Sweeney Among The Nightingale || Summary and Analysis

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       Introduction : Sweeney has an abnormally high animal spirit. He is strong in sex like an ape. His life has been devoted to all the fun of sexual function for variety and pleasure. He is an example of modern, sexually degraded and uprooted urban person. He is spiritually barren man. He is fond of violence, extremely suspicious and secretive and given to mechanical sex. He is representative of the dehumanised vagabond of modern society.

Sweeney among the Nightingale


      The poem begins with the protagonist Sweeney, sitting in a pub. He is fond of wine and women. His animal spirits are revived in the environment of pub. He looks like a sexy ape full of life and laughter. The poet builds up an atmosphere of doom and disaster. The planets are clustered in an unusual position. Such a situation is a foreboding of some great disaster or calamity. The moon is covered with dark clouds. Death is personified as a planet. It moves along with Raven which is a group of stars and is associated with fate and natural death. The Horn gate is also a symbol of the murder of Agamemnon. The Horn gate also refers to the myth of the murder of an old priest in the sacred wood of Diana at Nemi. The two other stars namely the Orion and the Dog which are associated with fertility myth, are covered with clouds. This foretells some impending disaster. All these points create an atmosphere of disaster, gloom, violence and murder.

      Eliot now deals with the persons sitting in the pub. There is the prostitute in the spanish cape. She has been hired to seduce Sweeney and to keep him busy in sexual attraction, so that the plan of his murder may be executed. She tries to sit on Sweeney's knees to divert him to the sexual act. Fortunately, Sweeney understands the evil intentions and pushes her away with the result, that she falls on the floor. She is not in the least disturbed because this is one of her usual acts of sex treachery and violence.

      On the scene appears a silent man disguised in a brown dress. He is perhaps one of the conspirators. His gestures are like an animal. He keeps his eyes and mouth open. At this moment the waiter brings fruit and places them on the table of Sweeney.

      Rachel, another prostitute comes on the scene and sits near Sweeney. Sweeney suspects her intentions when he sees her devouring the grapes. He feels that the two prostitutes have made a plot to seduce him and to murder him. So he does not eat the fruit and leaves the place. After rushing out from the room, he stands on the window. He feels happy at his escape. His face is covered with the branches of wistaria trees over-hanging the window. There is a purpose in mentioning this tree. The colour of the wistaria tree is purple which was also the colour of the apron by which Clytemnestra stifled her husband Agamemnon to death. Besides this, the colour of the tongue of Philomela cut by her seducer, King Tareus was also purple. The simile of Sweeney among the wistaria leaves shows his joy at having escaped the murderous trap. When Sweeney looks inside the room, the owner of the pub is talking with another conspirator in whispers. He is not able to recognize this conspirator.

      The poet makes a contrast between the fruitless murderous plot against Sweeney and the fruitful and meaningful murders in the past. The murder of Philomela after rape meant her resurrection as a nightingale to delight the world with her sound. Similarly, the murder of Christ was instrumental in saving the entire body of the faithful people from damnation.

      Sweeney's murder, however, has no such saving. grace and regenerating power. His death will lead to no result. Finally, the poet Compares the fruitless proposed murder of Sweeney with the murder of Agamemnon. History is full of such plots and murders on account of Sex. Both, the murder of Agamemnon and the proposed murder of Sweeney, are due to lust. There is, however, a difference. Agamemnon's murder led to a happy result because his son Orestes murdered his mother Clytemnestra. The son became an instrument of destroying evil. Similarly, the murder of Philomela and the crucification of Christ led to regeneration and resurrection. Sweeney's murder, however, would not lead to such results. It would have been just a futile murder for the sake of excitement. If Sweeney had died, his murder would not have produced any good results. The poet suggests that so far as the nightingales are concerned, murder of high or low makes no difference to them. They sang and excreted in the same fashion when Agamemnon was chocked to death by his wife, as they are singing and excreting now in the trees near the pub where Sweeney is to be killed. This is another example of mock heroic element in the poem.


      The Epigraph : The epigraph gives a clue to what is to follow in the poem. The plot against Sweeney's life and the unusual combination of the constellation indicate the tragedy which awaits the protagonist. Fortunately, he smells the danger and runs away before the plot is executed.

      The setting of the poem : The scene of the poem is laid in some pub situated near the river Plate in South America. The pub is full of day revellers and prostitutes. The owner of the pub is also a low and degraded man. Sweeney is a protagonist. He is a visitor to the pub at the invitation of the owner of the pub. A plot has been hatched to murder Sweeney. The prostitutes entertain him and offer him fruit. The killing is to be done by a hired assassin. In this tense atmosphere of sex and crime, Sweeney has a foreboding of impending fate. He just escapes in the nick of time.

      The characters of the poem : Besides Sweeney, there are four other characters. The first is a woman in the Spanish cape. She is the common prostitute without a name. She tries to sit on Sweeney's knee and persuades him to a compromising situation so that the plan of murdering Sweeney may be executed. Somehow, Sweeney senses a danger and dodges her, with the result that she falls down. In the process, she catches a table cloth and overturns a coffee cup. She has been doing such acts of treachery and violence before. She is bored with such routine acts and yearns as he sits on the ground. The second character in the poem is Rachel; also known as Rabinovitch. She is another prostitute, who keeps on changing her names as the circumstances require. She is an a better in the proposed murder of Sweeney. Her murderous paws clearly indicate her violent tendency. The third character is the silent manin the leather dress. He is perhaps another conspirator in disguise. His gestures are those of animals. He opens his mouth wide, perhaps in suspicion. The fourth character is that of the owner of the pub. Perhaps the entire plot has been hatched by him. He has engaged the prostitutes and the murderer. When Sweeney runs away, the owner is disappointed. His plot has not been materialised. He talks with the conspirator at the door, perhaps to tell him that the victim has run away. The mock-heroic note in the poem. The mock heroic note is evident in the plot against Sweeney and the conjunction of the planets which forebode disorder. The moon is shown as stormy. The Orion is gloomy and Dog star is veiled. All these forebode some great disaster. The proposed murder is not a disaster or any great invention. It is the planned murder of a wicked and sexy person. It has no great or universal significance. The various mythological associations like the Raven, the Horn gate and the reference to the myth of Philomela's rape, heighten the contrast between the trivial plot against Sweeney and the mighty forces at work. Eliot satirises the sexual jealousy and trivialities of modern society which lead to crime and violence.

      Style and technique : The poem consists of ten quatrains in which the second line rhymes with the fourth. It shows that Eliot is the master in handling the stanza form. Of course many other poems like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Gerontion are written in free verse. The poem comes very much near to the old English ballad, in its diction and simplicity and rhythm. Professor Pito regards it: "Perhaps the highest technical achievement of Eliot's early work." The poem contains a number of allusions from myths and images of past. This makes it highly suggestive and significant."

      Conclusion : The poem is concerned with the fertility theme which has been elaborated in The Waste Land. There is contrast between the contemporary world and the ancient world. While in the ancient world, murders led to re-birth, in the world of today, the murders are done just for fun and excitement. They do not lead to any renewal of life. The moral corruption and utter violence and wastage of modern life is amply illustrated in this poem.

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