‘Discord in Childhood’ by D.H. Lawrence is a two stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a very simple rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDDC. Lawrence’s choice to use this fairly straightforward pattern is an interesting one and connects directly with the subject matter of the poem.
Traditionally, poems directed at children, or told from the perspective of a child, make use of patterns such as that employed in ‘Discord in Childhood’. What’s different about this piece is that while the content comes from someone’s childhood, it is not lighthearted in any way.
Before beginning the poem one should already be aware that it’s going to discuss unhappy moments of childhood and the “discord” that haunted one youth’s days. The first two lines of this poem set the mood for the following lines. The poem is dark, dreary, and at times, frightening. Lawrence addresses the larger topics of the text directly but through poetic diction that only increases the drama. He easily accomplishes the task of putting the reader into the mindset of a child made to live in a world surrounded by anger, rage, metaphorical lashes and constant conflict.
Summary of Discord in Childhood
In the first lines, the speaker begins by describing a terrible storm raging outside. It appears these events happened in the past, so the speaker is recalling (or creating) these descriptions. Specifically, he recalls how when the wind increased and the branches of the tree became whip-like and pounded the sides of the house. The branches moved through the air, making shrieking noising as if trying to slash at the wind. He compares the wind and branches, through a simile, to how the rigging of a ship might sound as the vessel tosses amongst the waves.
Just how outside the house the storm is whipping through the tree, battering it in the wind and creating terrible shrieking noises, something similar is happening inside. There are “Two voices,” a mother’s and a father’s, who in anger raise their voices. As the poem concludes it becomes clear that one voice, the father’s, overcame the mother’s. The final image is of the “silence of blood”.
Analysis of Discord in Childhood
Outside the house an ash-tree hung its terrible whips,
And at night when the wind arose, the lash of the tree
In the first stanza of ‘Discord in Childhood,’ the speaker begins by describing a terrible storm raging outside a house. Specifically, he depicts it through the movements of an ash tree by the window. He recalls how when the wind increased, the branches of the tree became whip-like and pounded the sides of the house.
This is a brutal metaphor, made even more poignant by the fact that Lawrence chose to say that the tree didn’t just resemble a whip, but was one. The whip, and all the connotations (especially domestic), that go with it, are important for the overall themes of ‘Discord in Childhood’. The whip is especially important when it comes to the larger theme of conflict that emerges in the second stanza.
Shrieked and slashed the wind, as a ship’s
Weird rigging in a storm shrieks hideously.
Lawrence uses alliteration in the next two lines (with the repetition of the letter “s”) to describe the movement and sound of the wind. It is clearly terrifying and would become even more so from the perspective of a young child. The branches moved through the air, making shrieking noising as if trying to slash at the wind. He compares the sound, through a simile, to how the rigging of a ship. The tumultuous image this creates is carried through the next quatrain.
Most importantly, as is made clear in the next stanza, what is going on outside the house is reflected by what’s going on within it.
Within the house two voices arose in anger, a slender lash
Whistling delirious rage, and the dreadful sound
Of a thick lash booming and bruising, until it drowned
The other voice in a silence of blood, ’neath the noise of the ash.
Now, Lawrence gets to the main theme of the text. He is most interested in speaking about conflict within the home that influences a child’s mindset. Just as the storm is whipping through the tree, something similar is happening inside.
There are “Two voices,” belonging to a mother and a father, who grow angry. The first voice, the mother’s, is described as a “slender lash” that “Whistl[es]” through the air (just like the tree) in its “delirious rage”. She is fighting with her husband, for reasons that remain unknown. The other voice, that of the father, is “a thick lash booming and bruising”. The use of the word “bruising” here suggests some kind of physical abuse taking place alongside the argument.
The poem concludes with a very dark, disturbing image of the “other voice in a silence of blood”. This silence is stretched out through the house, beneath “the noise of the ash”. In this final image, it appears that the mother’s voice, and perhaps her life, was “drowned” out by the father’s.