Poets | Bookstore | Poem of the Day | Top 40 | Search | Comments | Privacy
September 22nd, 2014 - we have 234 poets, 8,025 poems and 278,943 comments.
Analysis and comments on Sweeney among the Nightingales by T.S. Eliot

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 
21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 
41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 
61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 
81 82 83 84 85 86 87 [88]

Comment 2 of 872, added on July 16th, 2005 at 1:06 AM.

“Sweeney among the Nightingales” attracts attention by the associative
reminiscences of the mythological plots and the contrast of modern
situation with the mythological past, although this contrast does neither
become a constituent part of the main idea or emotional substance of this
work, nor does it represent its major complexity. Frank Raymond Leavis very
convincingly asserts “in “Sweeney among the Nightingales”, for example,
the contrast is clearly something more than a sordid incident in a modern
brothel and the murder of Agamemnon”. Essentially, this work is the first
attempt of Eliot to put myth and ritual to the poetic use, which later on,
in The Waste Land, acquires stronger mythopoetic properties and is
transformed into the major characteristic feature of his entire early
poetry. Along with the abundance of the mythopoetic elements, the poem is
distinguished by its sharp irony and grotesque, partly due to the device,
generally characteristic to Eliot in terms of parodying the literary
sources. One of the aspects of this feature implies confrontation of the
late Romantic and Victorian esthetic traditions: the title of the poem is a
parodied version of a poem by a Victorian poetess, Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, “Bianca among the Nightingales”. Barrett Browning’s poem
expresses the elegiac feelings of Victorian lovers, who in a garden, on the
background of cypresses are attended by the sweet singing of the
nightingales. Within one associative system, the English readers, who had
been brought up on Victorian esthetics, could have perceived the
incompatible contrast between the gentle and tender Bianca and Eliot’s
apelike Sweeney as a sharp dissonance.

The situation of the poem represents a scene of specially
accentuated schematic and mechanical actions, which, considering the
relevant implications, might equally take place in a European restaurant or
a Southern-American cantina, or - even in a brothel. As a matter of fact,
nothing “happens” in the poem; there is neither a consistent action nor a
coherent plot to be found in it; nevertheless, the artistic space is
densely populated by the characters. From the point of view of the
“contents”, the whole scene resembles defective fragments of a film
discarded during the montage process: it is open on both sides having
neither a logical start nor an end asserting any possible outcome. The
images as though torn out of the context, as well as particular associative
details are intensifying the feeling of fragmentary perception. But for the
general schematic structure, nothing is uniting the characters – their
actions are brought down to a minimum and are limited to the physical
gestures, bodily movements, and mimicry. Yet the poem is “emanating”
internal tension, irony and grotesque: it shows that a very important
meaning is veiled beyond the external expression, whereas the outer picture
remains dry and schematic, with the personages being involved in trivial,
insignificant and hollow actions. The “ape neck” Sweeney, with his legs
widely spread apart and the arms hanging down, is roaring in wild laughter;
the waiter brings in oranges, figs, bananas and the hothouse grapes; “The
vertebrate” – a man in brown – “contracts and concentrates”; a woman “in
the Spanish cape tries to sit in Sweeney’s knees /Slips and pulls the table
cloth /Overturns a coffee-cup”; “Rachel nee Rabinovitch, /Tears at the
grapes with murderous paws”; “The host with someone indistinct /Converses
at the door apart”; “the man with heavy eyes.../Leaves the room and
reappears/Outside the window, leaning in, /Branches of wistaria /
Circumscribe a golden grin”. The constellations are watching all these from
above... “Gloomy Orion and the Dog” and the Raven together with Death
“drift above”. Meanwhile,

nightingales are singing near
The Convent of
the Sacred Heart,

and do it the same way as they used to sing “within the bloody wood” when
Agamemnon was murdered and they “let their liquid siftings fall / To stain
the stiff dishonored shroud”. All this irrelevant and absurd picture, as it
looks at one blush, has an epigraph, containing the words of dying
Agamemnon, declaring of his being fatally wounded, from Oresteia by
Aeschylus. In the early edition, the poem started with one more epigraph,
which was an extract from an anonymous play of Shakespeare’s times,
discarded later on by Eliot himself, obviously for its too outright a
message: “Why should I speak of the nightingale? The nightingale sings of
adulterous wrong.”

