The Violin Soldier
It was a story somehow true – it likely happened so,
It's strange – but there is much that's strange in human powers to know.
A young musician went to war without a trace of fear And bravely marched and played as well, and served above a year.
The day that he would leave the fight, he sat on a rude board Where many soldiers gathered round – and much they had endured.
There came to him a chosen few who offered him to drink; He told them no, he had no need, and gave the chief a wink;
“Just hand me there my violin and I will play awhile, And meet what onward life shall bring with a steady heart and smile.”
And this they did, and gathered close, he played with joyful skill; His hands were sure, his looks alive, but his nerve was calm and still.
It was an army doctor and two of the young man’s mates, And why they were so drawn to him is a turn of lives and fates.
He’d fought with them and sung their hymns and played them many an air, But he played them now a masterpiece to lay their spirits bare.
It was an old and full chaconne, one that they could not know; It sent strange shivers to their hearts, and made the blood to flow.
Though grim the task before them was, they fell under his spell And took him for their talisman, just then he played so well.
He paused – they drew still closer in, and again would have him drink; But he played, and bound them `til they could nor look aside, nor blink.
And he alike looked fixedly upon some distant sight As if the music carried him to a future far and bright.
Their concentration grew and grew on the music and the youth; It seemed he felt no mortal thing, but the music and the truth.
And when, at the cadenza’s end, he began the final theme, They stirred, as they had suddenly awakened from a dream.
Though they were soldiers, they were men who felt each other’s need; Their glances met – they knew that they might see each other bleed.
But this young man had lifted them above the pain of war, He’d written truth upon their hearts from the greatest master’s score.
He would not play them more that day – his trial had just begun. He lowered his gaze at last – to see where his severed leg had been.
He won no medals for the pain, nor had a great career, But the ones to whom he played that day would never cease to hear.
As soldiers then, they mustered out as early as they could, For they were changed within, and never after could spill blood.
Paul Gallagher is a poet, translator and also an economics journalist. He lives in Virginia with his wife. Paul has spent much of his life fighting for the revival of classical poetry and classical culture. See his other works on Keats and Shelley as well as more of his poetry here.