Poetry Classroom: Violin at Sea

Welcome to this month’s poetry classroom, with poet and professor David Wright. We invite you to respond to the poems we’ll share here—their forms, images, sounds, meanings, surprises—ask questions of David and each other, and write your own poems along the way.

Violin at Sea

— for Rebecca Loudon

What worries her neighbor (the one who brings her berries in bowls):

      one day she will loosen her grip
      and the violin will drop into the Pacific.

But he says nothing. He watches her each morning

      since June, when she began playing,
      ankle deep in the tide.

A quarter mile down the beach he waits for her to finish her scales

      only moves near when she begins the slow improvisations:
      half a partita, melody of a chorale.

Two woven themes from works he does not know

      drawn him toward her and the Old German
      who lives in her head, practiced essence and sense.

Today, the capplemeister and the voyeur feel sure the fiddle

      will slip from her hands as she adjusts a fugue
      to the violent sea, or the sea to the counterpoint of her own liquid spine.

This morning she does not sway sway, or play scales

      but scatters as if she is sea spray:
      oh save her, they sing in whispers.

If her instrument heads out on the waves she will, they know,

      wade in after it, join it, cling to the bow like a buoy,
      the horizon, her hope, an impossible score.

Photo by Elsie esq., via Flickr. Poem by David Wright, author of A Liturgy for Stones.


Discussion Questions:

1. The neighbor is worried that the musician will drop her violin into the sea. Do you think he should worry?

2. What makes the horizon an impossible score? Is the musician’s hope misplaced, then?

3. Why do you suppose this musician has taken to playing ankle deep in the tide?

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  1. says

    Such adept wordplays, beginning with the title (“at sea”) and concluding with that final “impossible score”!

    To me, this poem addresses elements of control and risk and the balancing of tension in having faith that everything comes together at the right moment and knowing that one can only control so much. There are risks and surprises both.

    • says

      Thanks, Maureen. I find risk and control to always be in tension when I write (or do much of anything). How do you balance control and risk in your own writing? Are you conscious of it in the generative stage or does it become a concern mostly when you revise?


      • says

        I try not to control the writing of a first draft, especially if the writing seems to be flowing. Post-initial draft, I’ll always pay attention to whether I think particular words work, whether stanza breaks make sense, and especially how line breaks function.

        If writing to form, though, I will tend to exert more control in the initial writing.

        I think I’ve managed to loosen my writing quite a bit since becoming associated with TweetSpeakPoetry (witness my comment poems). That’s a good thing.

  2. Marcy Terwilliger says

    Reminds me of required reading in High School, The Old Man and the Sea. It is he, the old man that is afraid something might happen to this lovely vision that he seeks each day. She on the other hand is carefree, with wings to fly, not a care in the world but what she plays. She’s a brave one, nothing will stop her or bring her to her knees. Her happiness lies in the unseen of others, what’s a little water to the hem of a dress, nothing to her, her spirit is free to be.

  3. says

    Nothing in life is ever certain; therefore he has reason to worry. The violinist will in time lose her grip on her instrument and on life – and he knows that. She’s dependent on the violin and sea to bring her peace and oneness in her life and without those two components she is not whole. Therefore she can’t resist the lure to the shore; but she never goes further than ankle deep in water. Whether it be her fear of the unknown or cognizant of her limitations – she ventures further – so the horizon she will never attain.

    • says

      Sorry, but I made a mistake in the last sentence. What I meant was “Whether it be her fear of the unknown or being cognizant of her limitations – she will never venture further and so she’ll never attain the horizon.”

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