Poem of the Day: Robert Lax "The Alley Violinist"


In the past decade or so, it seems that questions of poverty in the Western world are dealt with in terms of utility or efficiency rather than morality or ethics. While it tends to be disingenuous when politicians tell their little anecdotes about little boys named Steve who can't afford pencils, it tugs at our heartstrings but doesn't ask us to empathize.

"The Alley Violinist" shows how the simplest of verse can grow and grow and take on meaning far more important than what the words convey literally. It brings to uncomfortable life the choice the poor musician must make: take the money he or she desperately needs and deny someone the tiniest bit of happiness, or give happiness and starve.

What would you do?

"The Alley Violinist," by Robert Lax

if you were an alley violinist

and they threw you money
from three windows

and the first note contained
a nickel and said:
when you play, we dance and
sing, signed
a very poor family

and the second one contained
a dime and said:
I like your playing very much,
a sick old lady

and the last one contained
a dollar and said:
beat it,

would you:
stand there and play?

beat it?

walk away playing your fiddle?

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5 Responses to “ Poem of the Day: Robert Lax "The Alley Violinist" ”

  1. Wow...that truly is an amazing poem. Thank you for posting.

  2. I'm sorry to admit I'm wimpy enough to beat it. And at least remember I've made some people happy.

  3. @Annie It's great, isn't it?

    @thelmaz If I'm being honestly cheeky, or cheekily honest, I admit that I'd keep playing. If the rich family hated it so much, I imagine they'd raise their offer a bit.

  4. Take the money and keep playing!

  5. play the Michael Jackson song for the dollar guy?


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