Tuesday, August 05, 2008

La Figlia Che Piange

by T. S. Eliot

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 surprise—
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 is has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we should both understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and 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.


Meredith said...

Ahhhhhh, I love this poem! I've even thought of trying to turn it into elegiacs - but I only finished two lines, and Dr. S. had to try very very hard to be charitable about them.

The *thought* of the poem seems very wooly, but the music is superb. That's the case with a lot of Eliot's early stuff, I think. The music in this is so subtle - it doesn't use alliteration or any of the starry chiming of Hopkins. It's all in the end rhymes and the varied rhythm and something about the fittingness of the vowels and consonants.

Sheila said...

I actually have tons of ideas about the story that makes this poem. I should work them all out and post them--I was just in a hurry when I posted this.

Meredith said...

Oooooo, I would love to hear your scenarios! I've always wondered if there was a true story behind it, and what it might be.

Sheila said...

The first stanza I take to be using commands just to describe what really happened. He bids her to take the actions she is already taking, just to show he is indifferent to her taking those actions--so long as she still "weaves the sunlight in her hair" (such an image!). I think he gave her the flowers. She threw them away, resentful that he would even try.

There's another man. The speaker wants the man to desert the girl, even if it leaves her terribly hurt. Those images--it suggests he'd rather have him leave her "used." Maybe he is a rotten guy already, is mistreating her, and the speaker wants him to go because she's been hurt enough already. But I don't think it's necessary. The point is that he wants the other man out of the picture. Then he wants to appear as the consoler, smiling and shaking her hand, showing that he at least was there for her. Don't people have these fantasies? They want the "other person" out of the picture, however painfully, so they can be the hero and consoler.

The third stanza shows none of this happened. The girl turned away from him, to the other man. The speaker just can't picture the girl with this man. It seems wrong to him. But if she hadn't been with this man, the speaker never could have seen the beautiful pose she has on the highest pavement of the stair, throwing his flowers away. Just thinking about this paradox--as well as his ultimate loss of her--keeps him up at night.

I wonder about this too. I feel like there must have been some story, either a true one or something he had read. At least there was a story in his mind. The poem suggests so much more, yet it's restrained, leaving so much out.

Anonymous said...

La figlia che piange...

The girl that cries...

what of her?

Is it all about Eliot?