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Piano(1918)

D.H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
MeterSoftly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
MeterTaking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
MeterA child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings

Note on line 3: A hard row to hoe, this line, into licit feet. Taken by ear it falls pretty clearly into the six beats of an alexandrine, as will the final line of each stanza; and it more or less follows the anapestic lilt well established by the pentameter lines 1 and 2. Shoe-horning the vagrant syllables into place is another matter, however. 4B4V takes “tingling” as a disyllable (like “tinkling” in line 8) but allows the keystone word “piano” all three of its syllables (here and again in the comparably difficult line 10). This allowance entails, for good metrical accountancy, summoning twice at mid-line the so-called fourth paeonic foot: a sort of super-anapest with three slacks to a stress. The scansion looks rougher than the line, in acoustic practice, actually sounds. The secret of its outlaw success is the pause halfway, which is also to be felt in the hexameters ahead.

And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
MeterAnd pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
MeterIn spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
MeterBetrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
MeterTo the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside

Note on line 7: The word “Sunday” ordinarily takes stress, of course, on its first syllable. But it doesn’t have to have it in a well-worn idiomatic phrase like Lawrence’s here, or (say) “in their best Sunday clothes.” That’s all the leeway required for the ever-opportunistic drive of anapestic meter to have its way. Line 10, it will be seen, puts up more resistance.

And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
MeterAnd hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
MeterSo now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
MeterWith the great black piano appassionato. The glamour

Note on line 10: The poem is saved from drowning in its own sentimentality by Lawrence’s sardonic sense of erotic humor, which this line brings to a head. The woman now at the keys may be singing her heart out, but the speaker’s infantilizing nostalgia precludes the response she is no doubt after. To him her climactic pitch just sounds over the top, and also beside the point. The disconnect between performer and auditor is underscored lexically by the highfalutin Italian lingo, syntactically by the deflationary full-stop caesura, and prosodically by substituting for the second-foot anapest an exotic but legal amphimacer (stress-slack-stress).

Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
MeterOf childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
MeterDown in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

Rhyme
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