Despite the grotesque characters of Sweeney and others (or
perhaps, at the very expense of this grotesque), the poem creates a rather
gloomy atmosphere. Eliot himself used to emphasize that to express “the
sense of foreboding” immanent in the poem was a completely conscious goal
for him. I believe, that Eliot also fully realized the destination of the
images and symbols created by him, as well as the means of their
interaction: “the sense of foreboding” is as if “casually” expressed in the
poem, so that this emotion is neither indicated in general terms at least,
nor is directly preconditioned by the imaginary situation and of course, is
not declared in the form of a concrete idea either. Under the situation
created in the poem, it seems that the author, as well as all other
“dramatis personae” perceive everything what is happening around, as a
trivial day-to-day routine. The poem starts and ends with the gloomy
associations of Agamemnon’s murder by Clytemnestra: betrayal, lechery,
murder and blood constitute the direct components of the dramatic design of
the poem, which in the form of three constellations, is being looked upon
by heavens in cold blood.

“Sweeney among the Nightingales” is of paramount interest
because it is for the first time that in this poem Eliot employs the
archaic mythology of the mortal Gods of vegetation. The system of artistic
expression in this poem is based on the mythical pattern of death and
rebirth, which according to Eliot’s contemporary anthropologist, James G.
Frazer, constitutes the ritualistic basis of the ancient mythology of
fertility. The association to Agamemnon’s death refers to the ritual of
murdering a king, deified by the primitive community, in the course of
which he should be removed by a young heir, thus introducing renovation in
the life of the tribe, in order to affect the fertility of the earth and
revive the reproduction potential of the nature. The early 20th century
comparative religion already maintained that murder of the kings, so
frequently occurring in the imaginative thinking of different nations is no
more no less than a remote echo of the murder of the “Primal Father”,
identified with a fertility god, attempted by a “horde of brothers” (Geza
Roheim). In primitive consciousness, the ritual murder of the deified king
is mystically associated with the natural cycle of revival or the rhythmic
sequence of the seasons and consequently, is connected with the death of
the deities of fertility, as well as with their consequent resurrection.

A considerable part of the associative images of the poem imply
the theme of fertility, by way of which Eliot introduces the mythical
pattern of death and rebirth into the image structure of the poem, this
eventually becoming the basis of the structure itself. Of course, Eliot is
too far from “telling” a mythological plot, but he undertakes an “artistic
analysis” of its ritual and psychological roots, accentuating some of the
poetic aspects of realization of the myth in the imaginative language of
the poem. First of all, this is the death and rebirth pattern per se,
presented as a completely conscious form of an eternal stereotype in the
poem. On the level of ritual associations, the same role is attributed to
the archetype of the murder of the tribal chief or a deified king as well
as to the major mythological plot of the murder of the king: all of these
are occurring in the associative structure of the poem by means of
recollecting Aeschylus’ tragedies, the myth of Dionysus and other
indiscernible associations, hardly noticeable for the perception of an
unprepared reader. As Herbert Foltinek points out in his informative essay,
“the tragedy of Agamemnon, form which the epigraph of the poem is taken,
deals with a subject which modern research has tried to explain as the
reflection of an ancient sacred rite. The Greek tragic hero is said to
derive from human representatives of Dionysus, god of vegetation and
fecundity; the Agamemnon myth itself may have originated in the ritual of a
local form of the god. As the divine king or man-god he had to die in his
prime to rise again in his young successor.” In fact, Eliot undertakes the
synthesis of the myth and modernity. He seems to be “exploring” the ritual
roots of myth, as though “checking” its viability, by way of which he
accomplishes the task of ultimate generalization of the modern situations
depicted in his works. The poem seems to be “saturated” with mythos: apart
from its traditional metaphorical meaning, every one of its creative
characters contains an associative detail indicating a number of
mythological plots, as well as a complex mythological structure. By way of
constructing the joint scene with participation of Sweeney and the unknown
men and women of unseemly behavior, mythical universality is achieved – all
the characters of the poem are involved in the parodied ritual activities,
these actions being the embodiment of the tragicomic theatricals of the
primal mythical structure.

