The Poetry of DH Lawrence
A Comparative Analysis of “The Piano” by D.H. Lawrence and “The Gift” by Li Young Lee
One of the most potent works by the writer D.H Lawrence is The Piano, a poem that explores the role of memory in life. A similar idea is explored in The Gift by Li Young Lee. These two poems show that memory plays a complex role in the journey of life and that it often poses a dichotomy, acting as a boon as well as bane at the same time. These two poems essentially explore both the facets of memory and delineate memory as a potent force in life.
In The Piano, D.H. Lawrence talks about how memory brings with it an uncontrollable sense of nostalgia. This nostalgia, however, may bring joy as well as suffering in the mind of a person. In this poem, the sound of the piano “betrays” the speaker back into the past, an he is forced to revisit a part of his life he had so far buried in his mind.
The tone of the speakers of both the poems is heavily laced with nostalgia, but this nostalgia affects them in very distinct and contrasting ways. The poem The Piano has a melancholic tone, and it is abundantly clear that the poet wishes to deny himself the misery that comes with revisiting the past.
The Piano explores the experience of a man who is resisting nostalgia because he knows that his dialogue with the past would weaken him emotionally and make him lose his grip on the present. The experience of the speaker of the poem is bittersweet as he is betrayed back into his past and forced to confront his memories. These memories inevitably make him long for his childhood and struggle with his present as he is unablle to uphold his manhood and weeps like a child. 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.
In these lines of the poem, the speaker is taken back into his past as a woman softly sings to him. The use of the work “dusk” is very significant. Dusk marks the end of daylight and the beginning of night. This could be an analogy for the state of the speaker’s mind which wavers between the past and the present, belonging completely to neither. Just as dusk connects day and night, it may also been seen as a connecting force between past and present. It is interesting that while the woman in the present sings softly to him, the sound from the past is that of a boom, indicating that his past is a very potent force in that moment. It is no suprise that the nostalgia which grips the speaker comes with a sense of bitterness over having lost that past.
It contrast to this, The Gift explores memory as a boon and defines what the speaker’s past has had to offer him.The speaker expresses that he feels that he has grown in experience due to the lessons taught by his father that have been preserved in his memory. The memories of the speaker of this poem, unlike the ones of the speaker of The Piano, strengthen his hold on his present and help him forge a beautiful and loving bond with his wife: I can’t remember the tale, but hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer. And I recall his hands, two measures of tenderness he laid against my face, the flames of discipline he raised above my head. The poet remembers the beauty in the past memories; not the tale, but his father’s calming voice. His father’s voice is likened to “a well of dark water” and “a prayer”, indicating that the speaker loves and worships his father. Perhaps this is a factor that helps him cherish his memories.
The defiance of the speaker in The Piano can be juxtaposed with the celebration of memory in The Gift to form a complex idea of the role of memory, a facet of life that plays a positive as well as negative role in shaping a person. The speaker of the first poem is helpless when confronted with his memories. Despite the fact that these are pleasant memories, they make im long for his childhood and resent his manhood. On the contrary, The Gift celebrates memory as a beautiful part of the human experience and explores the potency of a universal element, love, and the role of childhood memories in the cultivation of this love in a person. The dichotomy between memory as a bane and a boon surfaces time and again in The Piano as the speaker celebrates and mourns for is past at the same time. However, a singular aspect of memory is observed in The Gift.
David Herbert Lawrence’s Poetic Vision of Coming-of-Age
David Herbert Lawrence is one of the key English writers of the twentieth century even despite the fact that his works were often refused to be published and were considered to be obscene. The issue of his poetic works, as well as of the prose, is that Lawrence in his writings kept encouraging his contemporaries to open themselves to the “dark gods” of the instinctive perception of nature, emotionality, and sexuality. Despite his poetry was quite diverse in terms of the subject matter, mood, and themes addressed, they are also some typical characteristics that might be related to his poetic works in general. Apart from common sentimentality and hedonism, among the similarities between Lawrence’s ‘Piano’ and ‘Butterfly’ are also the motif of childhood and a paternal house that are discussed in both texts and the signature sharp language to obtain the vividness of visual images in the text.
