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 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.
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.
D H Lawrence 1885 - 1930
I bought quite a few poetry books last year, including the Penguin Classics edition of D H Lawrence's "Selected Poems" which I picked up at Scorpio Books' annual sale. I haven't read it all yet, and previously I was familiar only with "Snake" which we studied at school - not long after the release of his novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover", some thirty years after his death, to a storm of protest over whether or not it should remain banned.
The earlier poems in the book are rhymed metric poems, as in "Piano", from the collection "New Poems" published in 1918. At a quick glance, I prefer these to many of the later, free verse poems - not so much because they are rhymed and metric as because some of the later ones seem a little petulant - full of claims such as "bats are disgusting" and "how beastly the bourgeois are".
This poem is more quietly nostalgic but not without interest. I find it particularly striking that in contrasting the great black piano and the classical singer with the old upright piano of his home, it is the humble childhood to which he ascribes "glamour". And the image of the child sitting under the piano and pressing his mother's feet I find very appealing.
D H Lawrence was born into a miner's family in Nottinghamshire in 1885, the fourth of five children. He wrote novels, plays, short stories and poems. He travelled extensively in Europe, Australia, America and Mexico, and died from tuberculosis in the south of France in 1930 at the age of 44.
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