At a first blush, the mythological reminiscences of “Sweeney
among the Nightingales” are deprived of any specific associative
connotation. The fact that Rachel “Tears the grapes with murderous paws”,
within the framework of quite extravagant but traditional poetics, can be
perceived as a quite rational poetic image. It is true, that it proves
hardly possible to find another character similar to this in any other
poetic text, but its perception in terms of an image creating certain
emotional background, is quite feasible and justified. This is how an
unprepared reader would comprehend the poem, for whom the direct metaphoric
connotation is of decisive importance. On the other hand, portrayal of the
behavior of the same Rachel would by no means be an impressionistic sketch,
designed for creating only a concrete mood or disposition. Its main
function is profoundly symbolic being rationally prone to disclosure at the
same time:

Rachel nee
Tears the
grapes with murderous paws.

The key-word in these lines is “tears”: in normative English
its usage with the word “grapes” is unimaginable and even in Eliot’s text,
this kind of word-combination sounds almost ridiculous, being absolutely
improperly adopted. Actually, the grapes, as if casually used in the
context of the poem, represent a symbolic image of the formidable god
Dionysus, as of one of the major deities of fertility and wine drinking.
Bringing together several associative plots by means of one single image is
a rather characteristic artistic method for Eliot and here as well,
“tearing of the grapes” simultaneously implies a number of mythological
motifs: first of all, Dionysus is a “dithyrambos”, or “he who entered the
door twice”, i.e. a twice born god. Once dead and then brought to life,
this mortal and resurrective god of fertility closely resembles Osiris: as
Herodotus puts it in his Histories, “Osiris is he who is called Dionysus
in the Greek tongue.” In his first life he was torn apart and devoured by
the Titans, when in order to escape from them, he was trying to change into
a lion, a goat and a bull. It is notable that it was in the image of a
bull, that the Titans caught hold of Dionysus; therefore, the fact that it
is Rachel who is tearing the grapes, is an association related with the
Maenads, the ecstatic admirers of Dionysus, by way of which Sweeney’s
“nightingales” are turned into the women-escorts of Dionysus. According to
the myth, Dionysus was regularly seen in the company of those incredibly
vigorous and hyperactive ladies as they, plunged in the ritual ecstasies,
would tear the bulls alive and devour their flesh raw. The fact that Rachel
is tearing the grapes with “murderous paws” is a clear indication of the
rise of animal instincts in the modern “Maenad” or “Bacchant”. After the
tearing of zoomorphic Dionysus, the Maenads devoured his flesh the same way
as, Rachel, apparently is tearing and gobbling the grapes in Eliot’s poem.

It is not by chance, that the Maenad Rachel is mentioned as
having “murderous paws”, for violence used to be an organic constituent of
the Dionysia. Actually, adoration of the Phrygian orgiastic cult of
Dionysus (which penetrated in Greece from Phrygia) did not at all imply
innocent revels and merry pass-time. In the course of the entire history of
ancient world, adoration of Dionysus’ cult was notorious for its rather
stern and bloodthirsty rituals. The surviving annals of the ancient scripts
describe the overwhelmingly unleashed behavior, collective ecstatic
libertinism, murders committed in a state of alcoholic intoxication and the
ultimate aggressiveness of the participating mob. At the close of ancient
times, the Dionysias terrified even the Roman Senate, although Rome itself
had never been renowned for any particular virtue or genteel behavior
either. Titus Livy indicates in History of Rome, that “from the time when
the rites were held promiscuously, with men and women mixed together, and
when the license offered by darkness had been added, no sort of crime, no
kind of immorality, was left unattempted … Anyone refusing to submit to
outrage or reluctant to commit crimes was slaughtered as a sacrificial
victim. To regard nothing as forbidden was among these people the summit of
religious achievement.” (Book 39.13).

