Analysis

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Last Reviewed on July 22, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319

"Piano" is a poem by D. H. Lawrence. The piano, central to the poem's narrative, is symbolic of D. H. Lawrence's childhood. The poet took piano lessons as a child but discontinued it as he became older. In the poem, Lawrence laments his decision to discontinue his piano studies, for playing the piano offered him great joy. The piano and the abrupt ending to his musical studies also symbolize the division between childhood dreams and the reality one must live in adulthood. The piano's simple black and white keys represent the easiness of his youth, when the world was compartmentalized and simplified. However, as an adult, he finds the world to be complex or, within this analogy, multi-chromatic.

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Lawrence uses words that hint at the comfort of his childhood ("cosy"), and this further contrasts the simplicity of his youth with the stress of adult life. The piano is also an object of his childhood home; therefore, the piano also represents the people from his youth, such as his mother and the other loving people that occupied his household. In this way, the piano is like an anchor that keeps his memory of home from fading away into the dark night of his mind.

When the poem shifts from visions of the past to the realities of the present, the image of the piano becomes even more pronounced. In the present moment, the adult D. H. Lawrence would feel strange trying to relive his youthful exuberance or replicate his younger self's way of seeing the world. Perhaps, as an adult, he has already experienced so many things that make him jaded and cynical.

Lawrence's lamentation over the fact that one cannot recapture one's past, that memories are simply movies in one's mind, is only the microscopic view of the poem's overall message: life is transient in nature, and one should cherish moments as they happen before they become mere memories.

The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512

“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 that he has as a mature adult.

In stanza 3, the reader discovers that he is no longer listening to the current singer and the current piano; he is so overcome by his memories that he weeps like a child for the past. Again, he struggles against this retreat into the past before he finally succumbs. He recognizes that what he sees is nostalgic and sentimental, the “glamor of childish days” (line 11)—deliberately not “childlike” days—that reduces him from being a man to being a child once again, and he weeps like a child for the past.

D. H. Lawrence in this poem does a convincing job of seeing from a child’s perspective, while juxtaposing it with the point of view of an adult. Though the abab rhyme scheme is perhaps a strained choice for this theme, and though the diction is somewhat trite, especially in the second stanza, the concrete detail and clearly visual images reproduce effectively the experience of an adult who knows that his own childhood eyes cast an aura of illusory beauty over that time. Stanza 2 is weakened for some readers by lines 7 and 8: Lawrence’s word choice here, “the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside/ And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide,” seems too ordinary to carry the burden of nostalgia created by the speaker’s memory earlier in the poem. There is, however, enough detail in the first and third stanzas to keep the poem as whole from becoming blurry or sentimental.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 313

Lawrence centers much of his writing, both poetic and fictional, on the creation and development of a central metaphor. In “Piano,” it is the image, with all of its associations, at least in Western European Christian culture, of Sunday evenings at home with one’s family. No matter that most people’s experiences were seldom so peaceful and harmonious—Lawrence’s certainly were not either. It is the idea of a cozy and warm parlor on a cold winter’s evening, with a family gathered around a piano singing hymns and enjoying one another’s company, that is the important factor. The setting and the music combine to invoke the myth of the ideal family at home: warm, loving, reverent, and peaceful. Lawrence effectively juxtaposes this with the singer and the piano in the speaker’s present, a speaker who is about to “burst into clamor” (line 9), accompanying a piano which is reaching a crescendo with a “great black” apassionato. Notice that it is the present experience which is large, dark, and noisy; the speaker’s remembered experience is small, warm and “tingling” (line 3).

The ironic tone in the poem, and the clear ironic distance between the poetic voice and his memories of childhood, are central to the poem’s success. Without them the tone might become maudlin, but with them one sees and experiences the clear disjunction between a child’s and an adult’s eye—between a child’s perspective that all is well in the world and the adult’s knowledge, after the fact, that this was not really the case.

Lawrence’s poetic forms and devices, then, echo and reinforce the ironic gap between the original experience of the child, now transformed through the power of memory and imagination, and the current experience of the adult, which acts as trigger and catalyst for his descent into his own past.

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