The Reminder

By Allan Updegraff

A little Belgian and an old violin—

A short, dumpy, melancholy little Belgian

And a very fine old violin….

An inconsequential small Belgian

Wearing a discouraged bit of mustache,

American "store" clothes that didn't fit,

Cheap American shoes, shined but shapeless….

(And yet he had often played in high honor

Before great audiences in Belgium;

But that was before Hell's lid was lifted

Somewhere in the North of Germany—

May it be clamped down, hard, before long!)

So this shabby, fat, discouraged oldish Belgian

(Too old and fat for military service),

And his very old beautiful violin,

(Borrowed—he'd lost his better one to his conquerors),

Appeared before a dubious tag-end of an audience

In a music hall built in the woods

Near an American summer resort,

And played a dozen selections for forty-five dollars.

Then we learned why he had often played in high honor

Before great audiences in Belgium;

And why his king and his country

Had given him the honors he still wore,

The riches recently taken away

By his conquerors.

Then we saw what manner of man he was,

How that his soul was finely clad, upright,

Nobly statured, crowned with Apollo's bays.

Then we knew, when he played Tartini's sonata for violin,

That Belgium would own once more

Its little place in the sun.

For the old Italian master might have written that sonata

With the devastated Belgium of these days in mind.

First, streaming from beneath the Belgian's sentient bow,

The music told of peace and common things,

With some bickering, some trivialities,

But much melody and deep harmony underneath.

The third movement, affetuoso, awoke to ruin—

To ruin too sudden and complete.

Too bloody and bestial and cruel

And thorough and filthy and Prussian

To be more than wailed over softly.

There was a stabbed child

Lying in the mud beneath a half-burned house,

Beside the naked corpse of its mother,

The mutilated bodies of its old grandfather,

And young sister;

And the child cried faintly, and moaned,

And cried again….

And then was silent.

A while after, from far away,

Rose dull outcries, trampling feet,

Voices indomitable—

Retreating, returning, joined by others, dying, reviving,

Always indomitable.

And still others joined those beaten but unconquered ones,

And the end came in one long, high,

Indomitable cry.

Then we knew, and bowed our heads,

And were ashamed of our poor part,

And prayed God we might bear a nobler part,

In the reply to that most cold-planned,

Murderously carried out,

Unexpurgable horror over there.