He was not a psychopath, but he was what was then called a neurasthenic.  That was the diagnosis of Vittoz, and that is what he was treated for.  It had clinical significance then.  He, himself, said his problem was aboulia, one symptom of neurasthenia.  And he described himself as being depressed.  None of this is from other sources than Eliot and the book by Vittoz.  That is very different from psychosis, but that he was emotionally distressed is a fact by his own account.

>>> Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]>07/08/09 11:35 AM >>>

I think the Sweeney of the poems, and the other personages of both poems and play are types.

They cover a lot of social ground. The Sweeney of the play is an individual. As such he may have some

of the features of the type into which he could be categorised, but that is quite secondary.


The idea of life on a South Sea island as an idyllic heaven was a commodified dream ideal

of the early 20th c.  The play shows in fact that it would be a hell of boredom.  The social

dynamic that wishes to sell such dream products is psychopathic. S. gives us a portrait of

one such psychopath.


I seriously doubt that Eliot was a psychopath.

In fact I find the idea quite ludicrous.

Of course that's not what you were saying.





On Jul 7, 2009, Tom Colket <[log in to unmask]> wrote:The

P> I'm pretty much convinced that all that the Sweeney of the earlier poems
P> has in common with the Sweeney of the play, is the name.

Do you think that all the "Sweeney" references in Eliot's earlier poems are the same character ("Sweeney Erect", "Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service", "Sweeney Among the Nightingales", "TWL - The Fire Sermon"), or does each poem refer to a different character who happens to share the name 'Sweeney'?

In "Sweeney Agonistes", why would Eliot re-use the Sweeney name (and "Doris" from "Sweeney Erect") if he didn't want to evoke the earlier works?

-- Tom --



Date: Tue, 7 Jul 2009 03:17:25 -0600
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Birth, and copulation, and death
To: [log in to unmask]

I'm pretty much convinced that all that the Sweeney of the earlier poems has in common
with the Sweeney of the play, is the name.

On Jul 6, 2009, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
My edition also has it on p. 153--not in "The Modern Mind."  The description could fit the Sweeney plays---or something he did not publish.  In any case, if Sweeney has greater insight, that has no necessary connection to a religious vision.  He seems to see the horror of the man who "did a girl in," a horror to which Eliot kept returning, especially in The Family Reunion.  It seems to be an insight into profound guilt and awareness of human violence if it is, indeed, that Sweeney's insight.
>>> Peter Montgomery 07/06/09 2:39 PM >>>
As I remember, Sweeney Agonistes wasn't published until 1927, (I think the year of
Eliot's conversion to Christianity). I seriously doubt that S can be seen as the same character
as that of the earlier poems, but I could be wrong.
In the "Conclusion" of of OTUP&TUOP (p153 of my edition) in a passage that starts "I once designed",
E. indicates that he intended the central character to have greater insight than the other characters,
and to speak more to the educated section of the audience. Conceivably he is not referring to
the Sweeney fragments, but it sure seems like it to me. If he is referring to some other work,
I would like to know what it is.
Also, remember the lines "The lengthened shadow of a man is history,
said Emerson/Who had not scene the sillhouette of Sweeney straddled in the sun."
S. would seem to be a prophetic character, who throws into doubt standard
cliches like continuous moral improvement of man as history goes along.
He is a dark figure of the future, with its breakdown of class and and educational structures.
Crudity and education can be found mixed in the same people at all social levels.
In analysing such characters we tend to find ourselves projecting our own
cliches on to them, rather than the sensibilities of the time they were created.
There is some resemblance between S. and the Tyro character of which Wyndham Lewis spoke,
either in one of the issues of his mag. of that name, or one of the issues of Blast.
----- Original Message -----
From: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]" target=_blank>Tom Colket
To: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]" target=_blank>[log in to unmask]
Sent: Monday, July 06, 2009 3:32 AM
Subject: Re: Birth, and copulation, and death

Diana wrote:
> Actually "sex" seems a bit too delicate a word for Sweeney to use!
> He's closer to Bolo than most of TSE's "official" characters.

I've been thinking about your comparison. Clearly Sweeney is crude, goes to whore houses, etc. But I've always taken Eliot to mean that the "natural man" Sweeney somehow intuitively understands the true nature of God, understands at a deeper level than more "cerebral" people. That's how I read these Sweeney lines (i.e, Sweeney in his bath is closer to the baptized Christ in the poem than are the "masters"):

"Sweeney shifts from ham to ham
Stirring the water in his bath.
The masters of the subtle schools
Are controversial, polymath."

