Dr. Felix Moses,
Associate Professor and Head
A STYLISTIC DECONSTRUCTION OF D.H. LAWRENCE’S “Piano”
Abstract: This article demonstrates the use of stylistics in deconstructing D.H. Lawrence’s Piano. A careful and complete analysis of one schematically foregrounded style marker the concrete countable noun ‘piano’ which has been incrementally repeated thrice, provides persuasive evidence of the overall value of stylistics as a “bridge discipline” (Leech 2) between linguistics and literary theory to enhance the appreciation of Lawrence’s poetic artistry and genius. Incremental repetition which by itself, “is probably the most readily identifiable of ballad characteristics,” (Bold 29) has been schematically foregrounded in the literary text Piano. The deconstructive analysis of this schematically foregrounded feature reveals the aporia and the impossibility of unravelling the various ambiguities which are easily overlooked in a commonsensical, liberal humanist “expressive realist” reading of the poem.
Sandra M. Gilbert remarks that “Lawrence began and ended his career as a poet but gained his primary reputation as a writer of fiction.” (78). This was because of Leavis’ classic assessment in his D.H.Lawrence: Novelist (1955) which branded Lawrence as a novelist for good, although Leavis himself had observed in 1951 “our time, in literature, may fairly be called the age of D.H.Lawrence and T.S. Eliot … though Lawrence appears to me so immensely the greater genius” [emphasis added] (Sutton 507). A careful and comprehensive deconstructive analysis of one schematically foregrounded style marker, the concrete countable noun ‘piano’ in his Piano which has been incrementally repeated thrice reveals the poetic artistry and genius of Lawrence. Leech in his pioneering work A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry, defines “scheme as foregrounded repetitions of expression” (74). The same expression ‘piano’ which is a concrete countable noun occurs four times and has been incrementally repeated thrice:
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.
Piano is one of Lawrence’s early poems written between 1905-11 and published in his New Poems in 1918. The following analysis affirms Douglas Mackey’s perceptive observation that Lawrence’s “early poems express both the young poet’s efforts to find his artistic legs by experimenting with a variety of styles, and his quest to find fulfillment in love. In his personal life, Lawrence sought both a physical and spiritual relationship with various women – unsuccessfully at this stage – and at the same time attempted to disengage himself from his mother’s powerful, possessive love” (8). Stylistics is used to deconstruct the schematically foregrounded style marker the concrete countable noun ‘piano’ which has been incrementally repeated thrice, to reveal Lawrence’s troubled relationship with the women in his life because of his self confessed oedipal attraction to his mother.
Piano is made up of three stanzas rhyming aabb ccdd eeff. In the first stanza Lawrence tells us that one evening as he listens to a woman singing to him he becomes nostalgic and is reminded of his childhood days, when he would sit under a piano and press his mother’s feet as she sang and played on it.
In the second stanza Lawrence confesses candidly that despite his best efforts, the woman’s song revives painful memories of family gatherings on wintry Sunday evenings of his irretrievably lost childhood when he along with the others sang hymns to the accompaniment of “the tinkling piano”.
Lawrence concludes the poem by saying that the strenuous and passionate effort of the woman as her singing reaches a crescendo to the accompaniment of “the great black piano” is wasted on him because he is now completely overwhelmed by the agonizing memories of his irretrievably lost happy childhood days and he ends up weeping “like a child for the past”.
This, very briefly, would be a commonsensical paraphrase of Piano in the manner of “expressive realism” which according to Catherine Belsey, “is the theory that literature reflects the reality of experience as it is perceived by one (especially gifted) individual, who expresses it in a discourse which enables others to recognize it as true” (7). Accordingly, Lawrence’s Piano would be a faithful record of the pain he experienced when he listened to a woman singing to the accompaniment of “the great black piano,” because it reminded him of his happy childhood days, when on wintry Sunday evenings he along with other family members sang hymns as his mother played on “the tinkling piano” and he sat under it pressing her “small, poised feet.” This agonizing memory of his irretrievably lost happy childhood days makes him “weep like a child.” According to Catherine Belsey, Lawrence’s text is “valuable” (2) because it reveals an unchanging universal human truth: childhood, in the manner of Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode, is always considered to be a happier period than adulthood and the agonizing yearning for our irretrievably lost childhood would also make us “weep like a child.”
On the contrary, a post-structuralist deconstruction of Lawrence’s Piano would reveal its internal contradictions and inconsistencies. ‘Deconstruction’ as Peter Barry correctly points out “can roughly be defined as applied post-structuralism. It is often referred to as reading against the grain’ or ‘reading the text against itself,’ with the purpose of ‘knowing the text as it cannot know itself.’ (These are Terry Eagleton’s definitions.) A way of describing this would be to say that deconstructive reading uncovers the unconscious rather than the conscious dimension of the text, all the things which its overt textuality glosses over or fails to recognize” (70-71). A stylistic analysis of one schematically foregrounded style marker, the concrete countable noun ‘piano’ which is incrementally repeated thrice is useful in deconstructing the text and revealing its internal contradictions and inconsistencies.
“Stylistics,” as Peter Verdonk blandly observes, “is concerned with the study of style in language” (3) and its purpose as Paul Simpson correctly points out is “to explore creativity in language use” (3). It does this by using “the methods and findings of the science of linguistics in the analysis of literary texts” (Barry 203).
A careful reading of Lawrence’s Piano reveals that the concrete countable noun ‘piano’ has been foregrounded by being incrementally repeated thrice. The only other countable noun which has been repeated is ‘child’ and that too only twice. ‘Piano’ occurs as the title of the poem, as ‘the piano,’ in line 3, as ‘the tinkling piano’ in line 8 and finally as ‘the great black piano” in line 10.
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- Felix Moses (Autor), 2010, A stylistic deconstruction of D.H. Lawrence's "Piano", München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/162342