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Leaving Cert English Poetry FAQ

D. H. Lawrence for Leaving Cert: Piano

Summary: the speaker observes a woman singing and it brings back childhood memories for him.

The bits in bold are suggested quotations.

Note the strict AABB-type rhyming scheme in the three quatrains. 

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me; 
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see 
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. 

D H Lawrence Leaving Cert English notes The Piano

The nostalgic cosy image of the child sitting under the piano playing with his mother's feet inspires the reader relive moments of their own carefree childhood. The child is secure in his hiding place and settled by his mother's smile and her "softly... singing".

The poem invokes our senses: sight ("vista of years", "till I see"), hearing ("tingling stings") and touch ("pressing... feet".) [If you are ever asked to discuss Lawrence's sensual imagery, the above would be helpful.]

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song 
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong 
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside 
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide. 

The remark "In spite of myself" suggests that the speaker doesn't want to be swept by the powerful nostalgia, but he cannot stop the overflowing emotion. This poem highlights the power that music has over us - and the speaker helplessly yearns to go back to the comfort of being a child: "till the heart of me weeps to belong / To the old Sunday evenings at home". The imagery of a "cosy parlour" and wondrous "tinkling piano", tucked away from the "winter outside", enhances the sheltered, peaceful atmosphere. It's as comforting as it is cliché.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour 
With the great black piano appassionato. 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.

In the last stanza, the speaker snaps out of his dream and feels guilty. It explains that by allowing to be swept away by memories, the speaker has given up his "manhood" and weeps "like a child". On some level, the speaker knows that there is no point in lamenting the passage of time or rejecting the fact that he is now an adult, deprived of the protection his childhood offered him. The speaker seems to be ashamed that he let this weakness take hold of him. All the same, every reader will be able to relate to this feeling.

D.H. Lawrence Leaving Cert Notes The Piano

The piano symbolises the speaker's childhood. Sturdy, "tinkling", a kind of shelter to sit under as a child, black and white - it brings so much security. In his adulthood, however, it brings music that allows him to escape reality. Towards the end of the poem, the tone is full of self-pity and disappointment. It suggests that he realises that our memories are selective and his vision of his childhood is probably idealised with its "glamour". Yet the "great black piano appassionato" and the "
the boom of the tingling strings
" emotionally overwhelm him.

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