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T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). Poems. 1920.

3. Sweeney Erect

  • And the trees about me,
  • Let them be dry and leafless; let the rocks
  • Groan with continual surges; and behind me,
  • Make all a desolation. Look, look, wenches!

  • PAINT me a cavernous waste shore

    Cast in the unstilled Cyclades,

    Paint me the bold anfractuous rocks

    Faced by the snarled and yelping seas.

    Display me Aeolus above

    Reviewing the insurgent gales

    Which tangle Ariadne’s hair

    And swell with haste the perjured sails.

    Morning stirs the feet and hands

    (Nausicaa and Polypheme),

    Gesture of orang-outang

    Rises from the sheets in steam.

    This withered root of knots of hair

    Slitted below and gashed with eyes,

    This oval O cropped out with teeth:

    The sickle motion from the thighs

    Jackknifes upward at the knees

    Then straightens out from heel to hip

    Pushing the framework of the bed

    And clawing at the pillow slip.

    Sweeney addressed full length to shave

    Broadbottomed, pink from nape to base,

    Knows the female temperament

    And wipes the suds around his face.

    (The lengthened shadow of a man

    Is history, said Emerson

    Who had not seen the silhouette

    Of Sweeney straddled in the sun).

    Tests the razor on his leg

    Waiting until the shriek subsides.

    The epileptic on the bed

    Curves backward, clutching at her sides.

    The ladies of the corridor

    Find themselves involved, disgraced,

    Call witness to their principles

    And deprecate the lack of taste

    Observing that hysteria

    Might easily be misunderstood;

    Mrs. Turner intimates

    It does the house no sort of good.

    But Doris, towelled from the bath,

    Enters padding on broad feet,

    Bringing sal volatile

    And a glass of brandy neat.