Last Updated on July 22, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 533
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years
The narrator provides setting in these lines. He creates a sense of time in the present and then uses the music to generate a line of flashback memories as well. It is night, and a woman is singing to him. Perhaps this is a bar; perhaps it is some sort of concert. From the rest of the poem, it seems a fairly intimate setting. The word choice "vista" is worth noting as it creates a positive connotation of the memories that follow.
pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings
In these memories, the narrator is almost physically connected to his mother through music. He sits below her, so the music has emotionally transported him back to a time in his early childhood when he was able to fit beneath the piano. As his mother plays, she allows him to press her own feet as she presses the piano's pedals. Instead of becoming annoyed by a child's actions that most certainly made her performance more challenging, his mother allows him to engage with her in this way, and she even smiles at him. Playing music on these evenings not only created a warm environment for her family; it also created joy for his mother in the performance.
the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour
The music that the narrator recalls created a metaphorical barrier in his childhood home. It kept "winter outside," representing its ability to keep the truths and harsh realities of the adult world at bay. It is also suggested that the music is connected to him religiously, as he recalls these "Sunday" evenings and that his mother sang "hymns." This further explains how piano music is able to stir something in his very soul and generates emotions in him so powerful that he suddenly feels as if he will weep for these evenings that no longer exist.
it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato
Although similar, this woman in his present—singing and accompanied by piano—has no such power over him. It is vain for her to burst into great fanfare in her own song because it could never generate the same raw emotion that simple evenings at home with his mother created. Thus, Lawrence suggests that the power of music lies not in pageantry but in the emotional experience of the listener.
my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
The narrator concludes that he gives in to his emotional memories and weeps "like a child" for that which no longer exists. He is overcome by this "flood of remembrance" and is connected so emotionally to his mother and the joy she gave him that he casts away his "manhood" and disregards how his raw emotions may be perceived. Although the song itself didn't stir these emotions, the simple way the piano sounded struck these chords within his own soul.