Almost without fail, when I wake up from a bad dream and have trouble falling back asleep, the chorus from Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes runs through my head on a loop:
When you’re alone in the middle of the night and you wake
in a sweat and a hell of a fright
When you’re alone in the middle of the bed and you wake
Like someone hit you on the head
You’ve had a cream of a nightmare dream and you’ve got the
Hoo-ha’s coming on you
Hoo hoo hoo
I’ve had Eliot on the brain a bit of late, I think in part because I’ve been re-reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, which, for all the love it pours over Browning, references Eliot’s works an awful lot (it references everything a lot, so I guess that’s understandable). Eliot isn’t my favorite poet, but he has written some of my favorite poems. Sweeney Agonistes is full of weirdness, and madness, and the kind of existential dread that makes my heart go pitter-pat. It’s unfinished, although it is in some ways stronger for that, I think. If a work of literature can be haunted, this one is.
It also inspired a pretty great Francis Bacon triptych, which is how I came to find it many years ago.
So this morning I’m ordering the complete works of T.S. Eliot since the other volumes I have are all slim collections of a few poems or plays. The share on this is more a form of exorcism than anything else, I needed to purge it from my head, but, if you dig Eliot and haven’t ever encountered Sweeney other than among the nightingales, you may want to check it out.