets flowing
In a splashing, pashing, rippling motion
Between broad meadows to an ocean
Wide as a day and blue as a flower,
Where every hour
Gulls dipped, and scattered, and squawked, and squealed,
And over the marshes the Angelus pealed,
And the prows of the fishing-boats were spattered
With spray.
And away a couple of frigates were starting
To race to Java with all sails set,
Topgallants, and royals, and stunsails, and jibs,
And wide moonsails; and the shining rails
Were polished so bright they sparked in the sun.
All the sails went up with a run:
          "They call me Hanging Johnny,
          They call me Hanging Johnny,
          So hang, boys, hang."
And the sun had set and the high moon whitened,
And the ship heeled over to the breeze.
He drew her into the shade of the sails,
And whispered tales
Of voyages in the China seas,
And his arm around her
Held and bound her.
She almost swooned,
With the breeze and the moon
And the slipping sea,
And he beside her,
Touching her, leaning -
The ship careening,
With the white moon steadily shining over
Her and her lover,
Theodore, still her lover!

Then a quiver fell on the crowded notes,
And slowly floated
A single note which spread and spread
Till it filled the room with a shimmer like gold,
And noises shivered throughout its length,
And tried its strength.
They pulled it, and tore it,
And the stuff waned thinner, but still it bore it.
Then a wide rent
Split the arching tent,
And balls of fire spurted through,
Spitting yellow, and mauve, and blue.
One by one they were quenched as they fell,
Only the blue burned steadily.
Paler and paler it grew, and - faded - away.
          Herr Altgelt stopped.

"Well, Lottachen, my Dear, what do you say?
I think I'm in good trim. Now let's have dinner.
What's this, my Love, you're very sweet to-day.
I wonder how it happens I'm the winner
Of so much sweetness. But I think you're thinner;
You're like a bag of feathers on my knee.
Why, Lotta child, you're almost strangling me.

I'm glad you're going out this afternoon.
The days are getting short, and I'm so tied
At the Court Theatre my poor little bride
Has not much junketing I fear, but soon
I'll ask our manager to grant a boon.
To-night, perhaps, I'll get a pass for you,
And when I go, why Lotta can come too.

Now dinner, Love. I want some onion soup
To whip me up till that rehearsal's over.
You know it's odd how some women can stoop!
Fraeulein Gebnitz has taken on a lover,
A Jew named Goldstein. No one can discover
If it's his money. But she lives alone
Practically. Gebnitz is a stone,

Pores over books all day, and has no ear
For his wife's singing. Artists must have men;
They need appreciation. But it's queer
What messes people make of their lives, when
They should know more. If Gebnitz finds out, then
His wife will pack. Yes, shut the door at once.
I did not feel it cold, I am a dunce."

Frau Altgelt tied her bonnet on and went
Into the streets. A bright, crisp Autumn wind
Flirted her skirts and hair. A turbulent,
Audacious wind it was, now close behind,
Pushing her bonnet forward till it twined
The strings across her face, then from in front
Slantingly swinging at her with a shunt,

Until she lay against it, struggling, pushing,
Dismayed to find her clothing tightly bound
Around her, every fold and wrinkle crushing
Itself upon her, so that she was wound
In draperies as clinging as those found
Sucking about a sea nymph on the frieze
Of some old Grecian temple. In the breeze

The shops and houses had a quality
Of hard and dazzling colour; something sharp
And buoyant, like white, puffing sails at sea.
The city streets were twanging like a harp.
Charlotta caught the movement, skippingly
She blew along the pavement, hardly knowing
Toward what destination she was going.

She fetched up opposite a jeweller's shop,
Where filigreed tiaras shone like crowns,
And necklaces of emeralds seemed to drop
And then float up again with lightness. Browns
Of striped agates struck her like cold frowns
Amid the gaiety of topaz seals,
Carved though they were with heads, and arms, and wheels.

A row of pencils knobbed with quartz or sard
Delighted her. And rings of every size
Turned smartly round like hoops before her eyes,
Amethyst-flamed or ruby-girdled, jarred
To spokes and flashing triangles, and starred
Like rockets bursting on a festal day.
Charlotta could not tear herself away.

With eyes glued tightly on a golden box,
Whose rare enamel piqued her with its hue,
Changeable, iridescent, shuttlecocks
Of shades and lustres always darting through
Its level, superimposing sheet of blue,
Charlotta did not hear footsteps approaching.
She started at the words: "Am I encroaching?"

"Oh, Heinrich, how you frightened me! I thought
We were to meet at three, is it quite that?"
"No, it is not," he answered, "but I've caught
The trick of missing you. One thing is flat,
I cannot go on this way. Life is what
Might best be conjured up by the word: 'Hell'.
Dearest, when will you come?" Lotta, to quell

His effervescence, pointed to the gems
Within the window, asked him to admire
A bracelet or a buckle. But one stems
Uneasily the burning of a fire.
Heinrich was chafing, pricked by his desire.
Little by little she wooed him to her mood
Until at last he promised to be good.

But here he started on another tack;
To buy a jewel, which one would Lotta choose.
She vainly urged against him all her lack
Of other trinkets. Should she dare to use
A ring or brooch her husband might accuse
Her of extravagance, and ask to see
A strict accounting, or still worse might be.

But Heinrich would not be persuaded. Why
Should he not give her what he liked? And in
He went, determined certainly to buy
A thing so beautiful that it would win
Her wavering fancy. Altgelt's violin
He would outscore by such a handsome jewel
That Lotta could no longer be so cruel!

Pity Charlotta, torn in diverse ways.
If she went in with him, the shopman might
Recognize her, give her her name; in days
To come he could denounce her. In her fright
She almost fled. But Heinrich would be quite
Capable of pursuing. By and by
She pushed the door and entered hurriedly.

It took some pains to keep him from bestowing
A pair of ruby earrings, carved like roses,
The setting twined to represent the growing
Tendrils and leaves, upon her. "Who supposes
I could obtain such things! It simply closes
All comfort for me." So he changed his mind
And bought as slight a gift as he could find.

A locket, frosted over with seed pearls,
Oblong and slim, for wearing at the neck,
Or hidden in the bosom; their joined curls
Should lie in it. And further to bedeck
His love, Heinrich had picked a whiff, a fleck,
The merest puff of a thin, linked chain
To hang it from. Lotta could not refrain

From weeping as they sauntered down the street.
She did not want the locket, yet she did.
To have him love her she found very sweet,
But it is hard to keep love always hid.
Then there was something in her heart which chid
Her, told her she loved Theodore in him,
That all these meetings were a foolish whim.

She thought of Theodore and the life they led,
So near together, but so little mingled.
The great clouds bulged and bellied overhead,
And the fresh wind about her body tingled;
The crane of a large warehouse creaked and jingled;
Charlotta held her breath for very fear,
About her in the street she seemed to hear:
          "They call me Hanging Johnny,
          They call me Hanging Johnny,
          So hang, boys, hang."

