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La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl) -- T S Eliot

Funny that Martin should bring up the Pre-Raphaelites, 'cos my next
choice is a poem which... well, read on.
(Poem #9) La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl)
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair -
Lean on a garden urn -
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair -
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained suprise -
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and a shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight, and the noon's repose.
-- T S Eliot
from 'Prufrock and Other Observations', 1917.

The image in the first stanza reminds me irresistibly of the
Brotherhood; to know exactly why, visit
http://www.speel.demon.co.uk/other/prb.htm for a brief review of the
Pre-Raphaelites (and several pictures which capture their aesthetic
perfectly).

From the second stanza onwards we move into familiar Eliotesque terrain
- the explorations of time, faith, love and other Big Things. Despite
these metaphysical excursions, the poem remains free of allusion and
cross-referencing to a remarkable extent (for Eliot), and is still airy
and light in tenor.

For me, though, the whole impact of the poem hinges on the first verse,
which I think is simply beautiful.

thomas.

30 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Jan Olov Ullen said...

Are you sure there's no operatic reference in the title of the poem? And
that "la figlia" doesn't mean daughter? The first meaning of the word in
Italian certainly is daughter. I have thought that maybe the title comes
from an aria (Verdi, Puccini etc). There are many weeping daughters in
the opera literature, aren't there? It can also have a religious
meaning: the daughter being S Mary...
Your association to the preraphaelites seems very likely, though.
All the best
Jan Olov Ullen
(Stockholm)

Matthew Chanoff said...

What's odd in a love poem is this third-person narrative. The poet is
not breaking up with the girl, he's watching the aftermath of the girl
breaking up with someone else, and dealing with his ambivalent feelings
both about the relationship and the end of it. I think this is about a
father watching the end of his daughter's first (?) love affair.

Taylor Charles said...

I believe this is frequently thought of as a response to a painting,
pre-raphaelite very likely: does it make sense to see it as the artist,
comenting on the scene he has recreated?

Peter Fennessy said...

This text of the poem omits a line Eliot included after his title, namely "O quam te memorem virgo" It is taken from the Aeneid (I, 327) where Aeneas meets his mother in disguise and says "I seem to remember you, miss." It is cited by Spencer in his Shepherd's Calendar (April) which is in honor of Queen Elizabeth I. What does it all mean?

Shannon McLachlan said...

What is the rhythm of this poem?

เรื่องเสียว said...

The image in the first stanza reminds me irresistibly of the
Brotherhood; to know exactly why, visit

Thomasina said...

Thanks for this. The idea that it all relates to a painting is interesting. Perhaps it's even a little heartless, this poem - at least ambivalent. The speaker seems to subordinate emotion to the aestheticised image.

Anonymous said...

I think it is Eliot referring to when he left his wife, and his attitude towards him leaving her. Although the title means "The crying daughter" I don't think it is referring to his daughter, more loosely referring to a female as they are all daughters to somebody.

Anonymous said...

The girl to whom the poem refers is Emily Hale.

Anonymous said...


I "remember" (memorare, memorare)this:
"O, Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo figlio" (St. Bernard' s prayer/letter to Mary, Dante, "Paradise", XXXIII).

I also "remember" Kafka's letter to his father, although he never actually sent it to him. I sometimes think he missed the "addressee", and that he should have sent a letter, a different letter to his mother: mothers understand a certain kind of violence - the violence - the fictional violence - of letters - in a different way. But Kafka never had any "problems" with his mother.

I once tried to do what Kafka didn't and I "dared" to write a letter to a mother; but I didn' t dare to send it and I realised afterwards that I actually wrote it to myself - just as Kafka did with his own letter.

I know now that I will never, ever send my letters except to myself. It is the only conclusion, the only "interpretation" I dare to utter, to write.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I don' t remember my English quite well.

Anonymous said...

In spite of my poor English, let me go on, although "I" don't really want to do it: the moto - O quam te memorem virgo - is from Virgil: Eneas meets a girl, Venus in disguise, his mother. I think Eliot didn' t "dare" what Max Brod, Kafka's friend and "publisher" did: to perform a "blasphemy" - in this case, to name the object under his eyes with it's real name. I don't know whether the girl is his mother or not, and what I'm trying to do is not some sort of psycho-analysis; but I think that he deliberately creates a confusion, not to cover, but to protect something that he believes to be somehow monstruous. In other words, he creates a game, a "magic theater", through which he tries to point out the confusion, the "quiproquo", and not the object itself. He fears that confusion; nevertheless, he shows it: not directly, but on a stage; he, thus, wants to make it tolerable - not through emotion, but through a "theatrical" act.

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The girl to whom the poem refers is Emily Hale
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