La Figlia che Piange baffles with more than its foreign title. It concerns itself with a woman and is as elusive as a woman in its exploration of a profound disturbance in the interpersonal equilibrium of an undisclosed individual. Its beauty is splintered in that Eliot sketches only a portion of the whole story, but it is no less haunting, equally for the reader as for the narrator. Via subtle shifts of syntax, he achieves a complex inspection of the consciousness of human interaction, to an incantatory effect. Eliot's "La Figlia che Piange" characterizes a man in regretful contemplation in the aftermath of the end of a significant relationship, dwelling recurrently on its termination in lieu of a catharsis.
The ambiguous nature of "La Figlia che Piange" constructs an abstruse and fragile narrative. Eliot leaves the speaker unidentified and the nature of the relationship between the principal players likewise remains undefined; even the setting is uncertain as no specifics are provided concerning it. Few markers of such concrete details are present, but the few that are -the stair, the garden urn, the flowers on the ground from the first four lines-suggest an aesthetic garden tableau, ideally qualified for the poignancy of a valediction. It has the air of a scene from a play or a classic film, and indeed, the speaker's narration supports this atmosphere as action is dictated by a series of explicit instructions, as if the speaker is a director managing a performance. The parallelism of specific directives establishes an authoritativeness of tone. He directs where the girl should stand, "on the highest pavement of the stair," the exact pose she must adopt, "lean on a garden urn," the manner of reaction, "clasp your flowers [â€¦] fling them to the ground and turn," as well as the detail of expression she must achieve, "with a fugitive resentment in your eyes," all the while "[weaving] the sunlight" in her hair. The lyrical repetition of the direction "weave" in lines 3 and 7 and the consistent rhyme scheme in the first six lines (ABA CBC) reinforce the impact of the imagery that the speaker sets up, heightening the charm of the picture he has painted: a girl with an armful of flowers and the sun in her hair, shocked, attempting but failing to suppress her outrage. It is too easy to imagine a blush of fury on her cheeks. She is beautiful: of that there is little doubt, the implication strongly seeded in the connotations that weigh down the metaphor of weaving in literary tradition, of women such as Ariadne or Athena who combine their spinning skills with great loveliness. The epigraph itself, a reference to Virgil's Aeneas addressing Venus in awe, additionally confers beauty upon the eponymous girl (Aen. I. 327).
The speaker is the most finicky of directors, fastidious and fully aware of all nuances. Eliot deepens the distinct cinematic quality through employment of caesurae at the end of the opening four lines, which create a sense of a montage of shots of a single scene, as if the camera is panning in, out, or cutting to another perspective in succession. Everything seems meticulously planned: the speaker agonizes over minute details, taking pains with the "pained surprise" and the "fugitive resentment," evidencing this goodbye scene to be of great import to him. The highly practiced air of the entire stanza lends to it a sneaking suspicion that it might be taking place in the speaker's head; that the actual event has already occurred and this is a kind of esprit d'escalier, except the speaker goes beyond simply thinking of what he should have said-he is restaging the episode repeatedly in his mind, as if rehashing the past will alter the present. He lingers on it because he cannot move past it.
A marked shift in confidence occurs with the second stanza. The parallelism of "So I would have" and the change of tense from present indicative to past conditional in lines 8 to 10 confirm that the incident has happened and the speaker is merely envisioning the action sequence. The ambiguity of the conditional further insinuates that everything from the first stanza was not how the actual goodbye played out, and that perhaps what genuinely transpired was the opposite of what the speaker has been describing. The speaker may have been too timid to have thus deserted the girl, and in the aftermath is ruminating over possibilities in Prufrockian fashion. To compensate for what he could not do, he is conjuring up an alternate ending in which he, the man, is the one who coolly departs and the girl is the one grieving and heartbroken, an atypical predicament for a beautiful heroine. Tellingly, the title, which translates to "the girl who weeps" or "the daughter who weeps," also alludes to this.
An insistent reiteration of the girl cast into the anguished role continues throughout the rest of the stanza. Two similes that follow evoke startlingly violent imagery of the soul and the mind abandoning the body, which are events characteristic of a physical destruction and demise (11-12). This implication carries the idea that the parting, like death, was unhappy but inevitable. The speaker then proceeds to muse on the possibility of finding "Some way incomparably light and deft," "simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand" to manage afresh the scene, but arrives at no definite conclusion (14-16). The girl is left standing to grieve, while the man exits in a position of greater power, which builds on the idea of the speaker deliberately reversing situations in his mind to oppose reality, as in a fantasy to find release. The thrice-repeated pronoun "I" and especially the use of "we" to refer collectively to the man and the girl in line 15 intimate the speaker's personal involvement as the second party in this farewell. Furthermore, as in the first stanza, all actions seem too rehearsed-the conditional "I should find" in line 13 particularly implies revision-for the speaker to be without direct, purposeful investment.
The final stanza dispenses with pretenses at artistic objectivity as the speaker betrays his inability to forget. The speaker's knowledge of how the girl "turned away" presupposes his having looked back after walking away first, if that is indeed what he did, and it is akin to a final shot of a scene that lingers in memory, imprinted upon his mind and "[Compelling his] imagination" (17-18). He cannot give up dwelling on her, recollecting in sharp detail "Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers" (20). Although the speaker strives toward closure and catharsis by reframing an intensely emotional experience into a detached aesthetic arrangement, he undermines his own efforts by returning to it obsessively. The parallelism of "Many days and many hours" emphasizes how the process is a perfected art for him (19). Further changes in tense and mood, slipping from the conditional in the second stanza to simple past in lines 17 to 20 and to conditional perfect in lines 21 to 22 before switching to present simple in the final two lines, attest to the speaker's confused attempts at distancing himself.
Consequently, the speaker conveys a sense of wistfulness and ruefulness rather than one of critical neutrality. Eliot utilizes careful diction throughout the final stanza to express the speaker's continued longing and preoccupation: "Compelled", "wonder", "cogitations" and even "troubled." Line 24 specifies midnight and noon as periods when the speaker ponders anew the end of the relationship, noteworthy in that both are major turning points of time in a day: at moments of importance, he thinks of it. The sentences also become short and choppy in comparison to preceding lines, given that stanzas one and two combined comprise only three sentences whereas the third stanza alone contains four, no longer direct but pensive and almost desultory. It is as if the speaker is muttering more to himself instead of addressing any specific audience, mulling over that last image of the girl's back. Unlike the first stanza in which Eliot sets a clear rhyme scheme, the concluding eight lines are chaotic in rhyming patterns. The resultant effect is an overall decrease in lyricism and a resemblance to regular speech dissimilar to the fluid poeticism of previous stanzas. The speaker trails off unsurely, regretfully, fretfully.
The speaker of "La Figlia che Piange" ultimately attains no fulfillment, neither emotional nor artistic, from his exercises. Despite his endeavors to purge himself of strong sentimental ties by removing himself to a third person evaluator, he succeeds only in self-torment because he cannot master his heart. Through him, Eliot offers exquisite insight into an individual whose weak will is to his detriment, while "La Figlia che Piange" lives on as a figure of everlasting desirability and unattainability. Gathered in fragments of images, she is still lovelier than many have been in their entirety, arresting the imagination like a vivid dream that takes place in reality.