And it was Theodore, under the racing skies,
Who held her and who whispered in her ear.
She knew her heart was telling her no lies,
Beating and hammering. He was so dear,
The touch of him would send her in a queer
Swoon that was half an ecstasy. And yearning
For Theodore, she wandered, slowly turning

Street after street as Heinrich wished it so.
He had some aim, she had forgotten what.
Their progress was confused and very slow,
But at the last they reached a lonely spot,
A garden far above the highest shot
Of soaring steeple. At their feet, the town
Spread open like a chequer-board laid down.

Lotta was dimly conscious of the rest,
Vaguely remembered how he clasped the chain
About her neck. She treated it in jest,
And saw his face cloud over with sharp pain.
Then suddenly she felt as though a strain
Were put upon her, collared like a slave,
Leashed in the meshes of this thing he gave.

She seized the flimsy rings with both her hands
To snap it, but they held with odd persistence.
Her eyes were blinded by two wind-blown strands
Of hair which had been loosened. Her resistance
Melted within her, from remotest distance,
Misty, unreal, his face grew warm and near,
And giving way she knew him very dear.

For long he held her, and they both gazed down
At the wide city, and its blue, bridged river.
From wooing he jested with her, snipped the blown
Strands of her hair, and tied them with a sliver
Cut from his own head. But she gave a shiver
When, opening the locket, they were placed
Under the glass, commingled and enlaced.

"When will you have it so with us?" He sighed.
She shook her head. He pressed her further. "No,
No, Heinrich, Theodore loves me," and she tried
To free herself and rise. He held her so,
Clipped by his arms, she could not move nor go.
"But you love me," he whispered, with his face
Burning against her through her kerchief's lace.

Frau Altgelt knew she toyed with fire, knew
That what her husband lit this other man
Fanned to hot flame. She told herself that few
Women were so discreet as she, who ran
No danger since she knew what things to ban.
She opened her house door at five o'clock,
A short half-hour before her husband's knock.

Part 03

The 'Residenz-Theater' sparked and hummed
With lights and people. Gebnitz was to sing,
That rare soprano. All the fiddles strummed
With tuning up; the wood-winds made a ring
Of reedy bubbling noises, and the sting
Of sharp, red brass pierced every ear-drum; patting
From muffled tympani made a dark slatting

Across the silver shimmering of flutes;
A bassoon grunted, and an oboe wailed;
The 'celli pizzicato-ed like great lutes,
And mutterings of double basses trailed
Away to silence, while loud harp-strings hailed
Their thin, bright colours down in such a scatter
They lost themselves amid the general clatter.

Frau Altgelt in the gallery, alone,
Felt lifted up into another world.
Before her eyes a thousand candles shone
In the great chandeliers. A maze of curled
And powdered periwigs past her eyes swirled.
She smelt the smoke of candles guttering,
And caught the glint of jewelled fans fluttering

All round her in the boxes. Red and gold,
The house, like rubies set in filigree,
Filliped the candlelight about, and bold
Young sparks with eye-glasses, unblushingly
Ogled fair beauties in the balcony.
An officer went by, his steel spurs jangling.
Behind Charlotta an old man was wrangling

About a play-bill he had bought and lost.
Three drunken soldiers had to be ejected.
Frau Altgelt's eyes stared at the vacant post
Of Concert-Meister, she at once detected
The stir which brought him. But she felt neglected
When with no glance about him or her way,
He lifted up his violin to play.

The curtain went up? Perhaps. If so,
Charlotta never saw it go.
The famous Fraeulein Gebnitz' singing
Only came to her like the ringing
Of bells at a festa
Which swing in the air
And nobody realizes they are there.
They jingle and jangle,
And clang, and bang,
And never a soul could tell whether they rang,
For the plopping of guns and rockets
And the chinking of silver to spend, in one's pockets,
And the shuffling and clapping of feet,
And the loud flapping
Of flags, with the drums,
As the military comes.
It's a famous tune to walk to,
And I wonder where they're off to.
Step-step-stepping to the beating of the drums.
But the rhythm changes as though a mist
Were curling and twisting
Over the landscape.
For a moment a rhythmless, tuneless fog
Encompasses her. Then her senses jog
To the breath of a stately minuet.
Herr Altgelt's violin is set
In tune to the slow, sweeping bows, and retreats and advances,
To curtsies brushing the waxen floor as the Court dances.
Long and peaceful like warm Summer nights
When stars shine in the quiet river. And against the lights
Blundering insects knock,
And the 'Rathaus' clock
Booms twice, through the shrill sounds
Of flutes and horns in the lamplit grounds.
Pressed against him in the mazy wavering
Of a country dance, with her short breath quavering
She leans upon the beating, throbbing
Music. Laughing, sobbing,
Feet gliding after sliding feet;
His - hers -
The ballroom blurs -
She feels the air
Lifting her hair,
And the lapping of water on the stone stair.
He is there! He is there!
Twang harps, and squeal, you thin violins,
That the dancers may dance, and never discover
The old stone stair leading down to the river
With the chestnut-tree branches hanging over
Her and her lover.
Theodore, still her lover!

The evening passed like this, in a half faint,
Delirium with waking intervals
Which were the entr'acts. Under the restraint
Of a large company, the constant calls
For oranges or syrops from the stalls
Outside, the talk, the passing to and fro,
Lotta sat ill at ease, incognito.

She heard the Gebnitz praised, the tenor lauded,
The music vaunted as most excellent.
The scenery and the costumes were applauded,
The latter it was whispered had been sent
From Italy. The Herr Direktor spent
A fortune on them, so the gossips said.
Charlotta felt a lightness in her head.

When the next act began, her eyes were swimming,
Her prodded ears were aching and confused.
The first notes from the orchestra sent skimming
Her outward consciousness. Her brain was fused
Into the music, Theodore's music! Used
To hear him play, she caught his single tone.
For all she noticed they two were alone.

Part 04

Frau Altgelt waited in the chilly street,
Hustled by lackeys who ran up and down
Shouting their coachmen's names; forced to retreat
A pace or two by lurching chairmen; thrown
Rudely aside by linkboys; boldly shown
The ogling rapture in two bleary eyes
Thrust close to hers in most unpleasant wise.

Escaping these, she hit a liveried arm,
Was sworn at by this glittering gentleman
And ordered off. However, no great harm
Came to her. But she looked a trifle wan
When Theodore, her belated guardian,
Emerged. She snuggled up against him, trembling,
Half out of fear, half out of the assembling

Of all the thoughts and needs his playing had given.
Had she enjoyed herself, he wished to know.
"Oh! Theodore, can't you feel that it was Heaven!"
"Heaven! My Lottachen, and was it so?
Gebnitz was in good voice, but all the flow
Of her last aria was spoiled by Klops,
A wretched flutist, she was mad as hops."