As mentioned before, with reference to the Dionysus rituals,
Rachel with the “murderous paws” as well as “the lady in the cape” trying
to sit in Sweeney’s knees, turn into the parodic Maenads. Consequently, the
dull men mentioned in the poem, are portrayed as the Satires, accompanying
Dionysus whereas the entire “ritual” gathering of these men and women
represents a parodied Dionysian revel in the interior of a restaurant or a
brothel. It is obvious that the interior, equally resembling a restaurant
and a brothel is accentuating the symbolic motifs of eating and
libertinism, more closely related to the theme of the Dionysian orgies. The
Maenads – Rachel and the lady in the cape are pursuing the same goals (She
and the lady in the cape/ Are suspect, seem to be in the league); besides
lechery, these ladies are preparing themselves for the sacrifice – they are
plotting to kill Sweeney or “the man with heavy eyes”, who in his turn,
tries to keep himself away from them and “declines the gambit” with the
lady in the cape by showing fatigue. Yet, symbolically the act of sacrifice
is in operation, for Rachel already “tears at the grapes with murderous
paws”; meanwhile, Sweeney, who, simultaneously, is a parodied Agamemnon, a
deified king ready for the sacrifice and a deity of fertility, turns into a
torn cluster of grapes or a parodied Dionysus.

As far as Sweeney is just a parody, his possible murder or his
assumed death is by no way a pre-condition of his resurrection. Sweeney, a
“sacrifice” to be, is also a grotesque caricature, just like a Sweeney
identified with the fatally wounded Agamemnon. The ritual, even in case of
fulfillment, will never bring about a positive outcome, because the act of
sacrifice has turned to a mere murder in this context. In general, Sweeney
acts as a dominant figure through the entire situation of the poem being a
parodied sovereign on one hand and an expected sacrifice of a parodied
ritual on the other. Actually, Sweeney is portrayed in three imaginary
faces: in the beginning he is associated with an ape, a zebra and a
giraffe, while in the epigraph and the finale of the poem he is presented
as the dying Agamemnon and in the middle of the poem he is identified with
a cluster of grapes. Within the symbolic framework this means the three
eternal forms of manifestation of the “rough” material initial –
zoological, biological and botanical, this one more time, adding mythical
dimension to the poem. Actually, in the archaic mythology, the deities of
fertility appeared before the mortals in the disguise of botanical,
zoomorphic and anthropomorphic creatures. In Sweeney’s case, their parodic
similarity is accomplished by means of parodic adaptation of the mythical
patterns of death and rebirth. The poem full of gloomy irony, together with
the murders expected or already committed, is extending to the reader a
message on resurrection, yet not destined for future fulfillment. The theme
of fertility is often mentioned in the poem but the ritual of fertility
itself, extremely “degraded” and devoid of any pathos is also turned into a
sheer parody. There is no place left for resurrection there, because a
ritual turned into grotesque will never bear any positive result.

The parallel themes of murder and lechery are underlining the
whole poem and as it was mentioned above, the whole action is taking place
within an arbitrary space, which are a restaurant and a brothel
simultaneously. The associative structure of the poem is arranged in such a
way, that the process of eating at the restaurant (the ritual “nibbling” at
the flesh of the killed God) occurs as a parodied act of Communion,
associated with the murder and lechery taking place at the brothel: the
victim should be killed in order to be eaten afterwards. Of course, no act
of murder is being committed on the realistic or “narrative” level of the
poem - Rachel simply reaches for the grapes, yet on the level of symbolic
associations, the Maenads “with murderous paws” tear apart and devour the
zoomorphic Dionysus. The moment of parodic Communion is emphasized here
because in fact, Rachel is consuming consecrated flash and blood of the
deity (according to Fraser, the participants of Dionysian revels believed
that by eating the sacrificial flesh of the victim, they, like Dionysus,
would also become gods). Following this pattern, the lady in the Spanish
cape really sits on Sweeney’s lap and later on – sitting in a pool of
coffee split on the floor, she “draws a stocking up”. Yet, considering the
whole set of symbolic associations, this extremely laconic obscenity is
nothing more than a parodied “ritual lechery”, committed while drinking
wine (or drinking coffee in Eliot’s poem):

The person in
the Spanish cape
Tries to sit on
Sweeney’s knees
Slips and pulls
the table cloth
Overturns a
upon the floor
She yawns and
draws a stocking up;