In ‘Piano’, there is an explicit feeling of nostalgia expressed. The overall picture the reader of the poem might imagine is a vision of a warm cozy house with a “tinkling piano” as a guide. This image refers directly to one’s ideas of what a happy childhood looks like and this whole vision is like a pleasant dream of the past for the character. “Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me” – the image is blurred and obscure at first and the narrator does not see who this lady is. Yet, as he approaches through “the vista of years” back to the foretime, the guise of the woman becomes visible – he recognizes his mother “who smiles as she sings” and seem to observe young himself through the prism of years. As a matter of fact, the poem refers to childhood as to the most carefree and calm years of character’s life which he contrasts sharply to his present: “The glamour / Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast / Down in the flood of remembrance” (Lawrence). The narrator, basically, is absolutely conscious that what he is seeing is just a figment of the imagination, a seeing nurtured by the memory and the reminiscences of childhood. Even despite this awareness, the hero feels deceived by this phantasm: “In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song / Betrays me back” (Lawrence).
A significant motif that is addressed the motif of a safe and comfortable paternal house that is opposed to the hectic outside world that harbors dangers and menaces. This contrast corresponds and echoes to the opposition of childhood and adulthood while the necessity to leave the parental house is perceived as a symbolic embodiment of growing up. In “Piano”, the narrator emphasizes his hiraeth for the past years: “the heart of me weeps to belong / To the old Sunday evenings at home” (Lawrence). He describes his home with an ultimate love and sadness as he reminisces of the “hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide” (Lawrence) and juxtaposes this symbol of comfort, light heart, and tranquility with the “winter outside” as a metaphor for all the problems and calamities one has to deal with after leaving parental home.
A similar contrast of the outside world with the warmness of home is also present in another poem by David Herbert Lawrence, ‘Butterfly’. Here, the persona leads a conversation with, or rather addresses to, a butterfly that settles on the shoe. This tiny fragile flutterby can be interpreted as an image of a young person who is about to start a new life of an adult soon: “Will you go, will you go from my warm / house? / Will you climb on your big soft wings” (Lawrence). As one can see, in this poem, the future, restless and vague, is symbolized through the metaphor of wind that “blows sea-ward, / strong beyond the garden-wall” (Lawrence) and the conflict of peaceful and calm home environment is contrasted by the raging sea that allures with its unpredictability and abruptness become not embodied not only in terms of senses and contexts but in the physical dimension as well. Basically, the parental home in this poem is depicted as an island of serenity in a troubled world: “Here in the garden, with red / geraniums, it is warm, it is warm / but the wind blows strong to sea-ward, / white butterfly, content on my shoe!” (Lawrence). The epithet ‘warm’ that is repeated constantly throughout the poem, reflects the tender feelings the narrator has about his childhood years in parental home and cheers a specific feeling of piety towards this period in the minds of the audience.
The ‘Piano’ is frequently described as a ‘seemingly simple and sentimental’ (or even with a primitivistic manner (Kessler 468) as some experts determine it) piece where, though, can be found a vivid tendency towards ‘placing’ attitude: “however strong an emotional effect the poem has, that is essentially conditioned by ‘thought’” (Lockwood 8). What is more, as Michael Lockwood follows the ideas of F. R. Leavis, “the constating, relating, and critical mind has its essential part in the work of sensibility” (Lockwood 8). In the other words, despite the ultimate attention, the poet paid to the concepts of creativity and sensuality, a lot of his poems imply a strong reference to the issues of the analytical world. For instance, in ‘Piano’, the character despite weeping “like a child for the past”, remains rational and sober considering his current position: “So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour / With the great black piano appassionato.” (Lawrence). The same insight is present in the poem ‘Butterfly’: the hero wonders why does the butterfly stay with him when there is a world of adventures, discoveries, and novelties opened before him. As a matter of fact, the narrator is conscious that the “white speck” will abandon him soon: “in a strange level fluttering you go / out to sea-ward” (Lawrence) and this prediction makes the inevitability of adulthood even more vivid.
All things considered, the poems ‘Piano’ and ‘Butterfly’ by David Herbert Lawrence draw a picture of a coming-of-age young person as he or she is viewed by the older self. These poems are full of tenderness towards those years, warm and pleasant images of the parental home and relative bonds that are opposed to the hostile outside world with harsh weather and hectic atmosphere. The nostalgia about the past is vivid in both poems and through the means of a clear language and literal and word-for-word images delivers more complex symbols and intimate senses to the reader.
Kessler, Jascha. “D. H. Lawrence’s Primitivism.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 5, no. 4, 1964, pp. 467–488.
