TS Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Agonistes’ was one of Burgess’s selections in They Wrote In English, his thousand-page anthology of literature that appeared briefly with an Italian publisher in 1979 and then disappeared almost without trace.
The collections at the Burgess Foundation contain a number of recordings of Burgess reading from these selections, which may have been intended to accompany a future edition of the book as a CD. The ‘fragment of a melodrama’ that is ‘Sweeney Agonistes’ receives such a recording, in which Burgess renders the voices of all the characters and performs versions of the songs at the piano with an infectious enthusiasm and energy that brings the black humour of Eliot’s poem alive. Here’s part of ‘Under the bamboo tree’, a vaudeville song by Bob Cole and J. Rosamund Johnson that Eliot took from the Broadway musical Sally In Our Alley (1902).
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