A word or two about this poem. No one chances upon Cremona violins in junk shops; I didn’t either. The only person known to have done so was Sherlock Holmes, who picked up his Stradivarius in a shop in Tottenham Court Road for the princely sum of fifty-five shillings. The other inspiration for the poem is a Stradivarius supposedly in the possession of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford: it is said to be so pure and perfect in quality that it is called The Messiah (my source for this story is Jan Morris’ book on Oxford).
The poem is allegorical.
It’s the usual shop for odds and ends,
the impedimenta of people’s lives:
pots and pans, carved bookends,
a case of curious kitchen knives.
I pick my way through the bric a brac
to some musty tomes tied with hemp,
as the rheumy owner swats a rag
to flick the dust off them.
A casual glance suffices for me:
nascent hope gutters and dies.
There’s nothing there to interest me,
no long-sought gem to rhapsodise.
I give the place one last sweep
before I turn my back on it,
vaguely disquieted by this rubbish heap
on which dereliction’s so starkly writ.
Thus almost missing the thing – uncased,
forlornly stood against the door
like an errant schoolboy disgraced
for some minor misdemeanour.
Mute prey to dust and mould
(the strings have somehow held their own)
I’m still surprised it lies unsold,
for someone or other should have known…
Through the ear-holes in the waning light
an ancient label squints at me,
its print all but faded white:
a date, and the name Antonio Stradivari.