‘La Figlia Che Piange,’ or ‘The Weeping Girl’ by T. S. Eliot is a twenty-four line poem which was included in Eliot’s collection, Prufrock and Other Observations. This work was published in 1917 and does not conform to a single pattern of rhyme. The lines also vary greatly in length and meter.
It is thought that Eliot was inspired to write this piece after failing to find a stele, or ancient wooden slab with intricate ornamentation. Depending on the piece there could be decorative patterning or more recognizable images. This poem was named after the particular stele he was looking for.
Before reading this poem one should take note of the epitaph which marks the beginning of the piece. It reads,
O quam te memorem virgo …
This line is a direct quote from Virgil’s Aeneid and translates to “O, how should I call you, virgin?” In this section of the epic poem, Aeneas is addressing his mother, the goddess Venus. He is professing his desire to remain free of any complicated romantic attachments.
While this line might initially seem out of context, after reading through the opening lines it makes more sense. The speaker is not interested in participating in love himself, but rather in observing its perfection. He does what he can to create the perfect image of beauty. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of La Figlia Che Piange
‘La Figlia Che Piange’ by T. S. Eliot describes a speaker’s attempt to craft the perfect, yet tragic, love story.
The poem begins with the speaker asking a female figure in his narrative to complete a variety of actions. She must climb to the top of some stairs and lean on an urn. Additionally, she has to weave her hair with the light of the sun. The woman should glow with beauty.
While she is lovely in every way, she is not happy. There has been a disagreement between her and her lover. The man abandons her there, and she turns from him in frustration and resentment.
The poem concludes with the speaker describing how he has been unable to forget this narrative. He is constantly contemplating what could’ve happened between the two.
Analysis of La Figlia Che Piange
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker is addressing a woman. He is doling out details, instructions and requests for how he would like her to compose herself. The speaker has a very clear idea what she should look like and do.
He is acting as a director of the scene. The speaker begins by asking that the woman,
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—
Or more simply, that she go up the stairs and stop at the top. This is where his scene should take place. At the top of the stairs there is a “garden urn” or large vase. He asks her to “Lean on” it. The next instruction is more vague and aestheticized. While posing precisely in the way he asked, the woman must,
Weave, weave the sunlight in [her] hair —
This is of course something impossible to complete physically. He is wanting her to interact with the sun in a particularly interesting way. It is his hope it will illuminate her complexion and make it seem as if she is the one glowing. The scene is further described in the following lines.
The woman is asked to hold onto a bouquet of flowers with a “pained surprise.” This is the first word that is not gentle and perfect. The scene is changing from one of pristine beauty and hope, to one of disenchantment. Next, the woman is asked to “fling” the flowers to the ground and turn away from one’s main sight line. Through these actions she will show her displeasure and pain.
The speaker is making a concerted effort to mimic the pains of love. He wants this woman to appear wronged in some way. Without one knowing anything about her history it should be clear that she feels resentment towards another. This should not be taken so far as to mark her beauty though. All the while she should be “Weav[ing]” the sunlight through her hair.
In the second stanza Eliot utilizes a great deal of repetition. This is clear from simply glancing over starting words of each line of the text. He is listing out more stage directions for the woman. One line at a time he describes the image he is looking for.
The speaker states that he would have the woman’s partner “leave” after she turned away from him. There is no additional information as to who these people are or if there is even a real dynamic between them. This entire narrative is likely contrived from the speaker’s mind.
The woman, in reaction to the man’s walking away, is pushed to grief. She stands where he was before and watches as he departs. This action would have impacted her so deeply that it would feel like a,
soul leaving the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
The woman would be racked with pain and loneliness. So much so, it would be as if she lost her mind. It has abandoned her “torn and bruised” body.
In the second half of this stanza the speaker refers to himself. He is thinking over what his next direction should be. Where should the story go next? He contemplates finding a way for the two to reconcile. They could come back together with,
…a smile and a shake of the hand.
He chooses not to go in this direction because it would be “faithless.” The emotions they expressed would not be true. The couple would only be coming together for the story’s sake.
In the third stanza of the poem the speaker reveals what he will have his characters do. The woman has turned away from the scene as well, signalling that she is moving on. While this should be in the end of the narrative, the speaker is unable to stop.
He blames his inspiration on the “autumn weather” which has “compelled him” to think about her for,
[…] many days,
Many days and many hours:
The speaker is unable to get this woman out of his head. He spends all his time imagining her grief and what steps she would take after the man’s departure. Perhaps they could’ve come back together. If this was the case, her hair would be “over her arms” and she’d get to hold bouquets of flowers. There would be an abundance of love and its representational elements. He is enthralled by the idea of what the two could’ve been like together.
In the final lines he states how these thoughts remain with him no matter the time of day. They surface in his mind at the “troubled midnight” or at midday when he is trying to relax.