Summarize and briefly analyze the poem "Piano" by D. H. Lawrence.

"Piano" is written in three stanzas, each a quatrain. As the poem begins, the speaker hears a woman singing, and it leads him to think of his mother and memories from his childhood. He is feeling nostalgic, yet hesitant to show his feelings until the end, when he can't contain it anymore and cries.

 

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In the poem “Piano,” author D. H. Lawrence looks back wistfully on his childhood, when he used to sit underneath the piano and listen to his mother play. He says, “Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me,” as he recalls the days of his childhood when his mother would play and sing as he sat hidden and protected, the way a small child feels in the presence of a loving parent.

For the poet, the woman's singing represents the spark that recalls his memory of youth. He refers to the “the insidious mastery of song.” The song is key, as it unlocks the poet's reminiscence, just as Proust’s memory is sparked by the aroma of the madeleine. It could be that it is a stranger singing; the important thing is that it sparks the memories.

The thought of the piano takes him "back down the vista of years" until he actually sees himself as “a child sitting under the piano.” At the keys, his mother sits emitting “the boom of the tingling strings” and pressing her “small, poised feet,” while she smilingly sings to her little boy. Perhaps the young boy sings some of the lyrics with her.

The poet longs to be back in the days of his childhood. He says that his “heart… weeps to belong to the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside.” The imagery is one of a comfortable evening, while the cold winter blusters outside. Snow falls, but the child is happily seated inside in the warmth of the parlor, the lovely sounds of the piano, and his mother’s singing. It is a Sunday, the day of rest, when all he had to do was sing and be content in his mother’s company. The juxtaposition of the cold winter outside and the singing and family portrait inside paints the picture of a harmonious family setting. In addition to setting the poem on a Sunday evening, he also imbues an essence of spirituality here when he compares the songs to “hymns in the cosy parlour” guided by “the tinkling piano.”

However, the poet knows that “it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour.” In other words, it is impossible for him to return to those idyllic days when he was warm and protected by a parent caring for a child. Now, he is a grown man, an adult with the responsibilities that an adult has. He says, “my manhood is cast.” Yet, recalling those wonderful days with his mother, in a bittersweet moment of memory or “flood of remembrance,” he weeps “like a child for the past.” He knows that it is impossible, but he longs to be back in time in those easier and loving days. Knowing that he cannot, he weeps.

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D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Piano” illustrates the use of imagery.  Through the images, both visual and auditory,  the reader acknowledges the nostalgic mood of the poem. Written in 1918, the poem expresses the long held belief that a man should not cry; yet, this man cannot hold back his tears.

Speaker

The point of view of the poem is first person with a man [possibly the poet] as the narrator.  His portrayal of the events he describes is both complex and revealingly simple.

Form

  • The poem has three stanzas. Each stanza is a quatrain.  The lines are coupled so that every two lines rhyme. 
  • Every stanza follows the same pattern: the first two lines provide a scene of the present with the last two lines comparing the present to the past.
  • His vocabulary and diction are easy to follow and conversational in style.

Poetic Devices

The poet builds its impact with imagery.  There are two picture painted by the poet: the woman in the present singing and playing the piano; and  the mother playing the piano and the boy underneath at her feet.

Metaphorthe man’s memory of his childhood is compared to a vista, which mean a panoramic view or landscape

Simile—When the man’s emotions overwhelm him, he compares his emotional state to a child. 

Summary

1st stanza

In the present, a woman is singing to the speaker which reminds him of a time in his childhood.  The poet sets the scene using the words softly with the time at dusk.  As he hears the music, he sees himself sitting under the piano as his mother plays and sings.  This is a happy time because the mother smiles at her child.  The sounds are now booming and tingling…as he listens and watches his mother, he touches and presses her feet.  The mother does not mind this interference.

2nd stanza

The speaker does not really want to feel this experience at the time. He describes the impact of the song as sinister because it takes him back [whether he wants to go or not]  to a nostalgic time in his life---a beloved time.  Within himself, he cries for the time on the Sundays when it was winter outside.  The family would sit in the warm living room and sing with the piano as the leader of their tunes.

3rd stanza

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
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.

Because of his happy memories, the present day singer’s song has changed from soft to noisy with the large, ebony grand piano.  The speaker’s memories call him to another place when he was a child. As a sophisticated man, he does not want to show his emotions; however, he can no longer restrain himself, and he cries for the child that he was. Reluctantly, the speaker gives himself over to these memories.

Themes

Nostalgia for another time and place---sometimes music, sounds, and places take a person back in his memory. Often, the recollection makes the person go back to a pleasant time; however, the memory make bring the pain of the loss of the childhood or the loss of the people in the memory. 

Man versus Child---The child loved his mother and enjoyed the time spent under the piano with the family singing and laughing.  On the other hand, the speaker fears the loss of his masculinity when he yields to the memory’s emotions. This issue is one that a man faces in today’s society; however, men are beginning to be more comfortable in showing their true feelings.

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