‘Piano’ shares a common theme with the rest of D. H. Lawrence’s work. From short stories to novels, Lawrence explores childhood memories and how they can be related to real memories or invented situations. In ‘Piano,’ the lyrical voice romanticizes and sentimentalizes certain events that took place in the past. In Lawrence’s works, emotion tends to win over thought, as feelings and sentiments are more powerful than rational thinking.
In the first lines of ‘Piano,’ the speaker begins by looking back into the past and seeing a woman singing to him. He’s a child, sitting “under the piano” and enjoying the music. It’s a beautiful memory, one that is free of any worry or concern. He remembers these moments so clearly, it pains him, making him want to weep “to belong / To the old Sunday evenings at home.” After being moved so powerful by these memories, he feels as though he’s more child than man. His “manhood is cast / Down,” and he weeps “like a child / for the past.”
Structure and Form
‘Piano’ by D.H. Lawrence is a lyric poem. It is written in three quatrains, and it has an AABBCCDDEEFF rhyme scheme. The piano has a constant pace with a particular rhythm, just like a song, representing the title of the poem. Moreover, the tone of the lyrical voice is melancholic and sentimental. As already mentioned, the central theme in Piano is memory and its relationship with childhood and adulthood. The lyrical voice experiments a conflict between present experiences and past memories.
Lawrence makes use of several literary devices in ‘Piano.’ They include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one, two, and three of the second stanza.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet uses a pause in the middle of a line, either through the use of punctuation or meter. For example, “With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour” in the final stanza.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “poised” and “pressing” in stanza one and “parlour” and “piano” at the end of stanza two.
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In the first stanza, a woman sings to the lyrical voice. The poem begins by setting the scene: “Softly, in the dusk.” A woman sings to the lyrical voice and takes him/her back in time (“a woman is singing to me;/ Taking me back down the vista of years”). From the beginning, Piano creates a very nostalgic mood. There are two settings in the poem: the scene where the woman sings while the sun goes down in the distance and the remembrance of the lyrical voice.
The first two lines of the stanza will depict this first scene, the presence of the lyrical voice, and the second two lines will portray his/her memory and past. The memory starts when the lyrical voice says that he/she sees a child under a piano (“till I see/A child sitting under the piano”).
This child is surrounded by music (“in the boom of the tingling strings”) and is “pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.” This remembrance feels intimate and homely while creating an atmosphere of childlike innocence and peace. “the tingling strings” is an onomatopoeia that portrays the sounds of the piano and creates a literary effect. Furthermore, the lyrical voice says that the song of the woman takes him/her back to the “vista of years,” serving as a metaphor for his/her childhood memories.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
In the second stanza, the lyrical voice is aware of his/her remembrance. The power of the song (“the insidious mastery of song”) seems to be stronger as the lyrical voice says, “In spite of myself”; the lyrical voice knows that he/she is nostalgic and melancholic and he/she does not give easily to emotion. Once again, the lyrical voice is drawn to his/her memories without wanting it. Emotion and memories are more powerful, and the lyrical voice is, again, surrounded by a childhood remembrance. “Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong” is powerful imagery to portray the lyrical voice’s wish to live his/her childhood memories again. The heart is personified and given the human capacity of crying.
Like in the previous stanza, the first two lines talk about the lyrical voice’s present situation, and the following two describe the remembrance that he/she is having at the moment. The lyrical voice sets the scene for this memory, as he/she states: “To the old evening at home with winter outside.”
The house and the lyrical voice are, again, surrounded by music in this comfortable and secure home (“And hymns in the cosy parlour”). Moreover, the piano acquires a central place in the remembrance, as the lyrical voice mentions it as “our guide.” As in the previous stanza, the figure of the piano is introduced with onomatopoeic descriptions that enable a more vivid image (“the tinkling piano”).
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
In the third stanza, the lyrical voice’s thoughts about the song of the woman change. The lyrical voice suggests that at that precise moment (“So now”), the song has lost its happiness and its meaning (“It is vain for the singer to burst into clamour/With the great piano appassionato”). The lyrical voice meditates on what he/she feels about the memories that he/she experimented with (“The glamour/Of childish days is upon me”), and how he/she is no longer living those good times that were represented in his/her childhood. The remembrance ends, and the “manhood” is lost, as the lyrical voice gives in to emotion (“I weep like a child for the past”).
In the last line, there is a simile (“I weep like a child”) in order to emphasize the act of crying and how this memory affected the lyrical voice. There is a central longing for the past, for the childhood memories, throughout the poem that grows with every line and culminates with this final statement.
About D.H. Lawrence
David Herbert Lawrence was born in 1885 and died in 1930. He was an English poet, novelist, playwright, literary critic, and essayist. In most of his texts, Lawrence examines topics such as sexuality, instinct, vitality, spontaneity, among others. Most importantly, he focuses on the dehumanizing effects of modern times and the process of industrialization. During his lifetime, Lawrence was censored and persecuted due to his strong beliefs and the misrepresentation of his works. He spent the last years in a voluntary exile. He called it “savage pilgrimage,” which took him to places such as Australia, Italy, United States, Mexico, and France.
When he died, despite Lawrence’s public reputation, E. M. Foster said that he was “the greatest imaginative novelist novelist” of their time. D. H. Lawrence’s most notable works include novels such as Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, John Thomas, and Lady Jane, and stories such as Odour of Chrysanthemums, The Virgin and the Gypsy, and The Rocking-Horse Winner.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Piano’ should also consider reading some other D.H. Lawrence poems. For example:
- ‘A Winter’s Tale‘ – tells a tale of two parting lovers who meet in the woods on a dark and misty winter day.
- ‘Beautiful Old Age‘ – is a poem in which Lawrence imagines a world in which old age is truly revered and hoped for and describes what that world would feel like.
- ‘Bei Hennef‘ – describes the effect twilight has to clear a speaker’s mind. It makes him see the strength of his love.