He was so simple, so matter-of-fact,
Charlotta Altgelt knew not what to say
To bring him to her dream. His lack of tact
Kept him explaining all the homeward way
How this thing had gone well, that badly. "Stay,
Theodore!" she cried at last. "You know to me
Nothing was real, it was an ecstasy."

And he was heartily glad she had enjoyed
Herself so much, and said so. "But it's good
To be got home again." He was employed
In looking at his violin, the wood
Was old, and evening air did it no good.
But when he drew up to the table for tea
Something about his wife's vivacity

Struck him as hectic, worried him in short.
He talked of this and that but watched her close.
Tea over, he endeavoured to extort
The cause of her excitement. She arose
And stood beside him, trying to compose
Herself, all whipt to quivering, curdled life,
And he, poor fool, misunderstood his wife.

Suddenly, broken through her anxious grasp,
Her music-kindled love crashed on him there.
Amazed, he felt her fling against him, clasp
Her arms about him, weighing down his chair,
Sobbing out all her hours of despair.
"Theodore, a woman needs to hear things proved.
Unless you tell me, I feel I'm not loved."

Theodore went under in this tearing wave,
He yielded to it, and its headlong flow
Filled him with all the energy she gave.
He was a youth again, and this bright glow,
This living, vivid joy he had to show
Her what she was to him. Laughing and crying,
She asked assurances there's no denying.

Over and over again her questions, till
He quite convinced her, every now and then
She kissed him, shivering as though doubting still.
But later when they were composed and when
She dared relax her probings, "Lottachen,"
He asked, "how is it your love has withstood
My inadvertence? I was made of wood."

She told him, and no doubt she meant it truly,
That he was sun, and grass, and wind, and sky
To her. And even if conscience were unruly
She salved it by neat sophistries, but why
Suppose her insincere, it was no lie
She said, for Heinrich was as much forgot
As though he'd never been within earshot.

But Theodore's hands in straying and caressing
Fumbled against the locket where it lay
Upon her neck. "What is this thing I'm pressing?"
He asked. "Let's bring it to the light of day."
He lifted up the locket. "It should stay
Outside, my Dear. Your mother has good taste.
To keep it hidden surely is a waste."

Pity again Charlotta, straight aroused
Out of her happiness. The locket brought
A chilly jet of truth upon her, soused
Under its icy spurting she was caught,
And choked, and frozen. Suddenly she sought
The clasp, but with such art was this contrived
Her fumbling fingers never once arrived

Upon it. Feeling, twisting, round and round,
She pulled the chain quite through the locket's ring
And still it held. Her neck, encompassed, bound,
Chafed at the sliding meshes. Such a thing
To hurl her out of joy! A gilded string
Binding her folly to her, and those curls
Which lay entwined beneath the clustered pearls!

Again she tried to break the cord. It stood.
"Unclasp it, Theodore," she begged. But he
Refused, and being in a happy mood,
Twitted her with her inefficiency,
Then looking at her very seriously:
"I think, Charlotta, it is well to have
Always about one what a mother gave.

As she has taken the great pains to send
This jewel to you from Dresden, it will be
Ingratitude if you do not intend
To carry it about you constantly.
With her fine taste you cannot disagree,
The locket is most beautifully designed."
He opened it and there the curls were, twined.

Charlotta's heart dropped beats like knitting-stitches.
She burned a moment, flaming; then she froze.
Her face was jerked by little, nervous twitches,
She heard her husband asking: "What are those?"
Put out her hand quickly to interpose,
But stopped, the gesture half-complete, astounded
At the calm way the question was propounded.

"A pretty fancy, Dear, I do declare.
Indeed I will not let you put it off.
A lovely thought: yours and your mother's hair!"
Charlotta hid a gasp under a cough.
"Never with my connivance shall you doff
This charming gift." He kissed her on the cheek,
And Lotta suffered him, quite crushed and meek.

When later in their room she lay awake,
Watching the moonlight slip along the floor,
She felt the chain and wept for Theodore's sake.
She had loved Heinrich also, and the core
Of truth, unlovely, startled her. Wherefore
She vowed from now to break this double life
And see herself only as Theodore's wife.

Part 05
It was no easy matter to convince
Heinrich that it was finished. Hard to say
That though they could not meet (he saw her wince)
She still must keep the locket to allay
Suspicion in her husband. She would pay
Him from her savings bit by bit - the oath
He swore at that was startling to them both.

Her resolution taken, Frau Altgelt
Adhered to it, and suffered no regret.
She found her husband all that she had felt
His music to contain. Her days were set
In his as though she were an amulet
Cased in bright gold. She joyed in her confining;
Her eyes put out her looking-glass with shining.

Charlotta was so gay that old, dull tasks
Were furbished up to seem like rituals.
She baked and brewed as one who only asks
The right to serve. Her daily manuals
Of prayer were duties, and her festivals
When Theodore praised some dish, or frankly said
She had a knack in making up a bed.

So Autumn went, and all the mountains round
The city glittered white with fallen snow,
For it was Winter. Over the hard ground
Herr Altgelt's footsteps came, each one a blow.
On the swept flags behind the currant row
Charlotta stood to greet him. But his lip
Only flicked hers. His Concert-Meistership

Was first again. This evening he had got
Important news. The opera ordered from
Young Mozart was arrived. That old despot,
The Bishop of Salzburg, had let him come
Himself to lead it, and the parts, still hot
From copying, had been tried over. Never
Had any music started such a fever.

The orchestra had cheered till they were hoarse,
The singers clapped and clapped. The town was made,
With such a great attraction through the course
Of Carnival time. In what utter shade
All other cities would be left! The trade
In music would all drift here naturally.
In his excitement he forgot his tea.

Lotta was forced to take his cup and put
It in his hand. But still he rattled on,
Sipping at intervals. The new catgut
Strings he was using gave out such a tone
The "Maestro" had remarked it, and had gone
Out of his way to praise him. Lotta smiled,
He was as happy as a little child.

From that day on, Herr Altgelt, more and more,
Absorbed himself in work. Lotta at first
Was patient and well-wishing. But it wore
Upon her when two weeks had brought no burst
Of loving from him. Then she feared the worst;
That his short interest in her was a light
Flared up an instant only in the night.

'Idomeneo' was the opera's name,
A name that poor Charlotta learnt to hate.
Herr Altgelt worked so hard he seldom came
Home for his tea, and it was very late,
Past midnight sometimes, when he knocked. His state
Was like a flabby orange whose crushed skin
Is thin with pulling, and all dented in.

