A Moment of Rapture With Jacqueline du Pré

Her first note is a thunderbolt
Crashing above the forest of instruments.
She holds her cello close, and I sense
The power in her touch.

Her bow blows the strings
And lets each phrase
Ring over me,
Wave after wave.

Her fingers breeze
Up the fingerboard
Higher and higher.
Her music is fire,
Though I shiver as I listen.

—Julie Kerr (1987)

Julie dedicated this poem to Jacqueline du Pré, whose brilliant career was cut short after she contracted multiple sclerosis at the age of 28. A few months after the poem was written, du Pré died, at the age of 42.

The poem was published in Julie's high school literary journal, but it has an even better story. Julie went with her cello teacher Lauren to a concert by cellist Lynn Harrell. He had purchased du Pré’s 1673 Stradivarius cello after her death, and so Lauren gave him a copy of Julie’s poem. He read it and put it into his cello case. Five years later he was again playing in Seattle, and Lauren was talking to him, and asked him whether he remembered that poem. He whipped it out of his cello case, where he still kept it. So her poem traveled all over the world with a Stradivarius, du Pré’s cherished instrument.