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Music and Memory in D. H. Lawrence’s Piano

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D. H. Lawrence’s poetry is said to often be of “great biographical interest” (Encyclopedia Britannica), and his poem “Piano,” written in 1918, eight years after the death of his mother, illustrates his attachment to his mother through the device of an unwilling memory evoked when he hears a woman singing. Though Lawrence’s relationship with his mother is said to have been “an intensely—often labeled abnormally—close relationship” (Pearson and Watson), it is also said that it was she who encouraged him to obtain an education and to write. His mother was a teacher, and according to Norton, it is her “delicacy and refinement” that he “allied” himself with rather than his less educated, coarse coal miner father (2248). It is she whom he sided with in the conflict-ridden relationship he witnessed between his parents.

According to Wart, “Piano” expresses Lawrence’s personal response when a “song stirs memories of childhood and his mother,” involuntary as these memories may be. However, though it may be true that we should never assume that the speaker of a poem is, indeed, the poet, according to Semansky, “Lawrence's work invites us to, as he has always woven autobiographical material into his writing.” Lawrence’s “Piano” may thus be considered to be the recounting of unwanted and involuntary emotional memory brought about as a response to music.

“Piano” begins by describing a setting conducive to reflection and remembrance, “Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me” (Line 1). Intimacy is implied in the setting: “the dusk,” the singing being “soft” and seemingly personally directed to one individual all lend themselves to an aura of intimacy. This encounter draws Lawrence back through the “vista of years” (Line 2). In fact,...

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..., 1900 to Present. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2009. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= CBPNP235&SingleRecord=True (accessed April 4, 2012).

Rexroth, Kenneth. "Introduction." D.H. Lawrence: Selected Poems. New Directions, 1947. 1-23. Rpt. in Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2012. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.

Saunders, Clifford. "Critical Essay on 'Piano'." Poetry for Students. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.

Semansky, Chris. "Critical Essay on 'Piano'." Poetry for Students. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.

Wart, Alice Van. "Critical Essay on 'Piano'." Poetry for Students. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.
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