So when Sweeney lists out the three "brass tacks" of existence as "birth, and copulation, and death", I find myself wondering what insight Sweeney has about "copulation". As I mentioned in the first post, I think the point is that physical sex helps us to understand the "final cause" of love, the attraction of the soul to God, the desire of the soul to be reunited with God.
Or am I overreading?
-- Tom --

Date: Sat, 4 Jul 2009 18:44:10 +0000
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Birth, and copulation, and death
To: [log in to unmask]

Actually "sex" seems a bit too delicate a word for Sweeney to use! He's closer to Bolo than most of TSE's "official" characters.

Date: Sat, 4 Jul 2009 11:52:10 -0400
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Birth, and copulation, and death
To: [log in to unmask]


After reading some of the recent posts on the list, I've been thinking about Eliot's "Sweeney Agonistes". I know the work was unfinished, so we don't know what the final form may have been. Nonetheless, I have some thoughts and questions about a particular line from the work, the line about "Birth, and copulation, and death".

Sweeney describes life on a crocodile isle, a life with "no telephones, . . . no gramophones, . . . no motor cars, . . . nothing to eat but the fruit as it grows".

Then he says that there is "Nothing at all but three things . . . Birth, and copulation, and death.
That's all, that's all, that's all, that's all,
Birth, and copulation, and death.
. . .
That's all the facts when you come down to brass tacks"

It seems that Sweeney is trying to describe the situation we find ourselves in on this Earth (i.e., the cycle of life we find ourselves in). The word that stands out to me as very odd is "copulation".

First of all, in past poems Sweeney is Eliot's 'uncouth, natural man'. Sweeney "shifts from ham to ham, stirring the waters in his bath" in contrast to the "masters of the subtle schools". Sweeney has sex in a whorehouse and is described in blunt terms such as "This withered root of knots of hair/Slitted below and gashed with eyes,/This oval O cropped out with teeth".

It strikes me as odd that this same "uncouth" Sweeney now uses a rather fancy word like "copulation". I would have expected a more basic description from Sweeney, such as:

"Birth, and sex, and death.
That's all the facts when you come down to brass tacks"

or even

"Birth, and screwing, and death."

On top of that, when contemplating the "cycle of life", I believe that most people think about _reproduction_ rather than _sex_ as the triumvirate of "brass tasks". I wonder if the four-syllable word "copulation" in fact invites the reader to think about another formulation with a different four-syllable word, namely, "Birth, and reproduction, and death."

There is a striking contrast between having one of the "brass tasks of existence" be "copulation" rather than "reproduction". In focusing on sex, Eliot asks an implied question: Why is 'sex' of equal importance to the individual as 'birth' and 'death'? What makes 'sex' an equal partner with the other two in the cycle of life?

I think Eliot is trying to say, as he has done in other works and essays, that sex serves a critical (and unexpected) purpose for humankind. The critical purpose is not reproduction but rather is that sex prepares the individual for a union of the soul and God.

I know Eliot's essay "DANTE (1929)" has been quoted on the list before, but for your convenience I'd like to quote the passage relevant to what I'm talking about:


The attitude of Dante to the fundamental experience of the _Vita Nuova_ can only be understood by accustoming ourselves to find meaning in _final causes_ rather than in origins. It is not, I believe, meant as a description of what he _consciously_ felt on his meeting with Beatrice, but rather as a description of what that meant on mature reflection upon it. The final cause is the attraction towards God. A great deal of sentiment has been spilt, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, upon idealizing the reciprocal feelings of man and woman towards each other, which various realists have been irritated to denounce: this sentiment ignoring the fact that the love of man and woman (or for that matter of man and man) is only explained and made reasonable by the higher love, or else is simply the coupling of animals.


In this passage we see "copulation" (the coupling of animals) elevated to inducing the individual to understand the "higher love", the soul's attraction towards God.

I think this also ties back to the epigraph of the work, where Eliot provides the quote from "St. John of the Cross, "Hence the soul cannot be possessed of the divine union, until it has divested itself of the love of created beings".

As always, comments criticisms and corrections are welcome.

-- Tom --

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