'The Opening of the Piano' by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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IN the little southern parlor of tbe house you may have seen
With the gambrel-roof, and the gable looking westward to the green,
At the side toward the sunset, with the window on its right,
Stood the London-made piano I am dreaming of to-night!

Ah me! how I remember the evening when it came!
What a cry of eager voices, what a group of cheeks in flame,
When the wondrous box was opened that had come from over seas,
With its smell of mastic-varnish and its flash of ivory keys!

Then the children all grew fretful in the restlessness of joy,
For the boy would push his sister, and the sister crowd the boy,
Till the father asked for quiet in his grave paternal way,
But the mother hushed the tumult with the words, "Now, Mary, play."

For the dear soul knew that music was a very sovereign balm;
She had sprinkled it over Sorrow and seen its brow grow calm,
In the days of slender harpsichords with tapping tinkling quills,
Or carolling to her spinet with its thin metallic thrills.

So Mary, the household minstrel, who always loved to please,
Sat down to the new "Clementi," and struck the glittering keys.
Hushed were the children's voices, and every eye grew dim,
As, floating from lip and finger, arose the "Vesper Hymn."

Catharine, child of a neighbor, curly and rosy-red,
(Wedded since, and a widow,-- something like ten years dead,)
Hearing a gush of music such as none before,
Steals from her mother's chamber and peeps at the open door.

Just as the "Jubilate" in threaded whisper dies,
"Open it! open it, lady!" the little maiden cries,
(For she thought 't was a singing creature caged in a box she heard,)
"Open it! open it, lady! and let me see the bird!"

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Opening of the Piano: An Ode to Nostalgia and Music

The world of poetry is a vast and mesmerizing one, filled with countless masterpieces that can move hearts and inspire souls. Among these timeless works, one that stands out for its evocative imagery and nostalgic tone is Oliver Wendell Holmes' "The Opening of the Piano." Written in the mid-19th century, this poem captures the essence of a bygone era when music was not just an art, but a way of life, a language of emotions that spoke to the very core of humanity.

What makes "The Opening of the Piano" so special is its ability to transport the reader to a distant time and place, where the simple act of playing a musical instrument can bring back a flood of memories and emotions. As the poem begins, the speaker describes the ritual of opening the piano, a task that requires not just skill, but reverence:

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you'll find him;
His father's sword he has girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
"Land of Song!" said the warrior bard,
"Tho' all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!"

These opening lines set the scene for a journey into the past, where the "minstrel boy" is not just a mythical figure, but a real person who embodies the spirit of music and heroism. The reference to the "wild harp" slung behind him suggests that music is not just a hobby, but a vital part of his identity, a symbol of his courage and passion.

As the speaker continues, we learn that the piano is not just an instrument, but a portal to a different world, a world of memories and dreams:

The piano stands in the parlor now,
Its keys are white as snow;
All its chords are mute, but I scarce know
If it speaks or not, but I hear a sound
Of music softly breathed around,
As if the ghost of sound were there,
And whispered from the ivory where
Some mute musician breathed a prayer.

Here, Holmes uses the image of the piano to symbolize the past, the memories that linger in our minds and hearts, even when the world has moved on. The "white keys" and "mute chords" suggest that the piano is no longer a functional instrument, but a relic of the past, a reminder of a time when music filled the air. Yet, despite its silence, the piano still has a voice, a "softly breathed" sound that suggests the presence of a "mute musician" who once played it with all his or her heart.

As the poem progresses, the speaker goes on to describe the various memories and emotions that the piano evokes. There is the memory of a past love, whose voice still echoes in the silent chords:

The voice of a girl that is gone,
And her step that is light and free;
The dead so mournful, and yet so dear,
That her smile haunts me even here,
And the tears of regret that I loved to see,
As they gathered slowly and silently,
And dropped from her eyelids one by one,
Or were kissed away in the days that are gone.

Here, Holmes taps into the universal theme of lost love and longing, using the piano as a metaphor for the bittersweet memories that we cherish and mourn at the same time. The mention of the "voice" and "step" of the girl who is gone suggests that music is not just a passive experience, but an active one, a way of connecting with others and expressing our deepest emotions.

