D. H. Lawrence’s Piano shows a man experiencing nostalgia as he listens to a woman singing which reminds him of his childhood.
The poem starts with the man hearing the soft singing of a woman which takes him on a mental journey down memory lane and he sees visions of his childhood flashing in front of him. The memory he focuses on is that of a small child who is sitting beneath a grand piano as his mother plays it, taking his mother’s elegant feet into his small hands and listening to the loud chords of music.
The man is reluctant to remember those days and be affected by them, but the song which the woman is singing seems to have a slow subtle impact on him and despite his hesitance he gives in to his emotions and yearns for the days of childhood: the cold Sunday evenings in winter when it used to now outside and they, mother and son used to sit in the warm comfortable indoors and sing melodious hymns with the help of the piano.
The man who was listening to the lady singing now thinks that it would be useless for her to continue on as he is already so affected by his memories that he is just physically present, his mind elsewhere. Without any thought of his adulthood, he bursts into tears remembering the blissful ignorance and innocence of his infant years. He starts weeping, thus bridging the gap between his past and his present.
Lawrence uses words in such an intricate manner throughout the poem that they end up creating vivid and delightful imagery. By using the word ‘vista’ he propels the images of the reader’s own childhood in front of his eyes so that one experiences the same thing that man experienced. These images ‘take him back down’ into the memories of his childhood. This immediately brings to mind the image that growing up is similar to climbing some difficult mountain and in his adulthood, the man is right at the top, and from there he falls into his childhood again. Onomatopoeia 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 writing from personal experience. Further, the man remembers that his mother’s feet were ‘poised’ betraying the respect and awe a little child has for its parents. Even at that tender age, the child identifies dignified elegance with his other.
The words ‘in spite of myself’ and ‘betrays me back’ show the immense struggle that the man goes through with his own warring desires. The need to remain solidly footed in his adulthood and 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 mind: 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 and boring adolescent years.
This poem achieves that delicate balance between being cliché, sentimental and being full of self-pity; and expressing empathy. This is done because though the overview of the poem is simple and direct, there are some strong words which are sprinkled throughout with such apt accuracy that they intensify the powerful feelings that a man experiences when he is torn between his past and present lives.
The title of the poem, ‘Piano’ is quite 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 hours by attending musical concerts as the woman singing and playing the piano could be seen as such. The piano was their guide in his childhood, and it still continues to show him the way through life.
Nostalgia is the central idea behind the poem but one would not be wrong to say that it also throws light on the pains of growing up. The man in the poem has traveled the road of life and has reached his adulthood, a phase of life which is associated with freedom of will and power of right. But he still contemplates giving all that up; his heart ‘weeps to belong’ and his ‘manhood is cast down a flood of remembrance’ as the ‘glamor 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 emotions by crying for his childhood. When does a person experience such contrasting emotions? It is only when the responsibilities and burdens of adulthood become too much to bear that one starts wishing that one could somehow go back to one’s immature and ignorant days of being a child, free of worries and still holding the limitless possibilities of growing up in its hand, head full of unbroken dreams and untarnished ideals and principles.
Thus is ‘Piano’ 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 one finds oneself tearing up while remembering one’s own childhood days.