David Herbert Lawrence’s Poetic Vision of Coming-of-Age

April 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

Works Cited

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.

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