'Sweeney Among The Nightingales' by T.S. Eliot

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Apeneck Sweeney spreads his knees
Letting his arms hang down to laugh,
The zebra stripes along his jaw
Swelling to maculate giraffe.

The circles of the stormy moon
Slide westward toward the River Plate,
Death and the Raven drift above
And Sweeney guards the hornèd gate.

Gloomy Orion and the Dog
Are veiled; and hushed the shrunken seas;
The person in the Spanish cape
Tries to sit on Sweeney's knees

Slips and pulls the table cloth
Overturns a coffee-cup,
Reorganised upon the floor
She yawns and draws a stocking up;

The silent man in mocha brown
Sprawls at the window-sill and gapes;
The waiter brings in oranges
Bananas figs and hothouse grapes;

The silent vertebrate in brown
Contracts and concentrates, withdraws;
Rachel née Rabinovitch
Tears at the grapes with murderous paws;

She and the lady in the cape
Are suspect, thought to be in league;
Therefore the man with heavy eyes
Declines the gambit, shows fatigue,

Leaves the room and reappears
Outside the window, leaning in,
Branches of wistaria
Circumscribe a golden grin;

The host with someone indistinct
Converses at the door apart,
The nightingales are singing near
The Convent of the Sacred Heart,

And sang within the bloody wood
When Agamemnon cried aloud,
And let their liquid siftings fall
To stain the stiff dishonoured shroud.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Deeper Look at T.S. Eliot's "Sweeney Among The Nightingales"

Are you a fan of poetry that delves into the complexities of the human psyche and the darkness that lurks within? If so, then T.S. Eliot's "Sweeney Among The Nightingales" is a must-read for you.

In this classic poem, Eliot takes us on a journey through the mind of a troubled man named Sweeney, who is tormented by his own desires and impulses. As we delve deeper into his psyche, we see a reflection of our own hidden fears and desires, and we are forced to confront the darker aspects of our own selves.

The Structure of the Poem

Before we dive into the deeper themes of the poem, let's take a moment to appreciate its structure. "Sweeney Among The Nightingales" is a five-part poem, each part consisting of six stanzas of four lines each. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB, and the meter is primarily iambic pentameter, with occasional variations in rhythm.

The use of this structured form helps to create a sense of order and control, which is in contrast to the chaotic and unpredictable nature of Sweeney's thoughts and actions. By using a strict form, Eliot highlights the contrast between the ordered world of society and the chaotic world of the individual psyche.

The Themes of the Poem

Now, let's move on to the themes of the poem. At its core, "Sweeney Among The Nightingales" is a meditation on the human condition and the struggle between our primal desires and the demands of society. Sweeney is a man who is unable to control his own desires, and as a result, he is at odds with the world around him.

Throughout the poem, Eliot uses imagery and symbolism to explore these themes. For example, the nightingales that Sweeney is among represent the beauty and purity of nature, which is in contrast to the darkness and turmoil within Sweeney's mind. The nightingales also serve as a symbol of Sweeney's own desires, which he cannot control.

Another important symbol in the poem is the hyacinth girl, who represents the purity and innocence that Sweeney longs for but can never attain. She is a reminder of the purity that he has lost and the darkness that now consumes him.

The Language and Imagery of the Poem

One of the most striking aspects of "Sweeney Among The Nightingales" is its use of language and imagery. Eliot employs a variety of poetic devices, including metaphors, similes, and allusions, to create a rich and complex tapestry of meaning.

For example, in the first stanza of the poem, Eliot writes:

The winter moon has such a quiet car,
That all the winter nights are dumb with snow.
The silence of the stars is all his own.
And there’s a wideness in the night that seems
To be its own appurtenance, and earn
One star that anywhere in the draught of space
May plunge and still be seen, and never disappear.

This passage is rich in metaphor and imagery, with the moon serving as a symbol of the cold and distant nature of the world, and the wideness of the night representing the vastness of the human psyche. The image of the star that can never disappear also serves as a reminder of the permanence of our own desires and the darkness that resides within us.

