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Piano by D. H. Lawrence, 1918


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 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.


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.


Poem Summary

  • Lines 1 – 4


From the opening line of “Piano”, we are asked to see from the point of view of the speaker, who becomes nostalgic as he listens to a woman singing to him in the evening. The imagery of this stanza sets the tone for the poem about memory because memory itself is a function of the relationship between past and present. It is significant that the poem takes place at dusk, a time somewhere between day and night, as to show that the memory is very old. The image that sets up his memory, “the vista of years,” supports the time setting - dusk - because it prepares us for a visual remembrance of the old memories: the speaker literally sees a younger version of himself “sitting under the piano.” The “boom of the tingling strings,” an aural image, echoes the suddenness with which the memory hits the speaker. The scene embraces sentimentality because of its clichéd representation of a mother and her child: he is sitting at her feet, adoringly, pressing her “small, poised feet.” It is significant that this image pits the interior world of the house against the exterior world of winter, as domesticity suggests safety and the innocence of childhood, whereas winter suggests the insecurity and experience of adulthood. The aabb rhyme scheme also adds to the clichéd nature of the image, as it underscores the conventional form of the poem.

  • Lines 5 – 8


The second stanza takes us deeper into the speaker’s memory, which he tells us what he is fighting against. By using the word “insidious” to describe the woman’s “mastery of song,” the speaker suggests an almost adversarial relationship with her. That he is “betrayed” deeper into his memory, emphasizes the resistance he is putting up against the onslaught of the memory. The last two lines of the stanza participate again in image building. Now the speaker presents us with a picture of his childhood. Like the initial image of the speaker as a child with his mother, this representation is also stock; it conforms to all of the stereotypes of what a middle-class family would be like on Sunday night in the late-nineteenth century. The image of the piano links the first and second stanza to highlight the relationship between music and memory. Music was the speaker’s guide when he was a child, and it remains his guide as an adult.

  • Lines 9 – 12


The third stanza signals the speaker’s thorough capitulation to his memory. It is “vain” for the singer “to burst into clamour” because the speaker has already giving himself over to the barrage of feeling and memory. But it is not to the singer that he gives his passion to, but to the past. In this stanza, the speaker also makes a link between manhood and childhood. It is not only the adult world of the present that he is forsaking for the past, but also the adult world of manhood. So, the image we are left with is the adult as child, uncontrollably weeping for his past.


Themes

  • Childhood Memory

Lawrence shows that memory has a more powerful grip on him than the scene that he is part of as the woman sings to him. He gives into to the temptation to travel back in time to relive the secure feelings he had with his mother. As he remembers, he misses his childhood feelings so much that he forgets he is a man and weeps like a child. The poem is a conflict between present experience and memory. Memory wins. Childhood has more glamour than a woman singing passionately to him in the present. The theme of memory could be expressed here as a conflict between the present and the past. The past wins.

  • Relationship Between A Child And His Mother

The poem shows the strength of relationship between a child and his mother. For an adult, he has a somewhat unhealthy craving for his mother. There is a conflict in his heart between affection for his mother and passion for his lover. The smiles, sound and touch of his mother mean more to him than the passion that his lover is expressing through her song in the present. The mother and son relationship seems to be the main relationship in the speaker’s case. The discussion on relationships could also take place under the heading ‘Emotions’.

  • Influence of Music

The poem explores the powerful influence of music. The poet’s lover is carried away by her own performance. She expresses her inner passion. Yet the very song she sings transports the speaker down memory lane. Her singing reminds the speaker of music and song that mattered a lot to him at another time. The music, which should have appealed to him in the present, brought him back to charming childhood scenes with his mother. Music reconnected him with a happier time—a time when he was close to his mother. He focuses a lot on the sounds made by the piano: ‘tinkling’ and ‘tingling’, ‘boom’ and ‘appassionato’.

  • Childhood In Conflict With Adulthood

This theme can be discussed in the same terms as the theme ‘Memory’, explored above. Childhood was a time of intimate moments with the speaker’s mother. This childhood intimacy is more appealing to him than an adult relationship. It shows that Lawrence was not a balanced adult. He was dominated by a relationship that had been removed both by death and by the sheer fact of his growing up. His heart ruled where his mind should have. Sentiment, or soft hearted feelings, defeated passion.


Universal quality

Everyone can somehow relate to the poem. This poem may best relate with the westerners as their background and culture is somehow quite similar to the situation pictured in the poem because piano is widely used for the middle class range family and for the aristocratic family. Though may not all the readers can indulged themselves into the poem, but there is no denying that the main theme ‘memories’ that the persona ignited in the poem could made all the readers relate to their childhood life. As a result, this poem relates to the readers regardless the differences in background, colour etc by reminiscing the one’s childhood memory.

Symbol - Piano

Piano, in this poem, symbolized memory. The piano plays an important role in this poem as it reminds the persona about his childhood memory; precisely, the moment when he sat under the piano. Piano has many keys and each key produces different sound, different feeling. Just like piano which has lots of keys, we have a lot of memories and each memory brings out different feelings to us. By picking 1 key from the piano, we are going to remember a certain faded memory of ours.


Tone
  • Melancholic


Message
  • Do not dwell in the past



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