An Analysis of the Structure, Rhythm, and Meaning of David Herbert Lawrence's Poem, "Piano"
“Piano” by David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) was first published in 1918. This poem is about childhood memories that were brought to the poet’s mind through music. In the first stanza, the poet paints a beautiful picture of a woman singing next to him, causing him to think about a child playing with his mother’s feet underneath a piano. As the poem progresses, however, the reader sees that this poem has a more somber tone as the poet longs to return to his own childhood. This essay will analyze the poem through its meaning, structure and the poet’s intent.
David Herbert Lawrence wrote this poem in the later years of his life; it was first published when he was thirty-three, twelve years before his death in 1930. The content of the poem depicts an internal struggle within the poet’s mind. In the end, it is clear that he longs to return to his childhood. He structures the poem with a simple rhyming scheme (aabb), which is similar to the structure of some hymns. He uses this rhyming pattern to mimic the form of a song. Because the music in this poem triggers a memory, it is structured and progresses much like a song. In lines seven and eight, he makes reference to hymns: “To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside/And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.” The piano is a guide for both himself and the reader through his recollection. The song-like rhythm to this poem attempts to imitate the melody of the woman’s music which prompted this memory. As the melody evolves and his memory gets clearer, so does the poem’s structure.
The rhyming scheme is not the only structural choice which makes Lawrence’s poem like a song. He uses a trochaic structure, stressing the first syllable of each line. This causes the effect of a song, but dissimilar to the rhythm caused by iambic pentameter. Trochaic meter stresses the first syllable in each line, while iambic pentameter stresses the second. Both of these forms create a song-like rhythm similar to a hymn or more specifically a nursery rhyme. Because Lawrence is recollecting his childhood, this poem’s rhythmic similarity to a nursery rhyme connects the reader to their own childhood memories.
The simplistic language of the first stanza alludes to childhood also. For example, the third and forth lines of the poem are, “A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings/And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.” The use of this simplistic language makes the reader feel nostalgic to return to their childhood also. Although the beginning of “Piano” illustrates a child-like rhyme, the second and third stanzas have a more saddening tone.
The second stanza depicts the poet crying, mentally returning to “the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside” (line 7). In this stanza, the poet desires to return to childhood. The rhythm of the poem changes in the second stanza. The use of a comma in each line of the second stanza causes the reader to pause, much like a musician. This structure alludes to the poet’s internal struggle—that he does not want to tease himself by recollecting his childhood: “In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song/Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong” (line 5-6). He does not want to remember the past and desire to return to it, because that is impossible. As stated above, he weeps in this stanza, causing him to submit to his nostalgic desires.
The final stanza begins with a concluding word, “So.” The use of this term causes the reader to know that he will summarize his final points. He writes, “So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour/With the great black piano appassionato” (lines 9-10). The rhythm of this stanza makes the poem faster, like the end of a song. He places a period in the middle of the second line after “appassionato,” making the reader stop on that musical term for passion.
The final couplet of “Piano” have commas in the middle of them, creating brief pauses that separate meaningful fragments: “The glamour/Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast/Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past” (lines 10-12). In these final lines, the poet explains that although he is a man by age, his mind desires to return to his childhood. Again he weeps, much like a child, and illustrates to the reader that the music was the cause of his nostalgic memories.
In conclusion, David Herbert Lawrence’s “Piano” is a poem about nostalgia, about the desire to return to childhood. He uses the rhyming pattern of a hymn or nursery rhyme to make the poem feel like a song, while alluding to the music in the first stanza. He uses musical terms and punctuation to control the rhythm of this poem, making it much like a song. Through the use of trochaic meter and concrete imagery, he allows the reader to feel like they are with him, listening to the music and slipping into the past. Overall, this poem shows the struggle between being an adult and longing to return to the past, when life was simpler.