The Hollow Men

The Hollow Men

By T. S. Eliot

Mistah Kurtz-he dead
A penny for the Old Guy

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer-

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Summary of The Hollow Men

  • Popularity of “The Hollow Men”: Written by T.S. Eliot, a popular British modernist, “The Hollow Men” first emerged in 1925. Since then, the poem has won unprecedented popularity in the literary circles. Its enigmatic and thought-provoking themes have won it a special position among literature lovers. The poem references the repercussions of World War I, the decline of Western culture and civilization, and the emptiness of modern life. To top it all, “The Hollow Men” has been adapted into various art forms, including music, theater, and film, cementing its place among the classic poetic pieces.
  • “The Hollow Men” As a Representative of Spiritual Emptiness: “The Hollow Men” is a representative of the disillusionment of the modern world and the spiritual emptiness Eliot witnessed in British society following the devastation brought by World War I. The poem explores several themes with the language failing in the face of new realities. The use of various literary devices, such as repetition, fragmentation, and allusion, convey the desolation and devastation of the world. The poem also refers to religious and contemporary allusions to highlight the spiritual decay prevalent at that time. This commentary on the human condition has brought Eliot’s poetic art to the forefront of modern poetic circles.
  • Major Themes in “The Hollow Men”: “The Hollow Men” explores various major themes that reflect the poet’s disillusionment with the modern world and the resultant human condition. The first major theme is the loss of hope and the absence of meaningful connections. The hollow men are “Shape without form, shade without colour, / Paralysed force, gesture without motion”. This shows how they are just replicas of human beings. It also shows the idea of a world devoid of spirituality and moral values where individuals feel disconnected from their inner selves. The image of the dead land shows the world as a barren desert symbolizing the emptiness and futility of modern life. The poem further highlights the human struggle for meaning in life with the hollow men stuck in a state of limbo. This lethargy prevails over human beings. Therefore, Eliot explores the themes of death, decay, and the human desire for redemption. Despite its complexity and multidimensionality, the poem has a good aspect of showing what the world feels to modern man.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in The Hollow Men

The poet Eliot’s use of various literary devices in this poem is facilitating as well as meaningful. Some of the major literary devices are analyzed below.

  1. Alliteration: It is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words such as “We whispter together” which shows the sound of /w/ or, for that matter, the line 31 /d/ sound in “death’s dream kingdom.” This shows a rhythmic and melodic effect, enhancing the poetic quality of the line.
  2. Allusion: This literary device shows a reference to a well-known person, place, event, or work of literature, such as line 1 shows “Mistah Kurtz-he dead” taken from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It highlights the theme of moral decay and the darkness within human nature.
  3. Apostrophe: This is a figure of speech where a person absent or dead, or an abstract concept, is addressed directly. The reference to “Mistah Kurtz-he dead” directly addresses “Mistah Kurtz,” emphasizing his absence and implying the speaker’s disillusionment.
  4. Assonance: This literary device is a repetition of vowel sounds within words such as line 11 “In death’s dream kingdom” shows the repetition of /ee/ sound in “dream” and “kingdom” creates a musical quality.
  5. Enjambment: This literary device shows the continuation of a sentence or thought without a pause beyond the end of a line or stanza. For example, lines “Between the idea / And the reality / Between the motion / And the act” show the use of this device which bring flow in the thoughts.
  6. Hyperbole: This literary device shows exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally. For example, “This is the dead land” shows a hyperbolic statement, emphasizing the desolation and lifelessness of the land.
  7. Imagery: This literary device shows the use of descriptive language to create vivid mental pictures. For example, “Sunlight on a broken column,” and “Waking alone” and “Lips that would kiss” show the use of different images.
  8. Irony: This literary device shows a contrast between what is expected and what actually happens. For example, “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper” show ironic contrast between the expected dramatic ending and the subdued, anticlimactic conclusion.
  9. Metaphor: This literary device is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two different things. For example, “Shape without form, shade without colour” show a metaphorical description, portraying the hollow men as shapeless, empty beings.
  10. Personification: This literary device shows human characteristics to non-human objects or concepts. For example, “Voices are / In the wind’s singing” show the poet personifying the voices in the wind adding an eerie and haunting quality to the poem.
  11. Repetition: This literary device shows the use of repeated words or phrases for emphasis or for creating a pattern. For example, “This is the way the world ends” show the repetition of the phrase emphasizing the inevitability and finality of the world’s end.
  12. Symbolism: This literary device shows the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. For example, “a penny for the Old Guy” and “We are the hollow men” show burning effigies on Guy Fawkes Night, representing the transience and emptiness of human existence.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in The Hollow Men

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It is the choice and arrangement of words. The poem shows broken, formal, and poetic diction to suit the broken themes.
  2. End Rhyme: End rhyme is a poetic device where the words at the end of two or more lines in a stanza rhyme with each other. “The Hollow Men” shows Eliot using end rhyme in some places, but overall there is no fixed end rhyme.
  3. Meter: Meter is a poetic device that refers to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse. In “The Hollow Men,” Eliot uses a mixed meter, incorporating both iambic pentameter and irregular meter at different places, but overall there is no fixed metrical pattern.
  4. Rhyme Scheme: Rhyme scheme is the pattern of end rhymes in a poem. “The Hollow Men” shows Eliot using an irregular rhyme scheme.
  5. Poem Type: “The Hollow Men” is a free verse poem, meaning it does not follow a specific rhyme or meter pattern.
  6. Stanza: The poem is divided into five stanzas, with each stanza having a different number of lines. The stanzas vary in type, with the first three stanzas being tercets (three-line stanzas), the fourth stanza being a quatrain (four-line stanza), and the final stanza being a single line.
  7. Tone: Tone refers to the writer’s attitude towards the subject matter or audience in a literary work.  “The Hollow Men” uses a detached and despondent tone as Eliot explores the emptiness and futility of human existence.

Quotes to be Used

This quote is appropriate for various situations where a grandiose or dramatic event is expected, but it ends up being anticlimactic or underwhelming. For example, it could be used in a movie or book review where the ending is disappointing or in a political commentary where a highly anticipated event turns out to be a letdown.

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.