La Figlia Che Piange by T.S. Eliot

‘La Figlia Che Piange,’ or ‘The Weeping Girlby T. S. Eliot is a twenty-four line poem that 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. 

La Figlia Che Piange by T.S. Eliot

 

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. 

You can read the full poem here.

 

Analysis of La Figlia Che Piange 

Stanza One

O quam te memorem virgo …

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—
Lean on a garden urn—
(…)
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

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 of 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 goes 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 vaguer 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 hopes to one of disenchantment. Next, the woman is asked to “fling” the flowers to the ground and turn away from one’s main sightline. 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.

 

Stanza Two

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
(…)
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.

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 about 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. 

 

Stanza Three

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
(…)
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.

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, signaling that she is moving on. While this should be at 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. The surface in his mind at the “troubled midnight” or at midday when he is trying to relax. 

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  • Avatar Sergei Soloviev says:

    I am not at all sure that there is no third protagonist, at least imaginary. The first stanza describes the girl with such an emotional force that suggests the narrator himself standing down the stair. Her recentment is directed towards the narrator. She turned away (it is described as a real event in the first line of the third stanza). But the narrator wanted “him” leave. And “her stand and grieve”. This is described in the 2nd stanza. The narrator would like him leave and her remain. And the way to make him leave (that the narrator did not find) would be simple and faithless, like “shake of the hand” (in the beginning of XX century typical between men, but not a man and a woman). And whose life together the narrator imagines in the 3rd stanza? Her life with some “him”? The life that the narrator does not and will never know? It may be seen as a description of a real failure for the narrator, and not as some “stage directions”. (Cf. “Prufrock”: Prufrock says “I will tel you all” and a lady: “That is not it at all”.)

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Amazingly in-depth idea. I really love this concept. May appear to be slightly nebulous but certainly not beyond Eliot to be that clever.

  • Avatar Marsha Elliott says:

    The way I read it the observer is talking about his daughter as figlia means daughter not girl

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      ah, thank you. That is useful in understanding the poem.

  • Avatar Richard Brown says:

    Excellent analysis of a poem which has always haunted me. Now I have a good idea of why. Thank you.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I am really pleased that we have helped you to grasp why this poem had a profound effect on you.

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