Sweeney among the Nightingales

Sweeney among the Nightingales

Original Text

T. S. Eliot, Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920): 35-36. E546 A753 1920a Fisher Rare Book Library.

omoi peplegmai kairian plegen eso
2Letting his arms hang down to laugh,
3The zebra stripes along his jaw
5The circles of the stormy moon
8And Sweeney guards the horned gate.
10Are veiled; and hushed the shrunken seas;
11The person in the Spanish cape
12Tries to sit on Sweeney's knees
13Slips and pulls the table cloth
14Overturns a coffee-cup,
15Reorganized upon the floor
16She yawns and draws a stocking up;
17The silent man in mocha brown
18Sprawls at the window-sill and gapes;
19The waiter brings in oranges
20Bananas figs and hothouse grapes;
21The silent vertebrate in brown
22Contracts and concentrates, withdraws;
23Rachel née Rabinovitch
24Tears at the grapes with murderous paws;
25She and the lady in the cape
26Are suspect, thought to be in league;
27Therefore the man with heavy eyes
28Declines the gambit, shows fatigue,
29Leaves the room and reappears
30Outside the window, leaning in,
32Circumscribe a golden grin;
33The host with someone indistinct
34Converses at the door apart,
35The nightingales are singing near
38When Agamemnon cried aloud,
40To stain the stiff dishonoured shroud.


1] 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." Back to Line
4] maculate: spotted. Back to Line
6] River Plate: Rio de la Plata, between Argentina and Uruguay, an estuary of the Uruguay and Parana rivers on which can be found Buenos Aires, La Plata, and Montevideo. Back to Line
7] the Raven: the constellation Corvus.
horned gate: dreams in classical mythology are sometimes said to emerge from the underworld through this gate. Back to Line
9] Orion, a constellation, includes the dog-star Sirius and is near the constellation of the Dog, Canis Major. Back to Line
31] wistaria: ornamental flowering vine. Back to Line
36] The Roman Catholic Church includes nuns fromthe Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. Back to Line
37] The bloody wood could be the grove of the classical Furies, in Sophocles' Oedipus 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). Back to Line
39] droppings: Eliot revises to "siftings" in a later edition. Back to Line
Publication Start Year
Publication Notes

"Four Poems," Little Review 5.5 (Sept. 1918). In England published in an almost identical book, Ara Vos Prec (London: Ovid Press, [1920]); 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.

RPO poem Editors
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition
RPO 1998.
Special Copyright

© T.S. Eliot and Faber and Faber Ltd 1974