The overturned coffee cup also attracts attention as a ritual
wine chalice, expressing the orgiastic contents of the cult of Dionysus
who, being a deity of drunken revels can often be observed in many
portraits and sculptures with the cup in his hand. Instead of wine, it is
coffee that plays the role of a ritual drink, causing exaltation. The
association related to coffee also pops out in the portrayal of a “silent
man” standing at the windowsill, dressed in the “mocha brown” (mocha is a
sort of coffee) clothes. The reader gets another message about this man in
the sixth line as well, where he is qualified as a “vertebrate”, this word
implying sharp irony and grotesque. A part of this associative background
is River Plate or Rio de La Plata, which together with its estuaries flows
in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, its basin, even nowadays being one of the
most important centers of coffee production. The homeland for the archaic
cult of Dionysus was in Phrygia (the central area of modern day Turkey),
whereas the parodic roots of the modern myth should be sought in the
coffee-producing region of South America. If, in the days of yore or in the
mythological past, Communion with the divine initial was conducted through
wine, among Eliot’s contemporary society the similar procedure is
accomplished by coffee and the connotation that apparently, nothing will be
changed by this, fills the whole verse with infinite irony. The only
discernable difference is that the past was full of burning passions and
aggressiveness, whereas the present is rather inert and apathetic. The main
mythopoetic device for Eliot is reshuffling time-realities and not the
ironic confrontation with the mythological glory of the past. Eventually,
irony is being shared evenly between the past and the present and Eliot’s
Sweeney contains the parody on Dionysus the same way as Eliot’s Dionysus
holds Sweeney in himself. It is not only today that wine has turned into
coffee, but starting from the mythical past, notorious for its violence and
lechery, it has always been a surrogate.

The parodic set of associations of “Sweeney among the
Nightingales” is complemented by the exotic fruit mentioned in the fifth
line – bananas, figs, oranges and hothouse grapes, served by the waiter for
the pleasure of the customers. Correct reading of these images within the
symbolic context of the poem commands serious observation: the grapes being
necessarily from a greenhouse comprises one more parodied epithet to
Dionysus, expressing the “taming” and civilized “conversion” of this
ecstatic deity in the post-Victorian society. Mentioning another parodied
hypostasis of the fertility god - bananas would cause almost a shocking
impact on the comprehension of the readers of that period. Dionysus, whose
traditional epithets are “the phallic one”, “the erect”, “the bi-testicled”
etc., in this poem is parodied through the traditionally vulgar and obscene
associations related to the phallic shape of bananas. The abundance of the
fruit in Eliot’s poem facilitates the general mythological background of
fertility: apart from grapes, Dionysus was considered the god of all kinds
of fruit. Together with bananas, figs, served by the waiter also represent
one of Dionysus’ “avatars”; Frazer writes, that the Greeks considered him
the creator of all fruits existing, yet he was mostly associated with figs.
In some of Greek towns he even was mentioned as “Fig Dionysus” and they
would curve his sculptures exclusively from fig trees.

Universalization of the specifically banal background in
“Sweeney among the Nightingale” is provided by means of associative
recollection of other mythological plots as well: Sweeney’s nightingales
are not only the Maenads of Dionysus or the sweetly singing birds from
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem: Eros and Tanatos in Eliot’s poetry, as
well as in any other great poetic work in general, are inseparable, but in
the grim and ironic artistic realm of his poems death turns into murder and
love – into lechery. The main associative image of the nightingales, apart
from the modern slang meaning of the word (“harlot’ or “prostitute”), is
also associated with the ancient Greek myth of the rape of Philomel,
accentuating more strongly the dominant theme of the poem – the motif of
violence, lechery and murder. In the sixth book of Metamorphoses, Ovid
writes, that Philomel was raped by her brother in-law, the barbaric king of
Thrace, Tereus, and in order to conceal his crime, he cut out his victim’s
tongue. Procne, infuriated by her husband’s deed and inspired for revenge,
committed even graver a crime and having killed her infant son Itylus, let
her husband eat his own son’s flesh. When Tereus learned that he was given
his dead son's flesh for dinner, he drew out the sword and started after
the sisters for death. But the gods turned Procne into a swallow and
Philomel into a nightingale. According to another version of the myth, both
sisters were converted into nightingales. Since then, following the ancient
tradition, the nightingales only sing at the time when violence, murder,
lechery or other crimes are being committed.

