Friday, October 4, 2019

The Living Dead


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 apassionato. 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)

Wikipedia tells us:

David Herbert Lawrence ... was an English writer and poet. 
His collected works represent, among other things, an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation. Some of the issues Lawrence explores are sexuality, emotional health, vitality, spontaneity, and instinct.
Lawrence's opinions earned him many enemies and he endured official persecution, censorship, and misrepresentation of his creative work throughout the second half of his life, much of which he spent in a voluntary exile he called his "savage pilgrimage". At the time of his death, his public reputation was that of a pornographer who had wasted his considerable talents. E. M. Forster, in an obituary notice, challenged this widely held view, describing him as "the greatest imaginative novelist of our generation." Later, the literary critic F. R. Leavis championed both his artistic integrity and his moral seriousness.

He became notorious as the author of Lady Chatterley's Lover, which was banned for a long time – until 30 years after his death! Several other novels, also banned for a time, are now recognised as great works of art.
He also wrote plays, criticism, travel books, and of course poetry. And he was highly regarded as a painter. 
This poem appeals to me for its sweet nostalgia, its frank homesickness for the past. My mother played the piano too, and sang, so I can take myself back into just such a scene as he describes. But far from wanting to weep for my lost childhood, I enjoy revisiting as a temporary escape from the troubled times we live in.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright). This photograph of D.H. Lawrence is in the Public Domain.


  1. What a fine escape it is...the only work of DH Lawrence I have read is The Rainbow in school..i remember all the it sang..just like a piano tune

    1. Oh yes, The Rainbow was a wonderful read. I love his other novels and short stories too, and find his poetry quite fascinating.

  2. He wrote one of my favourite poems, "The Elephant is Slow to Mate"........this one is painted with the golden sheen of memories of childhood. Like you, I revisit them s escape from the present. It felt like there was an innocence then . I often wonder what childhood feels like now, for our young ones, so aware of the issues of the times. I had not read this beautiful poem before. I love it. Thanks, Rosemary!

    1. Oh, I don't know that poem, but what an intriguing title. I'll have to hunt it up!

    2. And, having hunted, now I love it too!

  3. I like this poem reminiscent of a gentler time.The past seems much more appealing to me than the present in every way - art architecture music literature food decor and fashion.As far as I am concerned ,even with the advances in technology we have returned to the dark ages.And yes I have been invited to appear on the next segment of " Grumpy Old Women" )

  4. I’ve been a fan of DH Lawrence since I learned one of his poems by heart at junior school, entitled ‘The Oxen’, and then later I read Sons and Lovers, which blew my mind, and then I read all his books and poetry. I haven’t read any of his work in a while, so ‘Piano’ was a lovely surprise after a long day. I love the way he paints the scene, the ‘child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings’, and ‘winter outside / And hymns in the cosy parlour’. I think we all, at times, ‘weep like a child for the past’.

    1. I suppose it's natural that, living in Australia, I was taught his poem 'Kangaroo' at school. And also 'Snake'.

  5. 'With the great black piano apassionato. The glamour
    Of childish days is upon me,' … beautiful ~ sigh ~ I love it when a poem does that.

  6. Thanks for this, Rosemary. I love the poem.

  7. You selected a beautiful poem Rosemary. Thank you. This makes me want to read more of his works.

    1. He has a unique style, and a gift for story-telling (even in poetry).

  8. How I love this poem! I had forgotten it, and I'm happy to see it again. I sat under my grandmother's grand piano, hands on feet and pedals . . .


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