Memories facilitate holding on to the things a person loves. Even a sophisticated man can find himself in the reminiscences of his former life. In “Piano” by D. H. Lawrence, the reader engages with the speaker as his mind reveals a childhood memory.
The narration is first person with the speaker as the narrator. The form for the poem is three quatrains with rhyming couplets throughout the stanzas. There are two settings: the actual scene of the speaker somewhere listening to music; and the remembrance of a childhood tableau.
The initial picture seems dark and symbiotic. Romance is in the air. The woman singing to the speaker and the music are one. It enters the soul of the man.
The scene changes for the narrator as the music takes him back to another time. He begins to see himself as he was as a child. Listening to his mother play the piano, the boy touches her small feet as she plays. His mother smiles as she sings.
The speaker feels betrayed by the subtle music that brings him to this nostalgic time. The speaker tries to stay in the present; however, inside his heart, he feels his emotions welling up so that he can hardly hold back the tears. In his mind’s eye, he recalls the wintry Sunday evenings in his childhood home: the warm and welcoming family singing hymns with his mother playing the piano.
In the present, the singer’s music has become noise accompanied by passionate piano playing. The speaker is no longer there with the singer in the present.
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….
He responds to the call from his childhood and bridges the gap from adulthood to childhood. He no longer feels the restraint of manhood as he weeps for the child he once was.
The poet uses the extended metaphor of the piano as the heart of the poem. The piano represents the present and the past with the speaker caught in the midst of the “insidious” music that infiltrates his heart and mind. Memory is compared to a vista which extends its meaning to be a flood of memories.
A simile was chosen by the poet to replicate his crying for himself as a child.
The poet’s imagery clearly sets the two scenes so that the reader can place himself in either place: past or present. Further, the word choice elicits the sounds of both times with the sexual singer evocatively calling the adult singer to the hymns of the mother’s playing.
For his alliterative use to emphasize the harshness and return to the past, the poet uses the “b” sound.
“Betrays me back…” and “…the great black piano.”
The use of contrast of scenes portrays the difference in the feelings of the speaker: the first scene is dusky, yet booming and clamorous; however, the childhood setting is cozy, tingling, hymnal.
The poet denotes the power of memory. The man does not fight the memory but hesitatingly gives into temptation to travel back to his childhood that he loved. Memory wins. He feels more at home and loved in his childhood than the more glamorous scene in the present.
Memories are an important part of every human being. They need to be care for and occasionally brought out to heal the hurts of the present.