The Character of Sweeney

Finally, let's take a closer look at the character of Sweeney. He is a complex and troubled figure, torn between his own desires and the demands of society. He longs for the purity and innocence of the hyacinth girl, but he is unable to attain it because of the darkness that consumes him.

At the same time, though, Sweeney is not a sympathetic character. He is brutal and violent, and he preys upon the nightingales that he is among. He is a reminder of the dark and violent impulses that lurk within us all, and the danger that can arise when we cannot control them.


In conclusion, "Sweeney Among The Nightingales" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the complexities of the human psyche and the struggle between our primal desires and the demands of society. Through its use of structured form, powerful language, and striking imagery, Eliot creates a world that is both beautiful and terrifying, a reflection of the darkness that resides within us all. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply interested in exploring the depths of the human condition, this poem is a must-read.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Sweeney Among The Nightingales: A Masterpiece of Modernist Poetry

T.S. Eliot, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, is known for his complex and enigmatic works that explore the human condition and the modern world. Among his many poems, Sweeney Among The Nightingales stands out as a masterpiece of modernist poetry that showcases Eliot's unique style and vision. In this essay, I will provide a detailed analysis and explanation of this classic poem, exploring its themes, imagery, language, and structure.

The poem opens with a vivid description of a dark and eerie forest, where the protagonist, Sweeney, is wandering aimlessly. The forest is described as a place of "blackened trees" and "dank pools," where "the nightingales are singing" in a haunting and melancholic tone. This setting sets the tone for the rest of the poem, creating a sense of unease and foreboding that permeates the entire work.

As Sweeney wanders through the forest, he encounters a group of nightingales who are singing a beautiful and enchanting song. However, instead of being moved by their music, Sweeney is filled with a sense of rage and violence. He begins to chase and attack the birds, tearing them apart with his bare hands. This sudden outburst of violence is shocking and disturbing, and it raises many questions about the nature of Sweeney's character and his relationship with the natural world.

One of the key themes of the poem is the conflict between civilization and nature, and the tension between human beings and the natural world. Sweeney, as a representative of modern civilization, is portrayed as a violent and destructive force that is at odds with the peaceful and harmonious world of nature. The nightingales, on the other hand, represent the beauty and purity of the natural world, and their song is a symbol of the transcendent power of art and beauty. The fact that Sweeney is unable to appreciate their music, and instead responds with violence and aggression, highlights the alienation and disconnection that modern humans feel from the natural world.

Another important theme of the poem is the idea of fragmentation and disintegration. The forest, with its blackened trees and dank pools, is a symbol of decay and dissolution, and the nightingales' song is a reminder of the beauty and harmony that has been lost. Sweeney, with his violent and erratic behavior, is a symbol of the disintegration of the human psyche, and his actions represent the breakdown of social norms and values. The poem suggests that modern civilization is in a state of crisis, and that the only way to overcome this crisis is to reconnect with the natural world and rediscover the transcendent power of art and beauty.

The language and imagery of the poem are rich and complex, and they contribute to the overall mood and atmosphere of the work. Eliot's use of alliteration, assonance, and repetition creates a sense of rhythm and musicality that echoes the nightingales' song. The use of dark and foreboding imagery, such as "blackened trees" and "dank pools," creates a sense of unease and tension that is palpable throughout the poem. The sudden bursts of violence and aggression, such as when Sweeney tears apart the nightingales, are shocking and disturbing, and they add to the sense of disorientation and fragmentation that pervades the work.

The structure of the poem is also noteworthy, as it is divided into three distinct sections that each explore different aspects of the poem's themes and imagery. The first section sets the scene and introduces the protagonist, while the second section focuses on Sweeney's violent outburst and his relationship with the nightingales. The third section, which is the shortest of the three, provides a brief conclusion that suggests that Sweeney's actions have consequences that extend beyond the forest and into the wider world.

In conclusion, Sweeney Among The Nightingales is a masterpiece of modernist poetry that explores the themes of civilization and nature, fragmentation and disintegration, and the transcendent power of art and beauty. Through its vivid imagery, complex language, and innovative structure, the poem creates a sense of unease and foreboding that is both unsettling and captivating. Eliot's unique vision and style have made this poem a classic of modernist literature, and it continues to inspire and challenge readers to this day.

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