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T.S. Eliot

La Figlia Che Piange

Some questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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The poem commemorates a breakup with a young woman who is deeply hurt by the experience. But is this young woman real or imaginary? Indeed, is the breakup itself real or imaginary? There are many clues in the poem who could lead us to conclude either way.


Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St Louis (Missouri) in 1888. He attended Harvard University and graduated with a Masters degree in Philosophy. While there, he published several poems in the Harvard Advocate.

The poet left the United States in 1910, moving first to France, then Germany and finally London. He married Vivienne Haigh-Wood in 1915, which caused him to settle permanently in England. His marriage was never successful, however, and they separated in 1933. In 1956 he would remarry, this time to Valerie Fletcher.

Early during his stay in London, Eliot fell under the influence of the great American poet, Ezra Pound, who also assisted in the publication of his early work.

The publication of his first book of poetry - Prufrock and Other Observations, 1917 - revealed Eliot as a forerunner of what is known as "Modernism", the philosophy of Modern Art. His next book - The Waste Land, 1922 - is claimed by many to contain some of the most important poetry of the 20th century.

Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. He died in London in 1965. He was 77 years old.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Let's start off with two basic questions:
  • What does the title of this poem ("La Figlia Che Piange") mean? (2)

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  • What does the sub-title ("O quam te memorem virgo") mean? (2)

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  • Is the woman he is addressing real or is she imaginary? (4)

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Have a read of the entire poem several times. It is written in three stanzas but each appears to be different. Indeed, the subject of each stanza differs. This is indicated by the personal pronouns which the poet uses in each. Would you like to comment? (10)

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"O quam te memorem virgo" ("O Virgin, how must I address you?")
  • Why would the poet begin his poem with these words? (10)

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"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."
  • The poet is presenting these lines clearly as if he were directing a play, directing the woman's actions. But what would be the purpose of his twice instructing her to "weave the sunlight in her hair"? (4)

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  • The poet uses the word "weave" no less than four times in this stanza. Why? (4)

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  • Would it matter much in real life if the breakup is presented as a work of art? (4)

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  • When the poet instructs the woman to clasp her flowers to her breast with a pained surprise and then to fling them to the ground, what emotions does this portray? (4)

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  • The poet speaks of "a fugitive resentment" in her eyes. Why would the resentment be "fugitive"? (4)

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