I have to say that I do not think the poem justifies your reading
because it assumes that we need to imagine events not mentioned
and dismiss the standard meaning of "should" as it parallels the
syntax. For example, of course such a leaving "would have" been
gut-wrenching----for her or for someone who is facing what it is. The
narrator is not: he is like the man in "Portrait of a Lady" who
imagines such leaves can be "light" (though even he is aware of the
effect, as is this character). For another, it requires adding a future
that is not in the poem. If one says "I would / I would / I would," it is
the apt verb to say "I should" when shifting to indicative.
I would have to spend longer on this to make the point I suppose,
but it is not about what Eliot "meant"--which we cannot really
retrieve; it is about the words in the text and what they create.
I think the rarity of this "I should" in contemporary American English
means one has to return to reading is as one does other earlier
Date sent: Sun, 5 Oct 2003 09:17:33 EDT
Send reply to: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: 'La Figlia che Piange'---"should find"
To: [log in to unmask]
In a message dated 10/4/03 11:16:56 PM EST,
[log in to unmask] writes:
> The "should" in this line is not, as far as I can see, "ought" in the
> present tense; it is the past tense of "shall." What happens, I think,
> especially given the subjunctive mood of the whole, is that the tense
> shift is from the past perfect to the past. Thus "I would have had. .
> ." "expresses a conditional statement" about a past already finished at
> an earlier point, so all those lines are about what might have been
> done but was not. But "should" is the past indicative of "shall," and
> so means that under those conditions [if he had done the other in the
> past] the narrator [would] find something; it would happen then: "I
> should find."
I had not considered this reading, and it's certainly a valid way of
looking at the poem. However, respectfully, let me make the case
as to why I think "should find" means "ought to find" in the poem.
The scene that the narrator describes in the first stanza (and
continues to describe in the opening lines of the second stanza)
definitely do NOT have a tone of "light and deft". They are dramatic
and awful. The abandonment of the woman by the man is described
as "As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised, /As the mind
deserts the body it has used.". Pretty ugly stuff. I do not see that
the narrator would then add, "If I had him leave like that, I **shall
find** that the departure is light and deft, simple and faithless".
Rather, if the man leaves like THAT, the departure is gut-wrenching.
In other words, there is a big shift in tone between the first five lines
and the second four lines of the second stanza. Visually, the shift is
demarcated by the very short line, "I should find", a line that calls
attention to itself (by its shortness). Eliot seems to repeatedly leave
**visual** clues that some shift in tone or meaning is about to occur
in his poems, like the dots in Prufrock that separate main scenes.
In the second stanza, the emotional, 'heavy' tone in the first five
lines is evoked with words and phrases like "leave", "stand and
grieve", "torn and bruised", "deserts", and "the body it has used.".
The 'emotionless' tone in the last four lines is evoked with words and
phrases like, "incomparably light and deft", "Simple", "faithless",
"smile", "shake of the hand."
Taken together, I think the narrator has shifted thoughts, from
contemplating how he "would have" staged the abandonment if he
were a God-like figure directing everything in a melodramatic
manner, versus the reality of how he REALLY is planning on
breaking up with his lover, in an emotionless way that is
"incomparably light and deft" and protects HIM from a emotional
scene that would make him feel like a worm.
> It has never occurred to me to read it as "ought to," though that is
> another meaning of "should." But I do not think it fits the context
> because there is no future tense at all. The narrator says, in the
> last stanza, that if he had done that, he "should have lost" something.
> He does not mean he ought not to have lost it: it never did happen.
> Presumably because what he "would have done" he did not do. In any
> case, at the end, we are left with speculation only, about something
> that never did happen and is not happening and is not expected to
Nancy, I think there is "hidden, missing action" between stanzas
two and three. Namely, in stanza two the real breakup **hasn't
happened yet**; then, before stanza three starts, the breakup has
taken place "off-stage" of the poem (that is, we don't get to see, in
poem-lines, the real breakup as it unfolded).
But, in stanza three, we DO get to see the narrator's reflections on
the breakup now that it did happen. Upon reflection, he wishes he
had handled it differently. He wishes that he "should have lost a
gesture and a pose" during the time he was breaking the news to
her that he was leaving.. His cogitations that "still amaze/The
troubled midnight and the noon's repose" are about this: he
THOUGHT he was going to mitigate his feeling like a worm by
having an emotionless breakup that was "light and deft". However,
the real breakup was traumatic anyway ("she turned away"), that is,
his plan to protect himself didn't work. He ends the poem feeling
just as much of a worm as Aeneas, even though he tried a "light
and deft" abandonment scene in real life. That's the irony. He ended
up feeling just as awful with his "light and deft" breakup as if he had
staged a dramatic breakup (per the opening twelve lines)..
Anyway, as always with TSE. there's lots of room to discuss what
he meant, and I hope I've made a case for an alternative reading to
the one you outlined.
-- Steve --