Some more comments on Ken's post:
In a message dated 9/24/03 4:22:02 PM EST, [log in to unmask] writes:
> Steve --
> I just can't get by the idea that he didn't leave her;
> she left him. He wants what he can't or doesn't know how
> to have ("weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.").
> Lines 1 through 16 are how he would have had it, now how
> he did have it. Line 17 is how it happened. She turns
> and leaves him, and THAT (and what he rightly senses
> he has lost) is what compels his imagination, etc.
> Ken A.
Your post has compelled my imagination the last few days. I don't think we've
discussed this poem much on the list, and maybe we ought to have discuss our
readings in more detail. My reading goes like this:
The key to the poem is to closely follow the shifts in the verb tenses. In
the first stanza, the verbs are present tense and imperative: stand, lean,
weave, clasp, fling. It appears that someone (the narrator) is directing a woman
with a series of commands.
The significance of the commands is not revealed until the second stanza: "So
I would have had him leave, /So I would have had her stand and grieve, /So he
would have left ". In other words, the seconds stanza reveals the first
stanza to be an IMAGINED staging of how the narrator "would have" staged the
breakup of a couple. The entire first stanza takes place solely in the narrator's
A major shift in the second stanza is introduced by a line whose shortness
calls attention to itself as a stanza-divider: "I should find ". The tense has
shifted from "would have" (future perfect) to the present. Why the shift?
Because in the second half of the stanza the narrator is contemplating how he is
going to tell his unsuspecting lover of the impending breakup of their
relationship, a breakup that he will initiate.
The contrast between the 'mythic' breakup of Dido and Aeneas and the 'real'
breakup of the narrator and his lover is a major theme of the poem.
The narrator decides that, despite his 'mythic' and larger-than-life
imaginings of the Dido/Aeneas staged breakup, the 'real' breakup should be plain and
"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. "
"Find some way" to do what? Find some way to break the news to his lover that
he is ending the relationship.
"Faithless" because long-term relationships are based on faith and trust, and
the narrator is about to violate that. "Light and deft" and "simple" because
the narrator is no Aeneas, and this breakup is not driven by the Gods telling
him to be a founder of Rome.
In the second stanza, the breakup has not yet taken place ("I should find",
not "I found").
At the start of the final stanza the breakup HAS taken place, "off-stage" of
lines in the poem. This gives the narrator the chance to compare in his mind
how the 'mythic' breakup transpired, compared to how his actual breakup
So the final stanza begins with a return to the 'mythic' breakup "She turned
away" (or, perhaps, it's a mix of what Dido did and what his lover did in real
life). Along with the breakup the narrator thinks about "the autumn weather",
both because thinking about 'weather' takes the scene from the 'mythic' to
the 'real' and because autumn is a time of great beauty, but beauty brought
about by things dying (i.e., their relationship).
Interestingly, as the narrator contemplates the 'mythic' scene, he thinks
"And I wonder how they should have been together!". Note that he does NOT think
"And I wonder how they **would have** been together!" (which would have him
wondering how their lives would have played out in the future if they hadn't
broken up). By asking how they **should have** been together, the narrator is
asking if the mythic couple did the right thing in breakup up. Should they have
ignored the gods and stayed together as a couple? Was there any other way?
The give-away line that the 'real' breakup has now occurred is "I should have
lost a gesture and a pose." In terms of the events of the poem, **when**
should he have lost the gesture and pose? He should have done this while he has
delivering the bad news that he was opting out of the relationship. That is, it
occurs to him that he should have been more sensitive, less like a "posing
actor", while delivering the bad news. As he contemplates the breakup, he feels
like a worm. The poem ends with the narrator still very much haunted by the
comparison of his real breakup to the mythic breakup.
Why the title (in Italian, no less), of "The Weeping Girl"? Note that the
mythic girl depicted in the poem is not shown weeping. My thoughts are that it
was the real woman (that is, his real lover) that did the weeping and gives the
poem its title. In the Virgil myth, the breakup causes Dido so much pain that
she kills herself and her shade ends up in the underworld. But Virgil and the
"underworld" were pre-Christian. In post-Christian times, the narrator is
saying that he has, in effect, sent his lover to Hell by abandoning her and
causing her so much misery. By titling the poem in Italian, the post-Christian
images of Dante and the Inferno are alluded to. Images from antiquity and
Christianity fuse into one, 'amazing' the narrator's "troubled midnight".
-- Steve --