THOMAS STEARNS ELIOT (1888-1965)
SWEENEY AMONG THE NIGHTINGALES
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Original Text: T. S. Eliot, Poems (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1920): 35-36. E546 A753 1920a Fisher Rare Book Library.
First Publication Date: "Four Poems," Little Review
5.5 (Sept. 1918). In England published in an almost identical book, Ara
Vos Prec (London: Ovid Press, ); and first in Poems (Richmond:
L. and V. Woolf, Hogarth Press, 1919). Donald Gallup, T. S. Eliot: A
Bibliography (London: Faber and Faber, 1969): A3, A4b, C45.
Representative Poetry On-line: Editor, I. Lancashire;
Publisher, Web Development Group, Inf. Tech. Services, Univ. of Toronto
Edition: RPO 1998. © I. Lancashire, Dept.
of English (Univ. of Toronto), and Univ. of Toronto Press 1998.
omoi peplegmai kairian pleghn esw.
(omoi peplegmai kairian pleghn esw.)
1 Apeneck Sweeney spreads
2 Letting his arms hang down to laugh,
3 The zebra stripes along his jaw
4 Swelling to maculate giraffe.
5 The circles of the stormy moon
6 Slide westward toward the
7 Death and the Raven drift
8 And Sweeney guards the
9 Gloomy Orion and the Dog
10 Are veiled; and hushed the shrunken seas;
11 The person in the Spanish cape
12 Tries to sit on Sweeney's knees
13 Slips and pulls the table cloth
14 Overturns a coffee-cup,
15 Reorganized upon the floor
16 She yawns and draws a stocking up;
17 The silent man in mocha brown
18 Sprawls at the window-sill and gapes;
19 The waiter brings in oranges
20 Bananas figs and hothouse grapes;
21 The silent vertebrate in brown
22 Contracts and concentrates, withdraws;
23 Rachel née Rabinovitch
24 Tears at the grapes with murderous paws;
25 She and the lady in the cape
26 Are suspect, thought to be in league;
27 Therefore the man with heavy eyes
28 Declines the gambit, shows fatigue,
29 Leaves the room and reappears
30 Outside the window, leaning in,
31 Branches of wistaria
32 Circumscribe a golden grin;
33 The host with someone indistinct
34 Converses at the door apart,
35 The nightingales are singing near
36 The Convent of the Sacred Heart,
37 And sang within the bloody wood
38 When Agamemnon cried aloud,
39 And let their liquid droppings fall
40 To stain the stiff dishonoured shroud.
The epigraph, from Aeschylus' play Agamemnon, is this king's dying
words as his wife Clytemnestra kills him: "Alas, I am struck deeply with
a deadly blow." We discussed this incident when we were studied Yeat's
"Leda and the Swan."
River Plate: Rio de la Plato, between Argentina and Uruguay, an estuary
of the Uruguay and Parana rivers on which can be found Buenos Aires, La
Plata, and Montevideo.
the Raven: the constellation Corvus.
horned gate: dreams in classical mythology are sometimes said to emerge
from the underworld through this gate.
Orion, a constellation, includes the dog-star Sirius and is near the constellation
of the Dog, Canis Major.
wistaria: ornamental flowering vine.
The Roman Catholic Church includes nuns from the Sisters of the Sacred
Heart of Jesus and Mary.
The bloody wood could be the grove of the classical Furies, in Sophocles'
at Colonus, a place where there are singing nightingales and where
bloody tragedies such as Agamemnon's death would have been spawned. It
could also be the wood where Tereus raped and mutilated Philomela, who
was later turned into a nightingale (a story Ovid tells in his Metamorphoses).
droppings: Eliot revises to "siftings" in a later edition.
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© The editors, the Department of English (University
of Toronto), and the University of Toronto Press, 1998.
Thanks to Linda Corman (Trinity College Library) for her
warm support of the Representative Poetry On-line project and Wally
Brooker (University of Toronto Press) for granting publication permission
of materials originally printed by the Press from 1912 to 1967.