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The Piano

Playing Piano

General context notes

This poem is about a man listening to a piano piece and a woman singing, being swept away in his thoughts and remembering his childhood where he sat by mother as she played.  The form of the poem is in three quatrains, the rhyme scheme is in rhyming couplets. This has the effect of creating a song-like quality in the poem. This is important as this is what we call a ‘lyrical poem’, a short musical poem often about emotions.

Stanza One

L. 1:  The reader is introduced to a scene of a woman playing a piano.  The adverb ‘softly’ creates a gentle and calm atmosphere, exaggerated by word ‘dusk’ creates an atmosphere of half-light or soft light.  Might be a romantic mood, yet there is also the presence of things ending. The woman who is singing to him may be a lover. Yet this is juxtaposed with the title, which is not about the woman but instead the piano, suggesting the woman is not that important - the memory is what matters.

Ll. 2-3:  The poet uses a metaphor to describe how the piano music takes him back through the years.  He is on a ‘vista’ looking at the good and beautiful years behind him, yet this also suggests the distance between him and his memories.  He remembers himself as a child, sitting in ‘the boom of the tingling strings’. The ‘tingling strings’ are juxtaposed with the ‘boom’ the piano, which creates the idea of a child feeling that this is really loud when it is actually very quiet.  ‘Tingling strings’ uses assonance to create an internal rhyme, which creates an atmosphere of calmness and gentleness, as well perhaps of delicacy and fragility.

L. 4:  The poet describes his mother as very gentle and friendly, seen in her ‘smile.’  The ‘small, poised feet’ suggests her dignity and grace, as well as mirroring the feet of the piano.  Alliteration of ‘p’ which creates an emphasis on ‘pressing’ and ‘poised’, mirroring the idea of pedals being pressed in the plosive sound.  Sibilance at the end of the line creates a strong flow at the end of the flow which creates calmness.

Stanza Two

L. 5:  ‘In spite of myself’ suggests that the poet doesn’t want to hear this, and is taken back against his will.  ‘Insidious’ means something which creeps up on you, as the song takes over his memory by stealth, and he cannot control himself when he listens to it.  Strangely he seems to see the memory as a ‘betrayal’, because it forces him to stop appreciating what he currently has, and instead makes him remember what he doesn’t have.  

L. 6-8:  Lawrence now states that the memory is creating great sadness in him, because he can’t live in the land of the memory, he can never return to that time.   He characterises the time of his memory as extremely nostalgic. The juxtaposition of ‘winter outside’ and ‘hymns in the cosy parlour’ creates a sense of homeliness and warmth, as though all sadness is shut outside. Enjambment between ‘outside’ and the next line reinforces the juxtaposition. ‘Sunday’ would be a day of rest and relaxation, showing his remembrance of these idyllic times. The fact that he calls this place ‘home’ suggests that he hasn’t accepted that it is no longer his home.   ‘The tinkling piano our guide’ shows how it was the guide for their hymns and prayers - now it guides him back to the past.

Although times in the poem change, the role of the piano stays the same, bringing back a memory of what used to be.  ‘Tinkling’ suggest the fragility of the memory, yet also the constant, ‘insidious’ presence of the piano.


Stanza Three

Ll. 9-10:  Lawrence comments when the piano goes at a faster pace it conveys his memories as now despairing for the past that he has lost.  At the same time he says that it is vain for the singer to make a ‘great clamour’, as he is thinking about his childhood, and her singing is a now simply a distraction.

L. 10:  The words in line 10 start short, making the pace quick and jerky, before crescendoing in the word ‘appassionato’, mirroring what the piano and the singer are doing.  In some ways it is ironic that the singer is in vain singing passionately, given that the poet himself is distracted by his own passion. Blackness may signify the mournful nature of the piano.

Ll. 10-12:  The poet describes himself when hearing this memory as emasculated, as though he himself has been ‘cast down’ which is a very violent phrase in almost biblical flood, emphasizing the violence and unstoppable nature of the flood.  It also suggests the flood of tears which the memory may bring forth. 

‘Glamour’, though it often means beauty, here also means an illusion.  Here they are illusions because they are simply a memory.

The poet comes back to himself in the final line, describing how the only way in which he is now like a child is in his weeping.  The pace slows down at the end of this poem, as the poem is coming to an end, like the poet's memory of childhood.

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