The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Piano” is a lyric poem reflecting the thoughts and feelings of a single speaker as he listens at dusk to a woman singing a song that brings back childhood memories of sitting at his mother’s feet while she played the piano. It is a short poem of twelve lines divided into three quatrains, rhymed aabb. The poem contains vivid images, and specific and concrete details provide a clear embodiment of his memory.

In the first stanza, a woman is singing softly to the speaker. The song takes him in memory back to his childhood, where he sees a child sitting under the piano, surrounded by the sounds of music and pressing “the small poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.” The scene is one of homely comfort and ease, of childlike innocence, of intimacy and peace.

In the second stanza, the speaker realizes that he is being sentimentally nostalgic. Yet in spite of himself, the power of memory sweeps him back into the familiar scene of a Sunday evening at home, with the cold and storms of winter kept outside. Inside, his mother is singing and playing the piano in the cozy parlor, leading the family in the singing of hymns. It is crucial that the speaker does not give in easily to his emotion; it is “in spite of myself,” he says, that “the insidious mastery of song/ Betrays me back” (lines 5-6). The speaker, now an adult, realizes the gap between his childhood perceptions, which are idealized and romanticized, and those...

(The entire section is 512 words.)