The poem also touches on the theme of mortality, as the speaker reflects on the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death:

And so I sit and think of the past,
And the joys that are over and gone,
And the tears that were shed, and the friends that are dead,
And the dear hearts lost one by one;
Till the shadows around me deepen and grow,
And I hear the solemn curfew toll,
As if it were the bell of a passing soul,
And the music of life seems far away,
And the vision is dimmed, and the heart is cold,
And I long for the peace of the dead.

These lines capture the essence of nostalgia, that bittersweet feeling of longing for a time and a place that can never be regained. The image of the "curfew toll" and the "passing soul" suggest that life is a fleeting moment, a brief interlude in the grand scheme of things. Yet, despite the sadness and the loss, there is still beauty in the music that lingers on, a testament to the power of the human spirit to transcend time and space.

In conclusion, "The Opening of the Piano" is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the essence of nostalgia and music in a way that is both timeless and universal. Through the image of the piano, Holmes evokes a world that is lost, but not forgotten, a world where music was more than just a form of entertainment, but a way of life. The poem reminds us that even in the midst of sadness and loss, there is still beauty and meaning to be found in the memories and emotions that music can evoke. As such, it is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to touch our hearts and souls, and to connect us with the deepest parts of ourselves and our shared humanity.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Opening of the Piano: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Oliver Wendell Holmes, a renowned American poet, wrote a masterpiece of poetry titled "The Opening of the Piano." This poem is a beautiful and emotional piece that captures the essence of music and its power to evoke emotions. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and literary devices used in this poem.

The poem begins with the speaker describing the opening of a piano. The first line, "The time has come," sets the tone for the poem, indicating that something significant is about to happen. The speaker then goes on to describe the piano's opening, using vivid imagery to create a sense of anticipation and excitement. The lines "The lid of the piano is open wide, / And the yellow keys look up and the pedals beside" create a visual image of the piano, with its keys and pedals waiting to be played.

The poem's first stanza sets the stage for the rest of the poem, introducing the theme of music and its power to evoke emotions. The speaker describes the piano as "a magic thing," suggesting that music has a transformative power that can transport us to another world. The lines "It has swallowed the sunset glow, / It has gathered the twilight's purple and gold" create a sense of wonder and awe, as if the piano has the power to capture the beauty of nature.

The second stanza of the poem focuses on the act of playing the piano. The speaker describes the pianist's fingers as "swift and strong," creating a sense of energy and movement. The lines "The music bursts like a fountain from her brain" suggest that playing the piano is a creative act, with the music flowing from the pianist's mind like water from a fountain. The speaker also describes the music as "a bird on the wing," creating a sense of freedom and flight.

The third stanza of the poem explores the emotional power of music. The speaker describes the music as "a voice in the dark," suggesting that music has the power to comfort and console us in times of darkness. The lines "It calls the heart to the lips, / And the soul to the shining stars" create a sense of transcendence, as if music can lift us up and connect us to something greater than ourselves.

The fourth stanza of the poem focuses on the physical sensations of playing the piano. The speaker describes the pianist's fingers as "dancing and glancing," creating a sense of movement and rhythm. The lines "The ivory keys are flashing and ringing" create a sense of sound and texture, as if the piano is alive and vibrating with energy.

The fifth and final stanza of the poem brings the themes of the poem together, emphasizing the transformative power of music. The speaker describes the music as "a dream of the heart," suggesting that music has the power to transport us to another world, where anything is possible. The lines "It has caught the whisper of souls / That are lost in the shadow of years" create a sense of nostalgia and longing, as if music has the power to connect us to our past and our deepest emotions.

Throughout the poem, Holmes uses a variety of literary devices to create a sense of wonder and awe. The use of vivid imagery, such as the description of the piano's keys and pedals, creates a sense of anticipation and excitement. The use of metaphor, such as the comparison of music to a bird on the wing, creates a sense of freedom and flight. The use of personification, such as the description of the piano as a magic thing, creates a sense of wonder and awe.

In conclusion, "The Opening of the Piano" is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the essence of music and its power to evoke emotions. Through vivid imagery, metaphor, and personification, Holmes creates a sense of wonder and awe, emphasizing the transformative power of music. This poem is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to capture the beauty and complexity of the human experience.

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