Stephen Spender

That girl who laughed and had black eyes by Stephen Spender

‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ by Stephen Spender is all about a girl the speaker admires and loves. She still lives in the speaker’s thoughts even after her death.

‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ is written by English poet Stephen Spender. It was published in his 1930 collection of poetry, Twenty Poems. In this poem, Spender talks about an unnamed girl whom the speaker met only a few days back. Even after her unfortunate and untimely death, her existence is not entirely wiped from his memory. He still cherishes the girl’s features and presence. What is more important about this poem is that death is not an end. A person can still live through their works and in the hearts of their loved ones.

That girl who laughed and had black eyes by Stephen Spender


Summary

‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ by Stephen Spender is a lovely poem about a girl who lives inside the speaker’s heart even after her physical death.

The poem begins with a description of the girl the speaker met only ten days ago and spent some time with. He can still remember how she smiled, how her promising lips moved, and how quick her enchanting eyes were. As she is no more, he can still feel her presence in his room. He can see her bright spirit even through the dark lids of the grave. Besides, she lives in the objects that were used by her. Her poems that are in his room carry on her existence. Death would have swallowed her whole, yet she lives in his heart. He meets her at every turn and can feel her dancing inside the solid walls of the grave.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

That girl who laughed and had black eyes

Spoke here ten days ago. She smiles

Still in my thought; the lip still promises

The body lives, and the quick eye beguiles.

Stephen Spender’s poem ‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ can be regarded as an elegy to a girl whom the speaker admires and had grown fond of within a couple of days. This piece is not like a traditional elegy where a speaker laments the passing of a loved one. Instead, it is about the constant presence of the girl even after her death. The poem begins with a truthful depiction of the girl’s beauty. In the very first line, the speaker does not fail to take special note of the way she smiled and most importantly, her iconic black eyes.

The girl spoke with the speaker for some moments. He can vividly recollect how she smiled. It seems to him as if she is still smiling in his thoughts. She is present in his heart. Moreover, he admires the way her promising lips moved, her body, and the movement of her eyes. For him, her eyes were enchanting and had the ability to enthrall the audience.

Stanza Two

Now that she’s dead, I feel the living flame

(…)

Through the transparent grave, I see her bright.

Unfortunately, the girl did not live long. She died shortly after the meeting. Yet the speaker was so moved by this meeting that he can still feel her presence. For him, she is the “living flame” of passion that moves across walls and twists across his sight. This makes him feel she is not dead.

In the last two lines of this stanza, the speaker tries to hint at the way she died. He refers to the “smothering waters of Death’s name.” From this reference, it can be assumed that she died by drowning. This is why the speaker describes the grave as being “transparent.” He can see her bright face through the watery grave.

Stanza Three

She lives beneath our common objects, dust

(…)

Swallow her up in the enormous tomb,

In the third stanza, the speaker associates her memory with common objects, such as dust and chairs. He can feel her presence in the dust (a reference to the body of the girl) and the chairs where she used to sit. She was a poet. Therefore, she had the chance to live beyond her death through her poetry. This is why the speaker takes note of her poems that are present in his room.

The speaker admits that personified “Death” plays its tricks in order to make one feel their loved one is no longer there with them. He believes that she is still with him even though the earth’s crust has swallowed her up inside its enormous tomb. It is a metaphorical way of describing how one’s body is buried underground.

Stanza Four

I meet her every turn; the muffled part

(…)

I see her dancing through the solid wall!

In the last stanza of ‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes,’ the speaker describes how he meets the girl at every turn. He talks about the muffled sound of the girl that still rings in his ears. Though the applause has stopped and the pageant has stopped appalling, the speaker is able to sense her presence. As he thinks about her, her shade takes birth once again in his heart. In the final line, the speaker expresses his pleasure at finding her spirit dancing through the solid wall of the grave. It is as if death has set her spirit free. Now she dances and moves across walls without anything or anyone to stop her.

Structure and Form

‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ is a regularly rhymed and metered piece of poetry. The text consists of four quatrains (a quatrain comprises four lines) with the ABAB rhyme scheme. In each stanza, the first and third and the second and fourth end with similar rhymes, such as “smiles” and “smiles”; “flame and name.” This alternative rhyme scheme adds musicality to the piece. On top of that, every line contains ten syllables, except the first two lines, which contain eight syllables each. The stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. Therefore, the overall poem is composed in iambic pentameter.

Literary Devices

In ‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes,’ Spender makes use of the following literary devices:

  • Alliteration: The repetition of the initial consonant sound in the neighboring words can be found in the following instances: “She smiles/ Still,” “feel the living flame,” and “Startle her shade.”
  • Personification: In the second stanza, Spender personifies the “flame.” This flame has the ability to move and twist like humans. “Death” is also personified in the poem. In the third stanza, Spender portrays “Death” as a trickster.
  • Anaphora: It occurs in the last two lines of the second stanza that is meant for the sake of emphasis. These lines begin with the word “Through.”
  • Hyperbole: It occurs in “Swallow her up in the enormous tomb.”
  • Rhetorical Exclamation: The last line of the poem contains this device. The use of exclamation at the end shows the speaker’s conviction in the fact that the girl is still alive, not stilled.


FAQs

What is the poem ‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ by Stephen Spender about?

Stephen Spender’s lyrical piece ‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ is written in remembrance of a girl who is no longer alive. Through this poem, Spender tries to describe how one can live in the memories of their loved ones even after their death.

When was the poem ‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ published?

The poem ‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ was originally published in Stephen Spender’s 1930 collection, Twenty Poems. It is the penultimate poem of the collection.

What type of poem is ‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’?

‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ is written using a set rhyme scheme and meter. Spender employs the alternative ABAB rhyme scheme and composes the verse in iambic pentameter. The poem is told from the perspective of a first-person lyrical speaker.

What is the theme of ‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’?

This piece taps on the themes of death, love, beauty, art, and admiration. The main idea of the poem concerns how one can live even after their physical death. It is through people’s memories and their works that one lives.


Similar Poetry

The following poems explore the theme present in Spender’s poem ‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes.You can also read more Stephen Spender poems.

You can also explore these incredible poems about death.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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