My Grandad and His Musical Saw
Every now and then I come across poems about the musical saw. It gives me great pleasure to share with you this poem, written by Mark Abraham, a Manchester based poet, whose work is regularly featured in publications across England and Wales.
Mark wrote this poem about his grandfather, George Bromwich, who played the musical saw. His grandfather passed away in 1954 or thereabouts. He mostly played the musical saw when he was young, which would have been before World War 2.
Photographer: Bruce Handy, March 2007
MY GRANDAD AND HIS MUSICAL SAW
My grandad played the musical saw.
He’d hold it between his knees
and bend the blade this way and that
for different notes and keys.
The bow was carefully resined.
He drew it back and forth
and thus a strange but haunting voice
was heard upon this earth.
And as he played his heart beat on,
and as he played he breathed,
and all the while spellbound we caught
the magic he bequeathed.
In ancient times the arrow-stick,
curved by the stretch of thread,
evolved into the fiddle
or was plucked as a lute instead.
From ancient times a piece of grass
held tight between two thumbs,
became the whistle and the fife,
while a stick beat out the drums.
But my grandad played the humble saw,
the same as he used for wood,
and whether in song or carpentry
we knew that it was good.
No engineer, to my knowledge,
ever made the saw his own,
turning it into an instrument
complete with perfect tone.
Not even my craftsman grandad,
a person of his time,
could imagine taking such a tool
for a public pantomime.
And so the stories gathered
how he entertained at home,
who never went beyond the door,
who never thought to roam.
But when my grandad reached the end,
as if to mark the score,
a coffin-maker plied his trade,
with hammer, nails and saw.
Yet no-one brought a blade of steel
to bend against the bow,
to play perhaps for one last time
before we let him go.
And the saw itself, his faithful friend,
who’d seen him through all pain,
went back into the tool-box
and was never played again.
© Mark Abraham
Printed with permission