Themes

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Last Updated on July 22, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 360

D. H. Lawrence's poem "The Piano" is a short, emotional piece about the poet hearing a piano player and reflecting on his childhood. The poet is remembering a time his mother played the piano and regretting not learning to play the instrument himself. This complicated mixture of feelings—both yearning and regret—are all too common among those who feel they could have done or accomplished more in their youth.

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Idealizing Childhood Memories

One of the key themes of the work deals with the power of memories. Few would say that their childhood was perfect, but in looking back, they may mostly recall feelings of content and reflect on what seem like perfect times. It is all too common to look back on our past with rose-colored glasses, making everything seem more beautiful and exciting than it may have been. The speaker, in reminiscing about his youth, breaks into tears because of the joy he had and how idyllic it all seemed.

The Pain of Missed Opportunities

Another theme in this poem is the idea of missed opportunities. The speaker feels like he missed out on his chance in his younger days to learn the piano. Hearing the beautiful music, he wishes he knew how to play and laments the fact he didn't learn when he was younger. This is another very common human experience: it is easy to look back into your past and see all the things you were unable to accomplish and mourn those facts.

Being "Transported" By Music

A final theme in the work deals with the ability music to transport us. This is all too common in films and literature—to have a character hear a song and be instantly taken mentally to another place or time. The speaker hears the piano's melody and is transported back in time to when he was a young boy at his mother's feet while she played the piano. Music has an emotional quality that links it with certain things in people's lives, which is why a certain song may always bring back very specific memories. Lawrence capitalizes on this universal emotional connection to music to draw a powerful and relatable image.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 420

“Piano” is a poem about the power of memory and about the often disillusioning disjunction between the remembered experience of childhood and the realities of adult life. The poem is nostalgic without being sentimental; that is, it captures the power of one’s experiences as a child without ignoring the facts that one’s adult memories are selective and one’s perceptions and perspective as a child are severely limited by lack of experience, ignorance, and innocence. Lawrence does, however, provide adequate reason for the intense feeling, and he supports it with concrete, physical detail about the piano and the child’s mother.

The theme in “Piano” is a common one in much of Lawrence’s writing, from short stories such as “The Rocking-Horse Winner” to novels such as Sons and Lovers (1913). How do adults make their peace with the memories they have of their childhoods, and how do they separate memories of actual experience from imagined and invented moments? The speaker in this poem knows that his memory casts a romanticized and sentimentalized glow over the actual events that occurred, yet the power of the past, and his deep need to recapture a similar sense of the peace and protection he felt as a child, overwhelm his rational mind. In Lawrence’s world, the power of emotion is almost always too potent for the power of thought; what one feels intrudes on one’s thinking, even at times one does not wish it to.

It is important in the poem that the speaker believes that the singer is singing to him, for this reflects the egocentric world that is captured in his childhood memory. This is an experience with which most readers will identify; one can remember times when one believed that some piece of art, music, or literature was created or delivered especially for oneself, and perhaps times when a parent seemed to belong to oneself alone. It is even more important that the speaker (and his audience) recognizes the ironic gap between what he wished (and perhaps believed) were the case, and what the case was in fact. This tension between the heart’s desires and the mind’s qualifications, between hope and experience, creates a necessary if paradoxical balance in the poem. It seems as if D. H. Lawrence is suggesting finally that one should listen more to one’s deeply feeling heart than to one’s perhaps overly analytical mind; yet the tension between the two is for him an essential part of being human.

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