He practised every morning and her heart
Followed his bow. But often she would sit,
While he was playing, quite withdrawn apart,
Absently fingering and touching it,
The locket, which now seemed to her a bit
Of some gone youth. His music drew her tears,
And through the notes he played, her dreading ears

Heard Heinrich's voice, saying he had not changed;
Beer merchants had no ecstasies to take
Their minds off love. So far her thoughts had ranged
Away from her stern vow, she chanced to take
Her way, one morning, quite by a mistake,
Along the street where Heinrich had his shop.
What harm to pass it since she should not stop!

It matters nothing how one day she met
Him on a bridge, and blushed, and hurried by.
Nor how the following week he stood to let
Her pass, the pavement narrowing suddenly.
How once he took her basket, and once he
Pulled back a rearing horse who might have struck
Her with his hoofs. It seemed the oddest luck

How many times their business took them each
Right to the other. Then at last he spoke,
But she would only nod, he got no speech
From her. Next time he treated it in joke,
And that so lightly that her vow she broke
And answered. So they drifted into seeing
Each other as before. There was no fleeing.

Christmas was over and the Carnival
Was very near, and tripping from each tongue
Was talk of the new opera. Each book-stall
Flaunted it out in bills, what airs were sung,
What singers hired. Pictures of the young
"Maestro" were for sale. The town was mad.
Only Charlotta felt depressed and sad.

Each day now brought a struggle 'twixt her will
And Heinrich's. 'Twixt her love for Theodore
And him. Sometimes she wished to kill
Herself to solve her problem. For a score
Of reasons Heinrich tempted her. He bore
Her moods with patience, and so surely urged
Himself upon her, she was slowly merged

Into his way of thinking, and to fly
With him seemed easy. But next morning would
The Stradivarius undo her mood.
Then she would realize that she must cleave
Always to Theodore. And she would try
To convince Heinrich she should never leave,
And afterwards she would go home and grieve.

All thought in Munich centered on the part
Of January when there would be given
'Idomeneo' by Wolfgang Mozart.
The twenty-ninth was fixed. And all seats, even
Those almost at the ceiling, which were driven
Behind the highest gallery, were sold.
The inches of the theatre went for gold.

Herr Altgelt was a shadow worn so thin
With work, he hardly printed black behind
The candle. He and his old violin
Made up one person. He was not unkind,
But dazed outside his playing, and the rind,
The pine and maple of his fiddle, guarded
A part of him which he had quite discarded.

It woke in the silence of frost-bright nights,
In little lights,
Like will-o'-the-wisps flickering, fluttering,
Here - there -
Spurting, sputtering,
Fading and lighting,
Together, asunder -
Till Lotta sat up in bed with wonder,
And the faint grey patch of the window shone
Upon her sitting there, alone.
For Theodore slept.

The twenty-eighth was last rehearsal day,
'Twas called for noon, so early morning meant
Herr Altgelt's only time in which to play
His part alone. Drawn like a monk who's spent
Himself in prayer and fasting, Theodore went
Into the kitchen, with a weary word
Of cheer to Lotta, careless if she heard.

Lotta heard more than his spoken word.
She heard the vibrating of strings and wood.
She was washing the dishes, her hands all suds,
When the sound began,
Long as the span
Of a white road snaking about a hill.
The orchards are filled
With cherry blossoms at butterfly poise.
Hawthorn buds are cracking,
And in the distance a shepherd is clacking
His shears, snip-snipping the wool from his sheep.
The notes are asleep,
Lying adrift on the air
In level lines
Like sunlight hanging in pines and pines,
Strung and threaded,
All imbedded
In the blue-green of the hazy pines.
Lines - long, straight lines!
And stems,
Long, straight stems
Pushing up
To the cup of blue, blue sky.
Stems growing misty
With the many of them,
Red-green mist
Of the trees,
And these
Wood-flavoured notes.
The back is maple and the belly is pine.
The rich notes twine
As though weaving in and out of leaves,
Broad leaves
Flapping slowly like elephants' ears,
Waving and falling.
Another sound peers
Through little pine fingers,
And lingers, peeping.
Ping! Ping! pizzicato, something is cheeping.
There is a twittering up in the branches,
A chirp and a lilt,
And crimson atilt on a swaying twig.
Wings! Wings!
And a little ruffled-out throat which sings.
The forest bends, tumultuous
With song.
The woodpecker knocks,
And the song-sparrow trills,
Every fir, and cedar, and yew
Has a nest or a bird,
It is quite absurd
To hear them cutting across each other:
Peewits, and thrushes, and larks, all at once,
And a loud cuckoo is trying to smother
A wood-pigeon perched on a birch,
"Roo - coo - oo - oo - "
"Cuckoo! Cuckoo! That's one for you!"
A blackbird whistles, how sharp, how shrill!
And the great trees toss
And leaves blow down,
You can almost hear them splash on the ground.
The whistle again:
It is double and loud!
The leaves are splashing,
And water is dashing
Over those creepers, for they are shrouds;
And men are running up them to furl the sails,
For there is a capful of wind to-day,
And we are already well under way.
The deck is aslant in the bubbling breeze.
"Theodore, please.
Oh, Dear, how you tease!"
And the boatswain's whistle sounds again,
And the men pull on the sheets:
"My name is Hanging Johnny,
They call me Hanging Johnny,
So hang, boys, hang."
The trees of the forest are masts, tall masts;
They are swinging over
Her and her lover.
Almost swooning
Under the ballooning canvas,
She lies
Looking up in his eyes
As he bends farther over.
Theodore, still her lover!

The suds were dried upon Charlotta's hands,
She leant against the table for support,
Wholly forgotten. Theodore's eyes were brands
Burning upon his music. He stopped short.
Charlotta almost heard the sound of bands
Snapping. She put one hand up to her heart,
Her fingers touched the locket with a start.

Herr Altgelt put his violin away
Listlessly. "Lotta, I must have some rest.
The strain will be a hideous one to-day.
Don't speak to me at all. It will be best
If I am quiet till I go." And lest
She disobey, he left her. On the stairs
She heard his mounting steps. What use were prayers!

He could not hear, he was not there, for she
Was married to a mummy, a machine.
Her hand closed on the locket bitterly.
Before her, on a chair, lay the shagreen
Case of his violin. She saw the clean
Sun flash the open clasp. The locket's edge
Cut at her fingers like a pushing wedge.

A heavy cart went by, a distant bell
Chimed ten, the fire flickered in the grate.
She was alone. Her throat began to swell
With sobs. What kept her here, why should she wait?
The violin she had begun to hate
Lay in its case before her. Here she flung
The cover open. With the fiddle swung

Over her head, the hanging clock's loud ticking
Caught on her ear. 'Twas slow, and as she paused
The little door in it came open, flicking
A wooden cuckoo out: "Cuckoo!" It caused
The forest dream to come again. "Cuckoo!"
Smashed on the grate, the violin broke in two.

