Critical Analysis of ‘Piano’ by D. H. Lawrence

David Herbert Lawrence was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. His father was a coal miner, and Lawrence’s early novel, Sons and Lovers, gives a vivid description of what country life was then like in a mining community. He graduated from the Nottinghamshire university college and qualified as a teacher. His collected works represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanizing effects of modernity and industrialization. He wrote his poems as he felt, and though most of them are deep passionate ranting about society and industry, some of them appear to be of autobiographical content.
This poem by D.H.Lawrence is one of nostalgia, a nostalgia which digs deep into the past and rakes up the bittersweet memories against one’s will. The poem is set in a scene which reeks of nostalgia right from the begging. The sun goes down in the distance, enveloping the poet with its soft fading light of “dusk”. There are two settings in the poem the actual scene where the woman sings and the remembrances of the poet. The setting is like a painting, bold with strokes of emotions throughout and within.
In this poem, ‘piano’ serves as a metaphor of nostalgia. Lawrence is a very pensive poet, and it’s easy to see his opinions and emotional attachment to the piano. Lawrence uses the piano to symbolize his childhood. He uses the music to release himself from the tyranny of conscious thought as he succumbs “in spite of himself” to his better childhood days.
The poem starts with the man hearing a woman singing “softly” which takes him “down the vista of years”. By using the word “vista” he propels the images of the readers’ own childhood in front of their eyes so that one experiences the same emotions that that man experienced. These images “take him back down” into the memories of childhood. As he travels down the memory lane, he recalls himself as “a child sitting under the piano” and he remembers the “the boom of the tingling strings”.

Onomaetopia used in describing the “boom” of the “tingling” strings of the piano indicates that the man in the poem is none other but Lawrence himself, as the tiny detail that the piano would sound loud to a small child and consequently would be described as “booming” when later remembered even as an adult, is so simply portrayed and thus removes all doubts that Lawrence is infact writing from personal experience. Further, the man remembered that his mother’s feet were “poised” betraying the respect and awe a little child has for its parents.

“In spite of himself”, the man finds his “heart weeping” as it recalls the “old Sunday evenings at home” where he would spend the time singing “hymns in the cozy parlor” with his family while the “tinkling piano” played. The words “in spite of himself” and “betrays me back” show immense struggle that the man goes through with his own warring desires. The need to remain solidly footed in adulthood and yet, the yearning to give that up for the innocence and joys of childhood tear him apart and he goes against his own desires by giving in to the latter. Again, the words used are so simple yet effective in describing the evenings spent by the fire, that they paint a vivid image in the readers’ minds: one of comfort, warmth, and unlimited acceptance. This scene casts a melancholy shadow over the poem, as the man remembering these simple moments from his past suggest that he no longer has the comfort of a family or home to lean upon, and that his life is riddled with difficulties and worries for him to long for the dull yet “cozy” days of adolescence and childhood. By using words like “cozy’, “tinkling piano”, “flood of remembrance” and “with winter outside”, Lawrence paints a beautiful scene of a comfortable childhood. It makes the piano seem more inviting.
The shift occurs between the second and third stanzas. Lawrence is through recounting the mental image that he sees and steps back into the present. It’s a powerful change in the content and tone. The music played to the poet in the present takes him back. When the present singer climaxes with “the great black piano appassionato”, the poet is finally fully dragged to his past. The man in the poem has travelled the road of life and has reached his adulthood, a phase of life which is associated with freedom of will and the power of right. But he still contemplates giving all that up. His heart “weeps to belong” and his “manhood is cast down in a flood of remembrance” as the “glamour of childish days” overcomes him emotionally. He throws away the confines of his “manhood”, breaking the unspoken rule that men aren’t supposed to show emotion by crying for his childhood. The simile- “I weep like a child” is used to enhance the act of crying by comparing it to an action of a child which is helpless and innocent. Through this poem, the poet showcases the limited time one has as a child and how, once this time runs out, all it leaves us with is the memories made and the wish to have more time to make more of them. By the breakdown of the poet in the end, he conveys the finality of the period which, once it ends, is lost forever.
The title of the poem, ‘Piano’ is quiet suiting as music is proven to be the strongest trigger of memories. Also it implies that playing the piano, and subsequently music, played a large role in the man’s life; his mother used to play and sing hymns on the piano in his childhood and even as an adult he finds the time to escape the responsibilities for a few moment by attending musical concerts as the women singing and playing the songs can be seen as such. The piano was his “guide” in his childhood, and it still continues to show him the way through life.
The poem which seems simple at first glance may prompt one to look into it further to find the hidden meaning of the enigmatic and controversial poet, D.H.Lawrence. As a result, one may arrive at a conclusion that this poem is a shout out for the man, who once older, is expected to act like a grown up and never cry, but who at the heart , still remains a boy who yearns for his childhood. On the other hand, one may interpret it as a remainder to enjoy one’s childhood to its fullest, as once it is past, all it leaves behind is the longing for it to come back.
Thus, “Piano” is another one of Lawrence’s masterpieces, as he once again portrays the complex workings and dealings of the human heart in such a refined, elegant yet simple manner that he pulls at all the right heartstrings and the reader finds himself tearing up while remembering his own childhood days.
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