TS Eliot: The Hollow Men

I’ve had this poem running round my head all morning, it’s 8:35am and I don’t think it’s going to go away.  I find acknowledging the circular thoughts sometimes helps, so here is one of my favorite poems (and I don’t like poems, as a rule).  You’ll probably know the last four lines as they’re TS Eliot’s most quoted words (aside from Cats of course): “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 with a whimper.”  I’m not quite sure what it’s all about but it’s one of those rare poems where I’d actually like to know.  I wish I was better at textual analysis, but I stopped doing English at age 16 so I have limited skills.  Tell me if you know what’s going on in this poem as I can feel it dancing just out of reach of my ability to understand it.

I
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.

II
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

III
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.

IV
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.

V
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.

This poem’s had a lot of use throughout the ages, but the most memorable use of this poem was when British 90s band EMF used the last 4 lines to start one of the tracks on their album Schubert Dip, playing on words to change the final line to “not with a band.”  It got a lot of airplay/TV use in the 90s:

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Author: MsAdventure

I am a twentysomething travel, photography and beauty blogger who occasionally writes about other topics. Within travel, I tend to write mostly about Europe because all the other travel bloggers seem to write about South East Asia. As a writer, I have written articles that are published in Offbeat Bride and on Buzzfeed, and as a photographer, I have taken photographs that are published in local and national news outlets in the UK. I have a blog at www.delightandinspire.com

5 thoughts on “TS Eliot: The Hollow Men”

      1. HAHAHA yeah probably. I’ve heard people apparently take drugs and synch up the Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of The Moon album… It’s one of those things I’ve always been curious about but never done.

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