"Cuckoo! Cuckoo!" the clock kept striking on;
But no one listened. Frau Altgelt had gone.

The Fiddler's Reply
Joel Mabus

It's a question that I've heard before
And all that I can say to that is - no sir!

No sir!

I have played a tune in the dark on the porch
Of a prairie farm - summer rain coming
Down so straight you could set your chair right there
On the edge of the porch and keep bone dry.
Such straight regular rain, they say, is good
For the crop. Good for tunes too, I say,
Deep in the night, listening to the corn.

And I remember a tune one winter
Afternoon up north, fiddling after chores.
The sun staring in through a wet kitchen
Window - all ice outside, all steam inside.
My chair tips back; the woodstove snaps loudly,
Popping irregular time to the steppy
Tunes, flannel and coffee, bisquits and boots.

I've played tunes on a fine spring evening
At the town hall dance where everybody shows,
Joking with the caller, shaking off winter,
Stretching limbs, swapping partners for neighbors.
Good healthy tempos break the first real sweat.
Long lines forward and back and - Look! Outside!
The sun's still up on a fine green evening!

And then there is a tune I know that plays just
Like a cold November morning. Sober.
Inside, looking out. A gray air that wants
Chords unresolved - turning into the mist
Like so many leaves, riven and broken,
Returning from sky to earth after fall -
The undeniable fall - calls them home.

I have played tunes - not songs. Not voiceable,
Obvious word-infested songs - but tunes,
Each tune a puzzle, each one a box
With its own proud secret. Each its own smile
Sweetly shown - each tune is a lesson pondered.
Pattern - at once familiar yet unique -
Like snow crystals - like footprints - like the way
The world is right now - that's what a tune is.

No sir.

No sir. They don't all sound the same to me.

Celtic Jam Fiddler
Betty Ann Damms

Young fiddler
With tunes in his head
And fingers like a spider
Weaving songs;
His bow spinning
Webs of music
For my reeling toes
To jig in
Music's breeze.

Fiddler's Convention
Tony Hoagland

Eight kinds of mist in this country,
forest mist and mist ankle-deep in pastures;
the mist that climbs like curls of smoke
above the valley turning blue at dusk
the mist that hangs three stories high in woods.

In the morning, the moisture soaks into the violins
like subjectivity, and throws them out of tune,
so the noontime hour is full of the squeaking
that accompanies correction,

and I remember how my wife would cry sometimes
after making love,
     and how we painted the back porch
two almost-but-not-quite
     matching shades of blue.
And then I didn't love her anymore,
for which I will never get what I deserve.

Now someone on the lawn is playing that old tune,
"In The Foggy Foggy Dew"
and you know the song was written long
before the fiddler was born, but he plays it slow, and slow,

and the pennywhistle, shrill, comes in
like joy with a crack in it,
and the drum begins to make the case for Fate

but the grass in the song is still soaking wet
and the girl walking home in the misty morn
is still in love,
and doesn't care that she has ruined her shoes.

(Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen)
Paul Heyse

Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen:
Ach wäre doch ein Musikus mir gut!
Nun ließ der Herr mich meinen Wunsch erlangen
Und schickt mir einen, ganz wie Milch und Blut.
Da kommt er eben her mit sanfter Miene,
Und senkt den Kopf und spielt die Violine.

Bow and Strings
Innokentii Fedorovich Annensky

What heavy, dark delirium!
What dim and moonlit heights!
To touch the violin for years
And not to know the strings by light!

Who needs us now? And who lit up
Two hollow, melancholy faces...
And suddenly the bow felt
Someone take them up, unite them.

"How long it's been! Amidst this gloom
Just tell me this: are you still the same?"
The strings caressed the bow,
Rang out, caressed it slightly trembling.

"Is it not true, that we will never more
Be parted. It's enough..."
Yes, replied the violin,
But pain was throbbing in her heart.

The bow discerned it and grew mute,
The echo still continued in the violin...
What was a torture to them both
The people heard as music.

But the violinist didn't snuff
The candles out 'til dawn...The strings sang on...
The sun found them worn out
On the black velvet of their bed.

Aileen Karg

An old friend, my violin,
Still lies within it's case,
And at times I take it out
To play and reminisce.
The joy of life it brought to me
As I picked up that precious bow,
And o'er the strings did play the songs,
That were the best to know.
My problems seemed to dwindle,
My thoughts went high above,
When the music flowed so gently,
In tender tonelike love.
There's nothing else can take it's place,
The music of this world,
To bring that special joy of life,
To unloose and to unfurl.

gypsy violin
Dennis Lambert

a gypsy
bereft of
case or bow,
from attic
to stir
let go
an accidental


and women
on rain-
soaked streets

Ben Howard, from Dark Pool

Today I write from Meg's Uptown Café
On Castle Street, where someone's scarred guitar
Keeps company with someone's violin,
The two of them suspended from their pegs
On plaster that could use a coat of paint.
Who built those instruments and who performed
Sonatas and partitas, gigues and fugues,
Or, more likely, reels and Kerry slides,
Are matters for a morning's contemplation.
Even as I sip my bitter tea
And make the best of under-scrambled eggs,
I'm thinking of an air by Paganini,
In which the pure, impassioned violin
Ascends above the chords of the guitar
And occupies an atmosphere of longing
But in the end, as if to gratify
The need of all things light to live on earth,
Comes down in one reverberant cadenza.
It's raining now, as often in Tralee.
And as those anxious walkers on the pavement
Bow their heads to meet the brutal weather,
I'm hearing yet again that high cadenza
As though it were a trace in these environs,
A relic no more visible than want
Or memory, desire or speculation,
But nonetheless as present as the stench
Of cigarettes, those odours from the kitchen,
These bits of bacon cooling on my plate.

The Musician
R.S. Thomas

A memory of Kreisler once:
At some recital in this same city,
The seats all taken, I found myself pushed
On to the stage with a few others,
So near that I could see the toil
Of his face muscles, a pulse like a moth
Fluttering under the fine skin,
And the indelible veins of his smooth brow.

I could see, too, the twitching of the fingers,
Caught temporarily in art's neurosis,
As we sat there or warmly applauded
This player who so beautifully suffered
For each of us upon his instrument.

So it must have been on Calvary
In the fiercer light of the thorns' halo:
The men standing by and that one figure,
The hands bleeding, the mind bruised but calm,
Making such music as lives still.
And no one daring to interrupt
Because it was himself that he played
And closer than all of them the God listened.

Violons dans le soir
Comtesse Anna de Noailles, from Les Eblouissements

Quand le soir est venu, que tout est calme enfin
Dans la chaude nature,
Voici que naât sous l'arbre et sous le ciel divin
La plus vive torture.

