Sweeney is the name of a character that Eliot used in a number of previous poems, including “Sweeney Among the Nightingales” and “Sweeney Erect.” He is portrayed as a kind of cheerfully horny lout.
Sweeney is also a negative Irish stereotype, and possibly a criminal. In Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes, written after The Waste Land in the form of a play, Sweeney says: “Every man wants to, has to, kill a woman sometime.” (QFM) One possible subtext is that of an educated, cultured man struggling with the impulse to kill his wife. If this is true of Eliot, he may have conveniently sublimated the impulse by burying his wife Vivienne in a mental hospital.
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