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TSE  January 2002

TSE January 2002

Subject:

Thoughts on "La Figlia che Piange"

From:

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Date:

Thu, 24 Jan 2002 10:26:18 EST

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   Some time ago (in 2000?) the list discussed possible meanings behind the 
title of the TSE poem, "La Figlia che Piange." Pat Sloane mentioned that, in 
a BBC radio interview, John Heyward, a friend of TSE's, had reported that the 
title came from a statue of a weeping girl that TSE had seen on a trip to 
Italy. During the ensuing discussion on the TSE list, it was mentioned that 
when TSE uses Italian, it is reasonable to suspect a reference to the 
Commedia, although, at the time, no one on the list could point to a specific 
Canto. I have some more thoughts on this topic that I wanted to discuss. 

   I've been re-reading Canto 5 of Inferno, the Canto with Francesca and 
Paolo. Dante (pilgrim) asks Francesca to explain more about how Love led 
Francesca and Paolo into adultery, and Francesca replies (lines 121 - 126):

------------------------------------------------------------
E quella a me: "Nessun maggior dolore           L121
  che ricordarsi del tempo felice
  ne la miseria; e ciņ sa 'l tuo dottore.
Ma s'a conoscer la prima radice
  del nostro amor tu hai cotanto affetto,
  dirņ come colui che piange e dice."           L126

And she to me, "There is no greater sorrow than to recall, in wretchedness, 
the happy time; and this your teacher knows. But if you have such great 
desire to know the first root of our love, I will tell as one who weeps and 
tells."

------------------------------------------------------------

  Knowing that TSE didn't know much Italian beyond what he learned from 
reading the Commedia, I noticed the exact wording ("che piange") in line 126. 
That exact wording only appears in one other place in Inferno (Canto 9) and 
once in Purgatorio (Canto XXII), but I think Inferno, Canto 5 is the relevant 
passage. 

   Before I get into the Dante discussion, it is worth noting, as Singleton 
points out in his translation commentary, that Inferno Canto 5, lines 121-126 
are themselves an allusion to Book II of the Aeneid. At the start of book II, 
Aeneas is in a room with Dido, Queen of Carthage, whom will later fall in 
love with Aeneas and be abandoned by him. Dido asks Aeneas to talk of his 
travels, and Aeneas says:

----------------------------------------------------------
Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem, 
Troianas ut opes et lamentabile regnum 
eruerint Danai; quaeque ipse miserrima vidi, 
et quorum pars magna fui. Quis talia fando 
Myrmidonum Dolopumve aut duri miles Ulixi 
temperet a lacrimis? Et iam nox umida caelo 
praecipitat, suadentque cadentia sidera somnos. 
Sed si tantus amor casus cognoscere nostros 
et breviter Troiae supremum audire laborem, 
quamquam animus meminisse horret, luctuque refugit, 
incipiam.

"Your Majesty, the pain you tell me to revive is not something that can 
easily be spoken of - how the Danaans overthrew the wealth of Troy and its 
royal family for which we mourn, and things which I personally saw to my cost 
and of which I was a major part. Who in telling such a tale even if one of 
the Myrmidons or Dolopians or a soldier of steel-hearted Ulysses could keep 
himself from tears? Besides, the night's dew is already falling from the sky, 
and the setting stars urge sleep. But if such is your passion to learn of our 
misfortunes, and hear briefly of the final agony of Troy, although my mind 
shudders at the memory, and shies away from the grief, I shall begin."
----------------------------------------------------------

Readers of "La Figlia che Piange" are already "on notice" to look at the 
Aeneid, since the poem's epigraph ("O quam te memorem virgo...") is from the 
Aeneid, book I, from the section where Aeneas' mother, Venus, reveals to him 
that he is about to meet Queen Dido. Furthermore, in "La Figlia che Piange", 
the line in which "she turns away" suggests book VI of the Aenied, the scene 
in which Aeneas is visiting the underworld and encounters the ghost of Dido, 
who had killed herself when Aeneas deserted her. When Dido's ghost sees 
Aeneas, Dido turns away from him without speaking.

   What I am suggesting is that the title of "La Figlia che Piange", 
referring  to Inferno, Canto 5, combined with other parts of the poem, 
referring to the Aenied, are intended to make us compare the story and 
characters of Francesca and Paolo to Dido and Aeneas. 

   Having said that I think TSE invited us to make a comparison, let me 
venture a guess as to what he had in mind: In both cases, the female ends up 
weeping due to actions of a male. In Francesca's case, her jealous husband 
kills her and her lover Paolo, while in Dido's case her lover Aeneas abandons 
her to "fulfill his destiny" (to found Rome). The women enter into 
relationships with men and end up weeping in tragic circumstances that follow 
from these relationships. I think TSE believed, at least at the time when he 
wrote this poem, that this is the fate of women in relationships with men. 
They all eventually end up as "The Weeping Girl", hence the title. 

   In other words, for TSE, the sorry fate of women at the hands of men is 
the substance behind those things that "amaze / The troubled midnight and the 
noon's repose." 

   Comments?

-- Steve --

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