Sur les graviers d'argent, dans les bois apaisés,
Des violons s'exaltent.
Ce sont des jets de cris, de sanglots, de baisers,
Sans contrainte et sans halte.

Il semble que l'archet se cabre, qu'il se tord
Sur les luisantes cordes,
Tant ce sont des appels de plaisir et de mort
Et de miséricorde.

Et le brûlant archet enroulé de langueur
Gémit, souffre, caresse,
Poignard voluptueux qui pénètre le coeur
D'une épuisante ivresse.

Archets, soyez maudits pour vos brûlants accords,
Pour votre âme explosive,
Fers rouges qui dans l'ombre arrachez à nos corps
Des lambeaux de chair vive!

Louise de Vilmorin

Couple amoureux aux accents méconnus
Le violon et son joueur me plaisent.
Ah! j'aime ces gémissements tendus
Sur la corde des malaises.
Aux accords sur les cordes des pendus
À l'heure où les Lois se taisent
Le coeur, en forme de fraise,
S'offre à l'amour comme un fruit inconnu.

Louise de Vilmorin

Violon hippocampe et sirène
Berceau des coeurs coeur et berceau
Larmes de Marie Madeleine
Soupir d'une Reine

Violon orgueil de mains légères
Départ à cheval sur les eaux
Amour chevauchant le mystère
Voleur en prière

Violon femme morganatique
Chat botté courant la forêt
Puit des vérités lunatiques
Confession publique

Violon alcool de l'âme en peine
Préférence muscle de soir
Épaules des saisons soudaines
Feuille de chêne

Violon chevalier du silence
Jouet évadé du bonheur
Poitrine des milles présences
Bateau de plaisance

Fini Lokke

A painting of a violin
should be a violin itself
for light to play it's gone.
Within yourself you paint a violin that's gone,
and wonder why a silent thing
awakens memories of other times
you never knew yourself.
Those times when violins were built
to meet demands for sweeter sounds
than life could offer at first sight,
hopes for the world to come.
A distant sound from within time,
imagined but to you as real
as the word you used to tell
what sounding board is for: it's soul.

A Study In Feeling
Ellis Parker Butler

To be a great musician you must be a man of moods,
You have to be, to understand sonatas and etudes.
To execute pianos and to fiddle with success,
With sympathy and feeling you must fairly effervesce;
It was so with Paganini, Remenzi and Cho-pang,
And so it was with Peterkin Von Gabriel O'Lang.

Monsieur O'Lang had sympathy to such a great degree.
No virtuoso ever lived was quite so great as he;
He was either very happy or very, very sad;
He was always feeling heavenly or oppositely bad;
In fact, so sympathetic that he either must enthuse
Or have the dumps; feel ecstacy or flounder in the blues.

So all agreed that Peterkin Von Gabriel O'Lang
Was the greatest violinist in the virtuoso gang.
The ladies bought his photographs and put them on the shelves
In the place of greatest honor, right beside those of themselves;
They gladly gave ten dollars for a stiff backed parquette chair.
And sat in mouth-wide happiness a-looking at his hair.

I say "a looking at his hair," I mean just what I say,
For no one ever had a chance to hear P. O'Lang play;
So subtle was his sympathy, so highly strung was he,
His moods were barometric to the very last degree;
The slightest change of weather would react upon his brain,
And fill his soul with joyousness or murder it with pain.

And when his soul was troubled he had not the heart to play.
But let his head droop sadly down in such a soulful way,
That every one that saw him declared it was worth twice
(And some there were said three times) the large admission price;
And all were quite unanimous and said it would be crude
For such a man to fiddle when he wasn't in the mood.

But when his soul was filled with joy he tossed his flowing hair
And waved his violin-bow in great circles in the air;
Ecstaticly he flourished it, for so his spirit thrilled,
Thus only could he show the joy with which his heart was filled;
And so he waved it up and down and 'round and out and in, -
But he never, never, NEVER touched it to his violin!

The Piano and the Violin
Roy Whitman

Black keys, white keys.
Straight in a row.
Whimsical tunes
Do come and go.
Silence now, not a sound.
Boys and girls dance around.

Four strings, a bow.
Rounded curves and a scroll.
Playful concertos
Do crash and roll.
Silence now, not a sound.
Boys and girls dance around.

(Es wohnet ein Fiedler zu Frankfurt am Main)

Es wohnet ein Fiedler zu Frankfurt am Main,
der kehret von lustiger Zeche heim;
und er trat auf den Markt, was schaut er dort?
Der schönen Frauen schmausten gar viel' an dem Ort.

"Du bucklichter Fiedler, nun fiedle uns auf,
wir wollen dir zahlen des Lohnes vollauf!
Einen feinen Tanz, behende gegeigt,
Walpurgis Nacht wir heuer gefeir't!"

Der Geiger strich einen fröhlichen Tanz,
die Frauen tanzten den Rosenkranz,
und die erste sprach: "mein lieber Sohn,
du geigtest so frisch, hab' nun deinen Lohn!"

Sie griff ihm behend' unter's Wams sofort,
und nahm ihm den Höcker vom Rücken fort:
"so gehe nun hin, mein schlanker Gesell,
dich nimmt nun jedwede Jungfrau zur Stell'."

Don't let that horse
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Don't let that horse
     eat that violin
cried Chagall's mother

          But he
     kept right on

And became famous

And kept on painting
          The Horse With Violin In Mouth
And when he finally finished it
he jumped up upon the horse
          and rode away
     waving the violin

And then with a low bow gave it
to the first naked nude he ran across

And there were no strings

A Poet's Wooing
James Whitcomb Riley
I woo'd a woman once,
But she was sharper than an eastern wind.

- Tennyson
"What may I do to make you glad,
To make you glad and free,
Till your light smiles glance
And your bright eyes dance
Like sunbeams on the sea?
Read some rhyme that is blithe and gay
Of a bright May morn and a marriage day?"
And she sighed in a listless way she had, -
"Do not read - it will make me sad!"

"What shall I do to make you glad -
To make you glad and gay,
Till your eyes gleam bright
As the stars at night
When as light as the light of day
Sing some song as I twang the strings
Of my sweet guitar through its wanderings?"
And she sighed in the weary way she had, -
"Do not sing - it will make me sad!"

"What can I do to make you glad -
As glad as glad can be,
Till your clear eyes seem
Like the rays that gleam
And glint through a dew-decked tree? -
Will it please you, dear, that I now begin
A grand old air on my violin?"
And she spoke again in the following way, -
"Yes, oh yes, it would please me, sir;
I would be so glad you'd play
Some grand old march - in character, -
And then as you march away
I will no longer thus be sad,
But oh, so glad - so glad - so glad!"