Lockwood, Michael. A study of the poems of DH Lawrence: thinking in poetry. Springer, 1987.
Depictions of Childhood Emotion in “Half-past Two” and “Piano”
The following essay will explore how recollections of childhood are presented in “Half-past Two”, by U.A. Fanthorpe, a poem through which a child talks about their experience of getting a detention and not knowing why, and not quite being able to comprehend the time fully. The essay will also focus on “Piano”, by D.H. Lawrence, a poem through which a nostalgic man who misses his mother and longs for the sound of her playing the piano again. Both poems present childhood memories as unsettling, yet the clear negative tone assumed by Fanthorpe contrasts with the positive yearning expressed in Lawrence’s composition.
Firstly, in “Half-past Two”, the boy’s experiences of not being able to read the time are stressed. He seems to know what happens at certain times of the day, for example “Gettinguptime” and “Timetogohomenowtime”, however he cannot quite understand the meaning of “half-past two”. This neologism implies that he knows these times well and fluently, as they are not something he ever had to work out for himself, so they just seem like one thing. Furthermore, although he seems to know what a clock looks like- “He knew the cock face”, he “couldn’t click its language”. This personification shows that he is immature and it creates a visual image of what something which he cannot understand, which gives the poem a tone of frustration. This is similar to Lawrence’s “Piano”, in that his persona too is bothered and affected by his childhood. In “Piano”, the man is talking about how he wishes to go back to when he was a child and hear his mother sing, however in his poem, it could be seen as a positive thing to look back of from one viewpoint, which contrasts with “half-past two”, when it is something annoying which the child could not get their head around. However, in “Piano”, when the man says “my manhood is cast”, it shows that on the other hand, he could have erectile dysfunction, as his mother has destroyed his adult life.
In “Half-past Two”, the poem follows a continuous pattern and each of the eleven stanzas consists three lines, three triplets. This links in with the strictness of the teacher who is addressed as “She”, with a capital “S”, showing that she is like royalty or something ethereal, so it is therefore crucial to obey her. Perhaps this is also why “He was too scared of being wicked to remind her.)” Also, the fact that this and “(I forgot what it was)”, referring to the time, suggests that these are just thoughts that are not important and should be dismissed, as the most important thing to do is obey her. However, in “Piano”, the last two stanzas out of three are quatrains, which contrasts to the first paragraph which consists of six lines due to its use of enjambment. Perhaps this is to emphasise the slow rhythm and movement of the poem, whilst “half-past two” is strict and has a stressful rhythm. The enjambment slows the pace down even more and the uses of the words “strings” and “sings” are sibilance, which gives the poem a soft and gentle tone. Furthermore, “Piano” also consists of rhyming couplets throughout, where as “Half-past Two” does not, which further emphasises its lilting tone that is full of wonder.
Moreover, in “Piano”, D.H. Lawrence uses both metaphors and similes to express his tears and crying. For example “Down the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child”. This suggests both his childish nature, and his inability to hold back his tears, which links in with the use of onomatopoeia to describe the piano- “burst into clamour/With the great black piano appassionato”, as they both describe some dramatic happening and the word “burst” could be used to describe someone crying. This shows that him and his mothers piano playing had a strong connection and are similar, which is perhaps why he is so desperate to revisit this moment. Furthermore, the word “black” has connotations with danger and something mysterious, like the dark, which suggests that he perhaps is disturbed by his illness and the fact that wishes to be in a relationship with his mother that his father ruined. This is further implied through the use of pathetic fallacy- “ winter outside”. This sense of not being able to understand somebody is similar to what we hear about in “Half-past Two”. It is further implied through the image in the final stanza of the boy “escaping into the clockless land forever/Where time hides tick-less waiting to be born”. This idea of being re-born further shows that Fanthorpe sees something wrong in the child and does not know what to do about it, just like how the man sees himself in “Piano”. Furthermore, the childish language and creation of a new word in “half-past two” when Fanthorpe talks about “the clockless land”, suggests that the boy was a mistake, as he does not deserve to be in the normal world with the rest of us.
The childhood in “Piano” is presented as something which the man wants to revisit, and D.H. Lawrence emphasises this through the nostalgic tone of his language. On the other hand, in “Half-past Two”, the childhood is seen more as a bad memory, as the child did something “Very Wrong”. However, the two poems are similar in the way in which they discuss childhood memories which are disturbing and and have large impacts on the main characters involved.