The Old Violin - April 2022
by Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW
The crowd was quiet and attentive as an old cowboy, wearing a cowboy hat and a handle-bar mustache, walked to the microphone to recite the poem below. I had read it before, but he recited it exquisitely without notes. The poem was written by Myrna Brooks Welch many years ago, and when I read about the author’s life, her poem became even more meaningful.
Myrna was born in Illinois in 1877, the youngest of four children. By 1900, she and her parents relocated to Oregon where she married Otis Welch in 1901. They had two children, and the family moved to California. Myrna enjoyed writing poems and had four books published. She became severely disabled by arthritis and was wheelchair bound. She had to quit playing the organ but refused to give up writing.
She continued to write poems on a typewriter by holding a pencil in each gnarled hand. Letter by letter, she pressed the keys with the pencil erasers, even though each stroke was painstakingly slow and caused her pain. She became known as “the poet with the singing soul.” She died in 1959 at the age of 82.
Here’s her poem, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.”
'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought
it hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.
"What am I bid, good people," he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?
One dollar, one dollar, do I hear two?
Two dollars, who makes it three?
Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three."
From the room far back a gray-bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its bow.
"One thousand, one thousand, do I hear two?
Two thousand, who makes it three?
Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone," said he.
The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand.
What changed its worth?"
Swift came the reply,
"The touch of the master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune
All battered and bruised with hardship
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin.
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.
When I read about Myrna’s physical difficulties, I admired her determination to write even when it caused her physical pain. But perhaps her writing gave her a purpose as she faced her adversity head-on and lived until the age of 82.
Even if we are grieving, aging, or facing other life challenges, we all still have value. Each of us can show kindness and share our talents, our “music,” with someone. As in the story of the old violin, the “Master” can help us.
Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
709 Liberty, Clay Center, Kansas
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator