“My manhood is cast / Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past”
A detailed analysis of form, structure and language in ‘Piano’ by DH Lawrence’s (1918) ; part of the Edexcel IGCSE Poetry Anthology, and other English Literature exam boards for GCSE and A Level: AQA, CIE, Eduqas, OCR, WJEC, CCEA and more!
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‘Piano’ by DH Lawrence is a poem that beautifully captures a sense of nostalgia, a longing for the past. Below you’ll find the poem and a set of detailed annotations that cover its key concepts and techniques — use these points in your essays and exams, but also push the analysis further and start to consider your own, personal interpretations of meaning in order to achieve the very top grades!
‘Piano’ by DH Lawrence (1918)
Stanza 1: A woman is singing to the speaker, he is playing the piano? — the setting is ‘dusk’, a dark space between day and night. The music and singing take him back in memory to a point where he sees a child sitting under the piano, pressing the feet of his mother who is singing and smiling. We assume he is the child and that this is a childhood memory.
Stanza 2: The music makes him feel strongly nostalgic, he wants to go back to the time when he spent Sunday evenings in winter with his family, listening to them singing hymns in the parlour room with the piano’s music guiding them.
Stanza 3: He seems irritated by the current singer and piano because they are a reminder of his past without being as good as his memories. It is as if he feels that both the piano and singer are singing vainly to amuse or impress themselves, rather than for a communal or spiritual reason, as in his memories. He feels stripped of the pressure and expectations of being an adult. Instead, he feels young and vulnerable like a child as he strongly misses his past.
Non-linear chronology — jumps around between childhood and present via memory, creates an authentic sense of nostalgia.
Line length — lines get longer as the stanza goes on-shows that the speaker is going deeper into his memories, creates a slow pace because lines are building up, helps the reader to catch the feeling of memory.
A semicolon (caesura) in the first-line indicates the time shift-being took back to his childhood by the woman singing-like a jolt, disrupting the smooth rhythm of the poem.
Many commas that disrupt the flow/rhythm of lines, forcing the reader to take short breaths often- indicates breathlessness and waves of memory. Each individual image is coming to him. Suggesting fragmentation of memory-visual description, energetic.
Each line ends stopped-each stanza is distinct and separate as they are each their own sentence.
Uses quatrains (four-line stanzas): The regular structure evokes the shape of a hymn and has a musical verse quality to it, evoking the feeling of lullabies and childhood songs.
Rhyme scheme — AABB (rhyming couplets): Creates a regular sound pattern, perhaps a soothing and comforting repetition of sound, again evoking a lullaby. Couplets are generally associated with love poetry.
Internal rhyme-evokes musical quality and places emphasis on those words: ‘singer… clamour’ ‘piano…appassionato’ (appassionato= passionately).
Emotive language. E.g ‘the heart weeps to belong’, ‘Down the flood of remembrance’.
Continuous verbs ‘woman is singing’ ‘child is sitting’ ‘pressing’ — constant movement. The memory and present moment seem to fluidly blend with one another. We have a sense of the action unfolding in front of us. We observe the actions in a film sense as if a play is occurring.
The semantic field of nostalgia – ‘Old Sunday evenings…winter outside…cosy parlour…tinkling piano’ Words that seem to be part of a memory help build up an image of comfort and longing/regret in the reader’s head. E.g ‘Old’, ‘cosy’ and ‘tinkling’ are adjectives that help create an atmosphere of sadness and a bittersweet tone.
Sibilance ‘a mother who smiles as she sings’ — the repetition of the ‘s’ sound is soothing. It also helps to create an emphasis on the image of the mother, who is contrasted directly with the ‘woman’ who is singing at present in the bar — one a comforting and protective figure, the other cold and self centred or ‘vain’.
Static image of the ‘singer’ and ‘the great black piano’ representing the present moment, contrasted with a progression of images in the past ‘a child sitting under the piano’ / ‘boom of tinkling strings’ / ‘pressing the small, poised feet’/ ‘winter outside’ / ‘hymns in the cosy parlour’.
Modernism – artists in the early 1900s, obsessed with being modern, not old fashioned, etc. End of victorian era- Modernists saw Victorians as boring and old fashioned, not embracing the new age.
DH Lawrence was part of ‘The Bloomsbury Group’. A talented group of modernist writers whose common themes were psychology, emotion, memory and time.
Lawrence is famous for his sensitive exploration of feelings and emotion, both in his poetry and stories. ‘Piano’ not only explores the positive aspects of nostalgia, but the sadder and more difficult emotions that comparing the past with the present can bring.
The first version of ‘Piano’ appeared in a college notebook of Lawrence’s around 1908, approx. two years before his mother’s death. It was edited and revised a lot before being published in 1918.
- Pain and Longing