La Figlia Che Piange

June 4, 2007 at 7:34 pm 5 comments

T.S. Eliot

Listen (to Hoon read)

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 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 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.

‘s commentary,

“the girl who weeps”

A remembered love-
& the way the mind uses memories,
reworks, arranges things,
into a pattern that is more to its liking.
Hence the directorial tone that begins the poem,
the string of verbs in the imperative voice.

The poem is surely inspired by Emily Hale whom
Eliot fell in love with while at Harvard,
who shared a love for the theatre,
and would remain semi-attached to Eliot for the rest of her life,
and would become a recurring figure, in a veiled sense,
through several of his early works.

The lines:
“So he would have left / As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised, /
As the mind deserts the body it has used.”
reflects Eliots’s innate asceticism, his revulsion at sexuality,
and the misogyny that these feelings, perhaps inevitably, engender.
We witness here an artificer deriving a cruel pleasure
from a rearrangement of the memories of the incident.

Finally the auxilliary “woulds” are succeeded by a firm verb in the past tense:
“She turned away…” Are we finally getting at the truth?

Stepping back, as it were, he notes, both amusedly and pathetically:
“I should have lost a gesture and a pose”,
as though the arranged memories and his smug air of superiority
could be more fulfilling than an authentic loving relation.

Finally,”Sometimes these cogitations still amaze / the troubled midnight and
the noon’s repose.”
both the “sometimes” and the supercilious “cogitations”
create a distance and containment of the unfulfilled longing the speaker feels,
while, in the end, hinting at other imaginative practices.
see: Lyndall Gordon’s T. S. Eliot: an imperfect life London, Vintage 1998 pp. 75-85.


Entry filed under: Black Mamba, English, Hoon (, Thomas Stearns Eliot.

I’m glad your sickness Los Heraldos Negros

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Equivocal  |  June 5, 2007 at 11:00 am

    Hoon– Your reading aloud suggests that you’ve heard and been influenced by the classic Caedmon recording of this poem by Eliot himself. That actually is one of the few Eliots available officially online (because of copyright restrictions by the Eliot estate, I understand)–

    It’s worth hearing Eliot do it, because I think he does a nice job, even if he does sound a little weary because, by the time of the recording, he has been performing the poem for many many years.

  • 2. hoon  |  June 7, 2007 at 4:08 am

    Equivocal– Your name is well chosen, for you do not say if you like the present rendition or not. Yes, I have listened to the Eliot recording but not in preparation for this recording.
    I have just listened to the Eliot version at aap, enjoyed it again, enjoyed the introduction especially, but in all honesty fail to hear much similiarity beyond what is to be expected from rendering a particular text with a particular meaning. If it is there though it doesn’t really bother me, and in fact am glad that you’ve provided the link to the Eliot recording. In making these recordings my goal is not to achieve a particularly individualistic rendering, although I would hope some such would occur naturally in the making, but more modestly to seek to provide a rendition that is simply enjoyable, and that can be combined with a brief commentary to provide a quick study for material that is often neglected in contemporary public education and the general culture. Like a stranger at an unexpected party, I just want to be liked and remembered.

  • 3. Equivocal  |  June 7, 2007 at 5:23 am

    H– in your rendition, I do like your sense of timing a lot; but in general I seem to prefer a poet reading her/his own work. There’s an aura (possibly imaginary) to a poet reading her own words, a weight, and often a tension and insecurity because they are being forced to stand behind what they’ve written. I like that.

    But perhaps this is just a personal prejudice of mine that I can’t shake. There are a few interesting test cases–
    1) an early recording of Walt Whitman reading where, it turns out, there is some dispute as to whether it really was him, or someone else– and poets deciding and arguing this question based on their own (highly unreliable) occult intuitions!
    2) Contrasts between the young Eliot who (by the accounts of Virginia Woolf and others) was a very energetic, vigorous, often comical reader of his work, singing, sort-of rapping, and so on vs. the aging Eliot of this recording who, in his own words, usually needs to “warm the engine up a little” before he can really get performing, who is reading this poem of his youth mostly because the audience expects him to, and because he perhaps wants to move onto something in the 4 quartets.
    3) A very occasional situation that I experience only with maybe 3 or 4 poets, where I much prefer to read them silently than hear them read– they have irritating, precious personalities that are not reflected in the intense and sophisticated poems they write. But here again, I think I would probably prefer to just read them on the page.

    So these are the test cases, and true to my name, I don’t really have a straight answer that reconciles them with my prejudice in favour of the work being read out by the writer herself. But nice to meet you, stranger, and may the parties continue to be unexpected!

    As always

  • 4. Equivocal  |  June 7, 2007 at 5:27 am

    (I should add, though, that unlike many others, and despite the caveat mentioned above, I do still like the Caedmon Eliot recordings very much– he’s still got it, the old dog!)

  • 5. hoon  |  June 8, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    On the preference for the poet’s voice.

    Of course, the mind always wants to fill in the gaps, the gestaltists would say. Why wouldn’t the imagination want to construct, as well as it might, its own image of the beloved poet out of all the pictures, anecdotes, poems, analyses. It is always doing this. And of these attributes what else is most likely to be most personal; natural, and therefore most reifying, than the poet’s voice. For them it is not just a poem that is being spoken, but parts of a significant life being filled in. Who can compete with that?
    But of course there is no competition, unless one desires that there should be one. Preferences come perhaps out of the need to make choices about how we entertain ourselves, our expectations about the likelihood of being entertained. If one is able to see different values, even purposes, in different renderings of a piece then prizing more than one version of a piece makes sense.
    I seek to set down a set of recordings that fill in more than one blank; that creates a synthetic history of English/American poetry; an aural literary museum. (pō’ĭ-trē, perhaps less self-consciously, is doing something similiar). This could be done better perhaps by more than one voice, but I don’t think you’d want too many. The sense of the personal begins to break down. For me a single voice is an economical reality, yet, I hope, not too great a limitation for my purposes. Memorizing, repeated recordings, research, instructs not just on performance but about structure and meaning as well. The quality of the performance is imperative, but the underlying structure of the database and the insightful commetnary are almost as important. One simply does things and finds out. Can you fill in some gaps for an audience in a way that they will enjoy. Are you being entertained? So I guess that’s my criteria as to the value of a particular recording? If it’s entertaining then I’m proving the value of there being such a aura, literary, museum-database.

    (apologies if this sounds too lecturing, just in the mood to set down a few ideas)


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