from The Luthier

The Glue


Do you remember
As now I do
The soot-black pot,
The leaves of glue
Brittle and breaking
And melting down
Awed, we thought
By a luthier’s frown?
The urgent summons:
“It’s your turn, quick!
To stir the pot!” –
The syrupy stick
The workshop warm,
Wood-scented, sunny
And the glue, the glue
Like amber honey? …
Each of us knew
What the end would be,
Two halves of Maple
Joined perfectly,
A join we vowed, unanimous,
Worthy a Stradivarius.
“And the Front?” we ask
You laugh and say:
“A different glue
And another day!”

* * *

We gather like sparrow
As you begin
Tapping the strips
Of purfling in.
The tiny hammer,
The slender groove,

The deft precision
As fingers move
Fitting the pieces
Mopping the glue –
We gaze in envy
And pride at you;
But you say
When at last
You stand upright
“Pure elegance in black and white!
And all that’s left
(A loss heaven-sent!)
Of the ancient luthier’s

* * *

The final sand-papering –
Wood like satin –
Your name in English
Not in Latin,
Glued to the back.
We peer at it through
The left f hole
And smile at you.
Seventy parts! Sound-post (“the Soul”)
Intricate Body,
Neck, Shoulder, Scroll,
Blocks and Bass-bar
Securely in –
And there, “in the white”,
One Violin!

from The Luthier: poems (Reed, 1966), © Ruth Gilbert 1966, used by permission of the author. Recording from the Waiata New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 1974

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