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The Saturday Poem: Poem to a Friend Feeling Out of His Element

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by Tony Roberts

Turgenev tells of a little French drummer
caught by the peasants of Smolensk
after the sack of Moscow and how,
as they were preparing to cram him
down a hole in the Gniloterka River,
a passing farmer offered twenty kopeks
for the boy, believing by his wild mime
that he was master of all kinds of music.
The farmer warmed the drummer in wolf fur
and took him home as piano teacher
to his girls.

There the boy was placed on
a stool before the shoddy instrument.
Impervious to the cheap perfumes
and the frou-frou of young ladies' skirts,
he finally and with deepest dread
plunged ahead, banging in his ignorance
on the keys as if they were a snare drum.
A sudden sinewy arm thrown round him
brought sensations of that coming ice,
but the farmer gave a grunt instead.
'I can see you know your stuff,' he said.

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