Infinitely gloomy and tragic sound of this myth, in which only
the evil fights the evil and not even the slightest chance of salvation is
hinted upon, surprisingly well echoes the spirit of the situation given in
“Sweeney among the Nightingales”. The poetic interpretation of the myth
told by Ovid is very close to Eliot’s parodic Bacchanalia: according to the
Roman poet, Procne murders her son during the Dionysian celebrations
(Bacchanalia in Rome). Procne herself, when preparing to take revenge upon
Tereus, put on a costume of a Maenad or Bacchant: “By night the queen left
her palace, prepared herself for the rites of the god, and took up the
weapons of that frenzied religion. Tendrils of vine wreathed her head; a
deerskin was draped over her left side; a light javelin rested on her
shoulder. Hurtling through the woods with a crowd of her companions,
terrifying, driven by maddening grief, … she dresses Philomel too in the
Bacchant fashion, and surrounded by the accompanying hoard of other
Bacchants rushes forward into the woods, “…as if pushed forward by you,
Bacchus” (Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI). It is interesting, that the associative
image of the nightingales relates Eliot’s poem to Cassandra’s loud mourning
from the relevant tragedy by Aeschylus. The chorus of Agamemnon compares
her prophesies, concerning her own future and Agamemnon’s upcoming murder,
with the symbolic lamentations of the nightingales, in which Procne is
mourning her dead son Itylus and on the other hand, is calling him up.

A tragicomic scene taking place in a banal cafe reaches cosmic
significance and universality, for its essence is mirrored in the
circulation of the constellations and in the drift of stars. The private
situation in “Sweeney among the Nightingales” turns no more a private one,
but like all other individual dramas considered on the level of mythical
generalization, it tends to become an eternal phenomenon, of which Eliot
himself, many years later, writes in Four Quartets:

The dance along
the artery, the circulation of the lymph
Are figured in
the drift of stars...

Eternity, revealing itself in the rotation of the moon and the twinkling of
the stars contains the same type of synthesis of Eros and Tanatos as a
single vulgar scene described in a restaurant, which also represents a
brothel. Gloomy Orion and the Dog are veiled by the clouds; the “stormy”
moon “slides westward”, “Death and the Raven drift above”, etc.

In English speech of the beginning of the 20th century “sliding
westward” or “going westward” used to be euphemistic expressions of death
or dying, something like Georgian - “took a letter (to the ancestors)”.
James Joyce is using it in a symbolic meaning in the end of “The Dead”
(Dubliners, 1919), where the snow of decline is falling upon the whole
country of Ireland, to make Gabriel Conroy contemplate on “setting out on
his journey westward.” In such a context, a huge, muddy Rio de la Plata,
towards which the moon is sliding, is presented as the “western river” or
the Styx. The somber and ironic symbolism is complemented here by the
associative image of the constellation of Orion being both - an ancient
hero-hunter and the lover of Artemis. The major myth about him is also
tightly linked with the theme of violence and lechery: Orion, being drunk,
raped Merope, daughter of King of Chios; father did not let Merope marry
Orion, because he himself was in love with his own daughter. Dionysus
blinded Orion, while Apollo, through cheating, made Artemis kill him. In
order to commemorate her beloved one, together with his hunting dogs (the
Big and Small Dog), Artemis turned the whole bunch into the constellations.
On the sky, strewn with the stars, Orion, like the Maenads, is hunting for
Taurus the Bull, whereas the Taurus, in its turn, seeks eternal escape from
him and his Dogs.

