What follows is an idiosyncratic reading of Eliot's La figlia che piange, a poem that I first read many many years ago. I will imagine that this poem exists without an author, for I would want this poem to exist on its own, implying that it belongs to me as much as it does to its author. ( poetry and literature being entirely author contingent) My reading of this poem is skewed, for I am transposing it to my world and reading it near my window sill.
"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".
Why fugitive resentment.......why not simply resentment? The lady or I imagine a young woman( the hair is brown or light brown, long naturally, it must weave) turns away or is forced to turn away, with resentment in her eyes but the narrator implies that the resentment is hers, her natural choice. Resentment.....out of the blue, why, how, sudden, thus unjustified, quite uncalled for, for had she not just flung some flowers to the ground, which were the narrator's earlier or were presented to her, as a parting memento, as a parting consolation. The narrator actually sees her resentment, as she turns away, having just thrown the flowers to the ground, with a pained surprise, after having expressed a resentment, however fugitive. He is surprised or she is pained, but the resentment is hers alone, the fugitive resentment is hers alone. She is not clever enough to hide her resentment, she should have suffered after throwing the flowers to the ground, after the pained surprise. But she turned away with a resentment which turned to be a fugitive resentment, the only resentment should have been in just flinging the flowers to the ground, after the pained surprise.
"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 a shake of the hand".
I assume now that many years have passed by, the narrator is wishing for the lady with the brown hair to be in grieving still, after he had left her standing on the highest pavement of the stair, after she had turned away with a pained surprise, after she had revealed a fugitive resentment. He resents having left her as he did, but he is not resentful of having left her. He imagines of another faithless way, a simple and faithless way. ( notice the simile, it is so clever, he is so clever) Since she had turned away with a pained surprise and with a fugitive resentment in her eyes, he would have wanted her to understand and believe of a simple and faithless way. I do not know whether he has desired her physically, it might be so, he might be hating it now, but he wants to see her standing there, still grieving, not with pained surprise, certainly without a fugitive resentment.
"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".
It is autumn now, in reality, in his body and mind too. She still compels him, I am willing to believe it, he has thought of her, many days and many hours. Didn't she have long brown beautiful hair, and now he reveals that her arms too were covered with her hair. He should not have been so sure of himself as he was then, he should have run up the steps, to the highest pavement of the stairs too, as she had turned away with such fugitive resentment, with such pained surprise. He should have lost his pose, he should have flung something too, after she had flung the flowers to the ground, after she had turned away with a fugitive resentment, with a pained surprise. Does he not remain troubled now, at midnight and at noon?
La figlia che piange is one Eliot poem that I still admire, for I no longer read Eliot. It is a great poem. The distance between reality and imagination, between torturous reality and torturing imagination is narrowed by imagination alone; desire that is thwarted, desire that was thwarted or suppressed is brought forth by imagination alone. The lady might not actually have thrown the flowers away in disgust or pain but the fugitive fleeing resentment is only a moment's life, it passes away, it leaves, it flees, it is always running away. The narrator has reverted to an imagined movement, for these moments are all imagined, her resentment, her pained surprise, her weaving the sunlight, her resentment, her pained surprise. The pain is his, the cogitations are his, the disturbed repose his, the troubled midnight his alone.
He thinks of her, in his autumn, she stands on the stairs, oh if only she were still standing on the stairs, he would have rushed up the steps, after she had thrown away the flowers, after the fugitive resentment, after the pained surprise. His feelings, his rush and roar now, his troubled midnight results from narrowing the distance between the love that never was and the love that has always been in his mind, in his life. This world exists only in imagination, for these feelings are rehearsed in memory, these steps are taken in memory alone, what has never happened has always been happening, in his mind, many days and many hours, disturbing him, his noon, his midnight. The reversion is in his mind alone, the troubles, the turning too. This love has been perfected in his mind alone. She stands on the highest pavement but it is only because of him that she would have ever turned away. Everything that never happened has happened in his mind, perfected by desire, matured by memory.
I think he still thinks of her, fugitive girl, fugitive woman, fugitive brown hair, pained surprise, sunlight, sunlight, flowers, arms and flowers, all hers, but all in his mind. Her pained surprise and her fugitive resentment too.