I suppose that in most hands a poem like this would come across as outrageously, even clumsily sentimental, but genius can get away with things that others had better not try, and if we ask ourselves how exactly, it could be something to do with the specificity of memory – those tingling strings – or something to do with technique – that bold rhyme of clamour and glamour – but mostly, I think, with the disarming sincerity of the piece, the poet’s willingness to keep faith with what he truly feels at whatever cost in vulnerability.
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.
Good choice! Great to read it again – and instructive in how he avoided all the pitfalls.