Projection of the immediate problems put forward in the poem on
the background of the global and planet-wide space turns also interesting
in terms of adoption of the traditions of the past. It is too often that
Eliot employs complex metaphors or the so-called “conceit” characteristic
to the English Baroque poetry of the 17th century. In the poetry of John
Donne and Andrew Marvell, part of the essential specifics of the
diversified contrast images (discordia concors) is that a complex metaphor
is often provided through transferring the ideas on to the global scale
often by way of relating the characteristic features of each individual
event to the whole universe. For example, in John Donne’s “A Valediction,
Forbidding Mourning” the death of a virtuous man causes “trepidation”
of the heavenly spheres, while in “Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness”,
the doctors are compared to the cosmographers, and the patient, stretched
on a death-bed, is identified with the map of the starry sky.

In the tragedy of Aeschylus, just like in Eliot’s poems,
murders are never directly portrayed not counting the roaring cry of
fatally wounded Agamemnon, being heard beyond the closed gates of the
palace. It is only the chorus, which discusses the murder together with
Cassandra uttering mourning cries, all followed by Clytemnestra’s
commentary on the deeds she had committed. It is obvious, that the murder
is really taking place in the tragedy, and so it does in Eliot’s poem,
although in the latter it is committed in the parodic manner – during
tearing the grapes with the “murderous paws”. In this poem, Agamemnon as
well as Sweeney, are personifying manifold masques of Dionysus and so is
the waiter, emerging with the fruit all of a sudden from somewhere, -
fruit, coffee, grapes and partly the man dressed in “mocha brown”, being
the symbols of the same scale. The nightingales are singing ominous songs
over Agamemnon’s dead body in the “bloody wood”, for the victims of
lechery will never rise from dead. The rite related to his death is a false
ritual, Communion being an immoral parody of serving God: for all actions
are accompanied by coffee drinking and lechery during the modern
“Dionysia”, whether be it in a restaurant or a brothel. Therefore

nightingales are singing near
The convent of
the Sacred Heart.
And sang within
the bloody wood
When Agamemnon
cried aloud...

It is notable, that the nightingales are singing near the
Convent of the Sacred Heart, this being an association of Christ as the
resurrected God of fertility (it is only in his early poems that Eliot
mentions the Savior in such a frivolous way, but that was before the
religious spirit and disposition became dominant in his poetry). On the
other hand, the symbolic images related to Dionysus become apparent here as
well, for Athena saves the heart of infant Dionysus, torn apart by the
Titans; immediately afterwards, Zeus puts Dionysus’ heart in his thigh and
later on, gives him birth anew or delivers him back to being. The finale of
the poem is deliberately open and by no means simple – the possibility of
rebirth is manifested through the associations of the Savior and the heart
of Dionysus, but the entire associative system is imbued by the unfeasible
and somber irony: the resurrection was possible but it could not be
realized, because the sacrifice itself turned to be a parody. An imaginary
tragedy of this kind will by all means turn into a farce at all times and
in all circumstances: God is dead and only the nightingales are letting
“their liquid siftings” to stain Agamemnon’s shroud dishonored by the
lechery of his spouse.


Comment 1 of 872, added on November 14th, 2004 at 2:48 PM.

Sweeney is, in my opinion, the most representative angle of Elliot´s idiom:
his capacity of communicating as if he were painting with the most
suggestive lines and colors, and doing it in the most economical manner,l

Francisco Cobos MD from Colombia

This poem has been commented on more than 10 times. Click below to see the other comments.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 
21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 
41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 
61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 
81 82 83 84 85 86 87 [88]
Share |

Information about Sweeney among the Nightingales

Poet: T.S. Eliot
Poem: 12. Sweeney among the Nightingales
Volume: Poems
Year: 1920
Added: Jan 31 2004
Viewed: 18801 times

Add Comment

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding this poem better? If they are accepted, they will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.

Do not post questions, pleas for homework help or anything of the sort, as these types of comments will be removed. The proper place for questions is the poetry forum.

Please note that after you post a comment, it can take up to an hour before it is visible on the website! Rest assured that your comment is not lost, so don't enter your comment again.

Comment on: 12. Sweeney among the Nightingales
By: T.S. Eliot

Name: (required)
E-mail Address: (required)
Show E-mail Address:
Yes No
Poem Comments:

Poem Info

Eliot Info
Copyright © 2000-2012 Gunnar Bengtsson. All Rights Reserved. Links | Bookstore