D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Discord in Childhood” is often interpreted as presenting a child’s recollection of overhearing the child’s parents quarreling. The poem begins with the phrase “Outside the house.” We normally think of houses as places of comfort and protection; we often think of anything outside a house as potentially threatening or as literally outside of our control.
Ironically, in this poem whatever seems threatening outside the house will seem considerably less terrifying than the dangers that exist inside. The rest of line 1, with its description of how “an ash-tree hung its terrible whips,” immediately marks this poem as a non- or even anti-Romantic text. Nature is not presented here, as it is presented so often in Romantic poems, as beautiful, comforting, or consoling.
Instead, the speaker emphasizes the dark and dangerous aspects of nature, which are especially symbolized by a storm. The next three lines refer to violent actions and unpleasant sounds. Certain sounds – especially “ash,” “wind,” and “shriek” – are emphatically repeated, and key words are stressed by the poet’s skillful use of meter. In the phrase “its terrible whips,” for instance, the key word “whips” receives especially strong emphasis because it is preceded by two unaccented syllables. Similarly, notice how cleverly Lawrence manages to literally accentuate key words through his use of meter here (the accented syllables are boldfaced, as above):
And at night / when the wind / arose, / the lash / of the tree [boldface, italics, and slashmarks added]
Lawrence here employs three anapests in one line. An anapest is a metrical foot consisting of two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable. It differs from the far more common iamb (an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable, as in “arose” and “the lash”). As it happens, anapests are particularly appropriate to this poem, which deals with emphases that are delayed but then are especially powerful when they arrive – like the lashes of a whip. In the example above, the anapests have been placed in italic type to better illustrate this argument.
Lawrence achieves powerful metrical effects in other lines, too, as in the ways he emphasizes “Shrieked” and “Weird” by placing these strongly accented words at the beginnings of lines, and in the way he manages to accent heavily both the verb “Shrieked” and the echoing noun “shrieks.” The poem’s opening stanza, in short, is full of words, sounds, and images suggesting the fury of nature.
Stanza two echoes stanza one in many ways. If anything, however, stanza two is even more terrifying. Just as the first stanza opened with the phrase “Outside the house,” so the second stanza opens with the phrase “Inside the house.” Stanza two, however, by stressing angry argument between humans, emphasizes the possibility or real violence and real pain, both physical and emotional. In this stanza, sound effects are again important, as in the way he sound of “Whistling” mimics the action the word describes. The phrase “slender lash” (symbolizing the mother) is contrasted with the phrase “thick lash” (symbolizing the father), and both phrases echo important sounds from stanza one. Alliteration (as in “booming and bruising”) gives the poem even stronger aural impact, while the final line’s reference to “a silence of blood” is especially violent and haunting.