Discord in Childhood
Outside the house an ash tree hung its terrible whips,
And at night when the wind arose, the lash of the tree
Shrieked and slashed the wind, as a ship’s
Weird rigging in a storm shrieks hideously.
Within the house two voices arose in anger, a slender lash
Whistling delirious rage, and the dreadful sound
Of a thick lash booming and bruising, until it drowned
The other voice in a silence of blood, ‘neath the noise of the ash.
D.H. Lawrence writes an emotive and intense piece about a harsh reality that many children grow up with. His nuanced vocabulary paired with figures of speech and intriguing rhyme scheme makes “Discord in Childhood” a rich literary piece which tugs on our heartstrings.
The poem begins with the phrase “outside the house”, immediately making us aware that there is an “inside the house”. taking us to a stormy night, he seems to be looking onto branches of the ash-tree by the house swaying erratically in the wind. The tree and wind seem to be fighting with each other, shrieking and slashing. They creak and groan, reminding the poet of a ship’s rigging which “shrieks hideously”.
Lawrence uses somewhat unconventional words to describe the scene before him. Where others may choose words like harsh, loud, thunderous or swaying to describe the wind and tree, he uses far more “humane” adjectives, more frequently used to describe people. The words “whips”, “lash”, “slashed” and “shrieks” stand out as they are incredibly specific and hint at another altercation, not between the wind and trees. These words also make us question —not the scene itself but— the onlooker. What is this person's state of mind? What is their mind preoccupied with, for them to think of such words? Have they had any past experience similar to this one? What exactly influences their perspective in such a manner?
Lawrence also uses an analogy of a ship sailing in rocky waters. The use of the simile “as a ship’s weird rigging in a storm shrieks hideously” perfectly describes the sounds the speaker is hearing. It reminds us of other noises that may make us uncomfortable– like nails on a chalkboard. Further, choosing to use a ship to describe the image gives us a feeling of instability and insecurity, as the ship may sink in the dark ocean.
Further the use of the word “weird” does not completely fit the sentence. The poet could have chosen to employ assonance and alliteration: using words like “strange” which may fit the flow of the sentence better. Instead, “weird” seems less mature and more childlike, this may allude to the speaker wanting to further the discomfort of the imagery, and also to show that the speaker is not describing what he sees in the moment, but how he felt and what he experienced in the past.
The subject of the second stanza changes from outside the house to “within the house” where two voices “arose in anger”. We immediately notice that the words and imagery being used to describe the scene inside overlaps that used to describe the outside. Not only are the same words used such as “arose” and “lash”, there are also similar sensory words: where the tree shrieks and slashes, the sound of thick lash booms and bruises, where the ship shrieks hideously, the voice whistles in delirious rage.
The poet describes a parallel narrative where two people (most probably his parents) are having some kind of verbal altercation. There are parallels constantly being drawn between the inside and the outside of the house, showing that he is merging the two. That, in his mind, the violent storm and the violent home are somehow connected. Maybe he is projecting his emotions and memories, or is simply unable to separate the two.
As the voices of his parents collide the speaker feels immense distress, until one voice overpowers the other in “a silence of blood”. Interestingly, the speaker also subtly attributes gender to each of the two voices. The first voice is described as a “slender” lash that whistles— a more feminine description— while the second is a “thick” lash that booms and bruises. Eventually, the father seems to overpower the mother and the sound of the storm returns.
On further reading, we realize that the title- 'Discord in Childhood'- already gave away the main theme of the poem. At first glance the word “discord” tells readers that there is a fight, a disagreement or a lack of harmony that is shown in the poem. While the first stanza may not immediately seem connected to the title, the parallels drawn between the first and second stanza reveal that the title quite literally describe the events of the poem.
'Discord in Childhood', by D.H. Lawrence, passionately and with great strength, describes a broken home. It captures the hurt and trauma that many children face, the insecurities they feel, the disgust and strangeness they may reflect on, and the damage they leave that very home with.
Lawrence, D.H. Discord in Childhood. 1916. Amores.