Henry Wadworth Longfellow, from Tales of a Wayside Inn

"What was the end? I am ashamed
Not to remember Reynard's fate;
I have not read the book of late;
Was he not hanged?" the Poet said.
The Student gravely shook his head,
And answered: "You exaggerate.
There was a tournament proclaimed,
And Reynard fought with Isegrim
The Wolf, and having vanquished him,
Rose to high honor in the State,
And Keeper of the Seals was named!"

At this the gay Sicilian laughed:
"Fight fire with fire, and craft with craft;
Successful cunning seems to be
The moral of your tale," said he.
"Mine had a better, and the Jew's
Had none at all, that I could see;
His aim was only to amuse."

Meanwhile from out its ebon case
His violin the Minstrel drew,
And having tuned its strings anew,
Now held it close in his embrace,
And poising in his outstretched hand
The bow, like a magician's wand,
He paused, and said, with beaming face:
"Last night my story was too long;
To-day I give you but a song,
An old tradition of the North;
But first, to put you in the mood,
I will a little while prelude,
And from this instrument draw forth
Something by way of overture."

He played; at first the tones were pure
And tender as a summer night,
The full moon climbing to her height,
The sob and ripple of the seas,
The flapping of an idle sail;
And then by sudden and sharp degrees
The multiplied, wild harmonies
Freshened and burst into a gale;
A tempest howling through the dark,
A crash as of some shipwrecked bark.
A loud and melancholy wail.

Such was the prelude to the tale
Told by the Minstrel; and at times
He paused amid its varying rhymes,
And at each pause again broke in
The music of his violin,
With tones of sweetness or of fear,
Movements of trouble or of calm,
Creating their own atmosphere;
As sitting in a church we hear
Between the verses of the psalm
The organ playing soft and clear,
Or thundering on the startled ear.

And then the blue-eyed Norseman told
A Saga of the days of old.
"There is," said he, "a wondrous book
Of Legends in the old Norse tongue,
Of the dead kings of Norroway, -
Legends that once were told or sung
In many a smoky fireside nook
Of Iceland, in the ancient day,
By wandering Saga-man or Scald;
Heimskringla is the volume called;
And he who looks may find therein
The story that I now begin."

And in each pause the story made
Upon his violin he played,
As an appropriate interlude,
Fragments of old Norwegian tunes
That bound in one the separate runes,
And held the mind in perfect mood,
Entwining and encircling all
The strange and antiquated rhymes
with melodies of olden times;
As over some half-ruined wall,
Disjointed and about to fall,
Fresh woodbines climb and interlace,
And keep the loosened stones in place.

Thus ran the Student's pleasant rhyme
Of Eginhard and love and youth;
Some doubted its historic truth,
But while they doubted, ne'ertheless
Saw in it gleams of truthfulness,
And thanked the Monk of Lauresheim.

This they discussed in various mood;
Then in the silence that ensued
Was heard a sharp and sudden sound
As of a bowstring snapped in air;
And the Musician with a bound
Sprang up in terror from his chair,
And for a moment listening stood,
Then strode across the room, and found
His dear, his darling violin
Still lying safe asleep within
Its little cradle, like a child
That gives a sudden cry of pain,
And wakes to fall asleep again;
And as he looked at it and smiled,
By the uncertain light beguiled,
Despair! two strings were broken in twain.

While all lamented and made moan,
With many a sympathetic word
As if the loss had been their own,
Deeming the tones they might have heard
Sweeter than they had heard before,
They saw the Landlord at the door,
The missing man, the portly Squire!

(J'adore humblement les actes du Très-Haut)

J'adore humblement les actes du Très-Haut
Qui a donné au violon mieux qu'une âme
Au point que dès qu'il joue les hommes se taisent
Et que leurs mains rabattent leur voile
Pour cacher leur émotion.
Et soucis de l'amour étaient sur le point
De me mettre au tombeau
Mais grâce au violon, ô fils d'Aïchoum!
Dieu m'a rendu la vie.

Bukowski in Love [excerpt]
Doren Robbins

          Old Jew in law musician
uncle, talking a month before he died
about his first love in Warsaw, said to me,
"because of her, I learned to play the violin."

A Minor Poet: Epilogue [excerpt]
Amy Levy

We knocked and knocked; at last, burst in the door,
And found him as you know - the outstretched arms
Propping the hidden face. The sun had set,
And all the place was dim with lurking shade.
There was no written word to say farewell,
Or make more clear the deed.
I search'd and search'd;
The room held little: just a row of books
Much scrawl'd and noted; sketches on the wall,
Done rough in charcoal; the old instrument
(A violin, no Stradivarius)
He played so ill on....

