The Catholic Church is All for “Feminism”: Upholding the Dignity of Woman
“The Guitarist Tunes Up”
1 With what attentive courtesy he bent
2 Over his instrument;
3 Not as a lordly conqueror who could
4 Command both wire and wood,
5 But as a man with a loved woman might,
6 Inquiring with delight
7 What slight essential things she had to say
8 Before they started, he and she, to play.
Frances Darwin Cornford (d.1960)
When I was 17 years old, I came across this poem. I found it utterly romantic, though I couldn’t quite put it into words why.
To this day, I am still enamored by the imagery of this poem.
Now a 25-year-old young woman who has grown much in her Catholic faith, this time around I think that I understand more as to why.
I think that the poem makes a good illustration about how marriage should be as a sacrament instituted by God. The guitarist in the poem treats his guitar, a metaphorical image of his wife, that he is “tuning” as his most beloved instrument. The guitar is instrumental (pun intended!) and necessary to allow the guitarist fulfill his role as a musician. The guitarist needs his guitar to make music. They are thus inseparable; though two bodies, one.
For just as a guitar is an extension of a true guitarist’s body, so too does the man envision and treat his wife: as an extension of his very body. The “wire and wood” (line 4) that is his wife mirrors what Adam, the first married man on earth, calls Eve, the first bride on earth”: “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:22-24)!
Genesis 2:22-24 reads:
“The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: ‘This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”
Metaphorically, the man “bends over” his wife with “attentive courtesy” (line 1). He does not intend to merely use her like a “lordly conqueror” (line 3) who would “command both wire and wood” (line 4) (her body). Rather, the man tries to serve his woman for her sake first, so that she can then give a “genuine gift of [her]self” back to him (the spousal language of Pope JP2’s “theology of the body”). It is only in this way that true ‘music’– true love!– can be made.
Accordingly, the narrator refers to the guitarist as “a man with a loved woman” (line 5). His wife truly is a beloved prize: she is woman to be cherished, not a mere object to be used!
This ‘cherished’ factor makes Ephesians 5:25-31 come to mind. It reads:
“So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Lastly, in the poem, the man (the guitarist) asks his wife (the guitar) what her needs are, and what she has to say: what she is feeling and thinking. In fact, the guitarist “[inquires] with delight” (line 6)!
Note that the man is not merely happy but delighted to strive to know exactly “what slight essential things she [the guitar] has to say” (line 7) before they can “play” (line 8)– before they can make love together.
The fact that the man listens to the “slight essential things” the woman has to say reflects that he knows that the only way truly to love a woman is not by objectifying her, but by respecting her! He listens to her and tries to understand her thoughts and desires before asking for her love and affection.
This is what I must have found so very utterly romantic when I first read this poem! A real man does not “come, see, and conquer”—something that I had learned from the “hook up” generation all around me. Rather, a real man comes, seeks to understand, and asks gently! A real man gently inquires into a woman’s heart and proves that he truly cares for her. It is only in this way that she can ever let her defenses down and invite him into her very mystery.