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Thursday, February 17, 2011


(The Piano Lesson by Henri Matisse, 1869-1954,
French printmaker, painter, and sculptor)

Both the art and the poem today recreate a memory of a young boy at a piano — but with a different tempo and perspective.

Matisse’s painting is of his son Pierre’s practicing the piano to the beat of a metronome. It records the fleeting moment as the triangle of a shadow flashes across his face. This image anticipates a memory for the boy in the future.

Lawrence’s poem is of a scene from his boyhood of sitting under the piano listening to his mother’s playing and singing. This memory is made up of more than a brief moment; it blends together repeated Sunday evenings by the piano.


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 cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
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), English novelist, poet, and literary critic

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