Stradivarius, or God Needs Antonio [excerpt]
George Eliot

Your soul was lifted by the wings to-day
Hearing the master of the violin:
You praised him, praised the great Sebastian too
Who made that fine Chaconne; but did you think
Of old Antonio Stradivari? - him
Who a good century and half ago
Put his true work in that brown instrument
And by the nice adjustment of its frame
Gave it responsive life, continuous
With the master's finger-tips and perfected
Like them by delicate rectitude of use.
Not Bach alone, helped by fine precedent
Of genius alone before, nor Joachim
Who holds the strain afresh incorporate
By inward hearing and notation strict
Of nerve and muscle, made our joy to-day:
Another soul was living in the air
And swaying it to true deliverance
Of high invention and responsive skill: -
That plain white-aproned man who stood at work
Patient and accurate full fourscore years,
Cherished his sight and touch by temperance,
And since keen sense is love of perfectness
Made perfect violins, the needed paths
For inspiration and high mastery.
No simpler man than he: he never cried,
"Why was I born to this monotonous task
Of making violins?" or flung them down
To suit with hurling act a well-hurled curse
At labour on such perishable stuff.
Hence neighbours in Cremona held him dull,
Called him a slave, a mill-horse, a machine,
Begged him to tell his motives or to lend
A few gold pieces to a loftier mind.
Yet he had pithy words full fed by fact;
For fact, well-trusted, reasons and persuades,
Is gnomic, cutting, or ironical,
Draws tears, or is a tocsin to arouse -
Can hold all figures of the orator
In one plain sentence; has her pauses too -
Eloquent silence at the chasm abrupt
Where knowledge ceases. Thus Antonio
Made answers as Fact willed, and made them strong
Naldo, a painter of eclectic school,
Taking his dicers, candlelight and grins
From Caravaggio, and in holier groups
Combining Flemish flesh with martyrdom -
Knowing all tricks of style at thirty-one,
And weary of them, while Antonio
At sixty-nine wrought placidly at his best
Making the violin you heard to-day -
Naldo would tease him oft to tell his aims.
"Perhaps thou hast some pleasant vice to feed -
The love of louis d'ors in heaps of four,
Each violin a heap - I've nought to blame;
My vices waste such heaps. But then, why work
With painful nicety? Since fame once earned
By luck or merit - oftenest by luck -
(Else why do I put Bonifazio's name
To work that 'pinxit Naldo' would not sell?)
Is welcome index to the wealthy mob
Where they should pay their gold, and where they pay
There they find merit - take your tow for flax
And hold the flax unlabelled with your name,
Too coarse for sufferance."
Antonio then:
"I like the gold - well, yes - but not for meals.
And as my stomach, so my eye and hand,
And inward sense that works along with both,
Have hunger that can never feed on coin.
Who draws a line and satisfies his soul,
Making it crooked where it should be straight?
An idiot with an oyster-shell may draw
His lines along the sand, all wavering,
Fixing no point or pathway to a point;
An idiot one remove may choose his line,
Straggle and be content; but God be praised,
Antonio Stradivari has an eye
That winces at false work and loves the true,
With hand and arm that play upon the tool
As willingly as any singing bird
Sets him to sing his morning roundelay,
Because he likes to sing and likes the song."
Then Naldo: " 'Tis a petty kind of fame
At best, that comes of making violins;
And saves no masses, either. Thou wilt go
To purgatory none the less."
But he:
" 'Twere purgatory here to make them ill;
And for my fame - when any master holds
'Twixt chin and hand a violin of mine,
He will be glad that Stradivari lived,
The masters only know whose work is good:
They will choose mine, and while God gives them skill
I give them instruments to play upon,
God choosing me to help Him."
"What ! were God
At fault for violins, thou absent?"
He were at fault for Stradivari's work."
"Why, many hold Giuseppi's violins
As good as thine."
"May be: they are different.
His quality declines: he spoils his hand
With over-drinking. But were his the best,
He could not work for two. My work is mine,
And, heresy or not, if my hand slacked
I should rob God - since He is fullest good -
Leaving a blank instead of violins.
I say, not God Himself can make man's best
Without best men to help Him. I am one best
Here in Cremona, using sunlight well
To fashion finest maple till it serves
More cunningly than throats, for harmony.
'Tis rare delight: I would not change my skill
To be the Emperor with bungling hands,
And lose my work, which comes as natural
As self at waking."
"Thou art little more
Than a deft potter's wheel, Antonio;
Turning out work by mere necessity
And lack of varied function. Higher arts
Subsist on freedom - eccentricity -
Uncounted aspirations - influence
That comes with drinking, gambling, talk turned wild,
Then moody misery and lack of food -
With every dithyrambic fine excess:
These make at last a storm which flashes out
In lightning revelations. Steady work
Turns genius to a loom; the soul must lie
Like grapes beneath the sun till ripeness comes
And mellow vintage. I could paint you now
The finest Crucifixion; yesternight
Returning home I saw it on a sky
Blue-black, thick-starred. I want two louis d'ors
To buy the canvas and the costly blues -
Trust me for a fortnight."
"Where are those last two
I lent thee for thy Judith? - her thou saw'st
In saffron gown, with Holofernes' head
And beauty all complete?"
"She is but sketched:
I lack the proper model - and the mood.
A great idea is an eagle's egg,
Craves time for hatching; while the eagle sits
Feed her."
"If thou wilt call thy pictures eggs
I call the hatching, Work. 'Tis God gives skill,
But not without men's hands; He could not make
Antonio Stradivari's violins
Without Antonio. Get thee to thy easel."

Viola d'amour
Gustav Falke

Holde Königin der Geigen,
der die Liebe Namen lieh,
Liebe spielt dich zart und eigen
lockt und löst aus Traum und Schweigen
süße Melodie.

Liebesgeige, alles schönen,
alles tiefsten Zaubers reich,
Schmerz und Schmerzen zu versöhnen,
stimmst du mit den Silbertönen
Herz zu Herzen weich.

Und ich hör' dein Liedchen singen,
wie ein Hauch, ein Seufzer nur,
schwirrt es, und die Lüfte klingen
zärtlich unter seinen Schwingen,
Viola d'amour!

Albrecht Haushofer, from Moabit-Sonnetten

Von denen, die sich in die Wache teilen,
spielt einer Geige. Manchmal klingt's herauf,
ein harger Griff, ein holperiger Lauf,
und dennoch lässt es mich im Geist verweilen.

Wen ich der edlen Stradivari denke
und ihres Miesters, dessen Freund ich bin,
dann jammert meinen tonvertrauten Sinn
das hilflos Tastende, das Ungelenke.

Doch bleibt's Musik, was diese plumpen Hände
dem billigen Gehäuse noch entlocken,
es bleibt Musik, auch wenn die Pulse stocken.

Musik im Schatten der Gefängniswände.
Von Mozart war die letzte Melodie -
und Mozart - neine: gescholten hätt'er nie!

Der wandernde Musikant
Josef von Eichendorff

Bist du manchmal auch verstimmt,
Drück dich zärtlich an mein Herze,
Daß mirs fast den Atem nimmt,
Streich und kneif in süßem Scherze,
Wie ein rechter Liebestor
Lehn ich sanft an dich die Wange
Und du singst mir fein ins Ohr.
Wohl im Hofe bei dem Klange
Katze miaut, Hund heult und bellt,
Nachbar schimpft mit wilder Miene -
Doch was kümmert uns die Welt,
Süße, traute Violine!

Der Spielmann
Adelbert von Chamisso

Im Städtchen gibt es des Jubels viel,
Da halten sie Hochzeit mit Tanz und mit Spiel.
Dem Fröhlichen blinket der Wein so rot,
Die Braut nur gleicht dem getčnchten Tod.

Ja tot für den, den nicht sie vergißt,
Der doch beim Fest nicht Bräutigam ist:
Da steht er immitten der Gäste im Krug,
Und streichelt die Geige lustig genug.

Er streichelt die Geige, sein Haar ergraut,
Es schwingen die Saiten gellend und laut,
Er drückt sie ans Herz und achtet es nicht,
Ob auch sie in tausend Stücke zerbricht.

Es ist gar grausig, wenn einer so stirbt,
Wenn jung sein Herz um Freude noch wirbt.
Ich mag und will nicht länger es sehn!
Das möchte den Kopf mir schwindelnd verdrehn!

Wer heißt euch mit Fingern zeigen auf mich?
O Gott - bewahr uns gnädiglich,
Daß keinen der Wahnsinn übermannt.
Bin selber ein armer Musikant.

Harmonie du soir [excerpt]
Charles Baudelaire

Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige,
Chaque fleur s'évapore ainsi qu'un encensoir;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir,
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige.

Chaque fleur s'évapore ainsi qu'un encensoir,
Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu'on afflige,
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige,
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir;

Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu'on afflige,
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir;
Le soleil s'est noyé dans son sang qui se fige...

Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir,
Du passé lumineux recueille tout vestige.
Le soleil s'est noyé dans son sang qui se fige, -
Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir.

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