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)
The poem consists of rhyming across each double line. And much thought has gone into the choice of words … some key words …
appassionato is an Italian term used in music … telling the musician to perform with a great amount of emotion. A love duet in an opera is an example of music that is sung appassionato.
insidious – proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects.
vain – too proud of your own appearance, abilities, achievements
vista – sweeping view
cast – to form a particular shape by pouring ‘it’ = life, into a mold
Occasionally something happens in daily life to take us back in time to our childhood. Something that triggers a memory. In this poem it is a woman singing and her singing is the start of a trigger that leads to the piano. This is the object of childhood reflection and hence the title of the poem.
S1 … The memory comes at dusk in the fading of light. And here DHL is focusing on a different time, bringing light from the mind. The vista of the years is recalled. We do not know where the singing emanates but this is immaterial. We might assume that DHL is alone with his thoughts. And then we have that personal image of a small child at the foot of his mother while she plays the piano. The mother is happy and unperturbed by the pressing at her feet.
S2 … It is insidious how the singing and the music penetrates DHL. He cannot avoid owning up to his past. He would like to avoid this, but he is betrayed by the continuance of song and piano, so he succumbs to recollections of his childhood. The warmth of a convivial home life in winter is emphasised against the cold outside. And the strong personal link with his mother is evident, both physical and spiritual. And he weeps as his mind and heart relive the past. Tinkling and tingling are onomatopoeia.
S3 … DHL is overcome and weeps again and is so swamped by emotion that he has no regard for the singer and the presentation; vain for her to try. The great black piano appassionato is translated into a great black emotional recollection. Black because there can be no return. And the poem ends in this emotional state; DHL crying like a child – a pointless cry.
The present happenings in life can betray who we are and where we come from based on our own background. The past completes us as we drop away each day creating new dimensions and aiding and abetting the reshaping of the mold. DHL poses the question of how to deal with the past in on-going life. There may be times when we should allow the past to return with all the related emotion?
D. H. Lawrence on Wikipedia – D. H. Lawrence – Wikipedia