Image by NZ Herald

Poem introduction

from The Luthier

The Cremona Varnish

The Cremona Varnish

That which all luthiers desire
Like crystal, clear,
Like rubies, fire,
Cremona varnish! whose secret lies
Hidden, lost in the centuries.

What tears of red and golden gum
Madder, Logwood,
Juniper, Plum,
Dissolved and filtered and stored away?
Only the luthiers can say.

You lift a phial to the light:
Clear as crystal
And fiery bright,
"Dragon's blood!" we cry. You nod your head.
Dragon's blood! Pure Cremona red!

* * *

Varnish? Three reasons,
All of them good,
To heighten the tone,
To preserve the wood,

And, even as moonlight
On a pool,
So varnish on Maple
is beautiful.


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.

Recordings