The careful conversation he has with the lady is compared to the “attenuated tones of violins / Mingled with remote cornets.” The word “attenuated” means a thinning out, as if this music is somehow far away and detached – almost as if the speaker is somewhat detached from what the lady is trying to communicate.
And how, how rare and strange it is, to find
In a life composed so much, so much of odds and ends, …
To find a friend who has these qualities,
Who has, and gives
Those qualities upon which friendship lives.
She is talking about the necessity of friendships, yet there is a thread of isolation read into the fact that the speaker doesn’t seem to accept what she is saying. In the speaker’s brain, after hearing her talk about friendships, the cornets are not merely “remote.” They are “cracked.” “Inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins / Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own, / Capricious monotone / That is at least one definite ‘false note.’” This prelude is in sharp contrast to the romanticism of Chopin’s Preludes. It hammers in a dull monotone reminiscent of a migraine. The “false note” is the only thing that disturbs this monotone, which could suggest that something may not be right with the speaker’s life – there is some discord or dissonant unexplained. Swiftly he turns back to social niceties, admiring monuments, discussing events, and checking the time. These instruments, as they appear, seem to signify the breakdown of communication, another sign of isolation between him and the woman.
In the second section of the poem, the lady tells the young man how he doesn’t understand all that life has to offer him, and how she finds the world wonderful and youthful. Meanwhile, he hears her voice as an “insistent out-of-tune” broken violin. He seems impatient at what he may perceive as her hollow view of life. She offers him her friendship and sympathy. He doesn’t know how to respond, and here we as readers may feel a growing frustration at his inability to understand, to "unbury" himself from this little life. Meanwhile, the world spins madly on with its little tragedies – “An English countess goes upon the stage. / A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance.” He remains remote and detached, even from his friend, except when he hears a “street piano, mechanical and tired / Reiterat[ing] some worn-out common song.” Somehow the worn-out street piano with its "commonness" affects him in a way that Chopin and the high culture Chopin seems to represent doesn’t, perhaps a poignant reminder of his loneliness.