Mistah Kurtz — he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy

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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

53 Comments

  1. Viviana says:

    The poem had such great meaning with hidden religious connotations, which one has to read very carefully and several times to grasp. He is and always be my favorite writer.

  2. John Thompson says:

    Although the poem was written in 1925 its a good reflection of what we are witnessing today in society. Political correctness is the standard not the real feelings. Hollow Man is such a person. They stand for nothing and go with the wind. No fabric in their character. I believe Mr Eliot was seeing many such persons and saw a great loss to our society and that greatness could not be achieved but such people. Great poem and gives much to think about with its ending”not with a bang but a whimper”. Is that what we want?

  3. Michael says:

    This poem conveys many deep thought about life and death that have been explored many times over, but no answer has been found.

  4. romeo marafiote says:

    A great deal of thinking needed here.

  5. Curious Thoughts says:

    I’m not sure how many even paid attention to it, but at the very begining, “Mistah Kurtz – he dead” is a direct reference to Mr. Kurtz from The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Likewise, “a penny for the Old Guy” is a reference to Guy Fawkes (for those of you not familiar with British history or the tradition of Guy Fawkes Day, google search it because I don’t feel like explaining it). Both of these men had “direct eyes”, that is, they knew what they wanted and how to get to their goal (however much they failed) and both went out with a “bang” (Kurtz: “The horror, the horror!” and Guy Fawkes was executed, I believe). I believe Eliot is commenting on reality in this poem. For most people, their voices are “dry” and never heard. Also, most people don’t die in a truly exceptional way, no matter what we’d like to believe. Usually, they die an insignificant death – like a “whimper”.
    If you don’t agree with my interpretation, well, that’s the beauty of Free Will. Either way, hopefully the historical and literary background information helped.

  6. CK says:

    Here’s an Australian theatre group’s interesting, psychedelic musical take on this hauntingly beautiful poem by Eliot.

    http://www.ponytone.com/2007/12/pageant-theatre-hollow-men-here-we-go.html

  7. Michael says:

    Not only was World War I NOT in the 1920’s (1914 to 1918), it was hardly unilaterally opposed like Vietnam was. Germany asked Mexico to join them to make war against us, and that pissed us off. Not many Americans opposed to pre-empting a direct and open threat from a foreign empire.

    Anyway, this poem is incredible. Its beauty lies in its words and its rhythm The utter hopelessness it conveys is chilling. I don’t think you really need to understand the history to appreciate it.

  8. Peter says:

    Did someone say WWI was the Vietnam of the twenties? You should probably check the dates of that war and the geography. And really while your at it do you know your address? Or where your wallet is? Or your first name for that matter?

  9. Liz says:

    I beg to differ. You’ve only read the poem but you never actually learned it. It’s a beautiful piece of literature which questions both humanity and the reader’s faith.
    Calling something “gay” just because you’re too dimwitted to understand it does not make you any smarter.
    Try actually reading the poem if you’d like. It’s not half bad once you understand it.

  10. sarah says:

    i didnt like this poem at all it was gay soorry

  11. Angela says:

    LOLLI,
    You’re right about there being know war in the poem itself “except the battle that rages within.” But if you look at the time period in which the poem was published, WWI had just ended and, if you’d read up on it in a history book, you’d find that americans had really mixed feelings about the war. We felt like there was no point to it and the whole thing was totally uncalled for. It was the Vietnam of the 20’s. And sense it was that big, a lot of poets and writers felt they needed to publish America’s feelings. So while there’s no actual war in the poem, Eliot’s most definitely refering to the feelings of the nation.

  12. Flash says:

    I think it is pertaining to bulldogs. Hollllyyy with ease. T.S. Eliot is non gay.

  13. TheHollowMen says:

    I love this poem.It is used well in HALO I love the ending.This is how the world ends.
    And Realy Good poem.love it.:)

  14. Richie says:

    A masterpiece of language and visual imagination. My feeling is that the poem is a commentary on the loss in the 20th Century of faith, morality, and God. This leads to unimaginable horrors and entropy, and the slow decline and fall of our society into chaos.

  15. Stephen J. says:

    This poem was so great I cried myself to sleep and when I woke up I was still crying.

  16. Eric says:

    I’m a trumpet player music major in college. Im performing a piece called “The Hollow Men” by Vincent Persichetti. This piece was written for this poem, or after it. It is available on Itunes (search the hollow men and download the song by Anthony Plog). The song, like the poem, is gorgeous. It is very much like the poem, and I find it interesting. Check it out, it is definately worth the download.

  17. d de bellis says:

    because we are a society of prufrocksie effete and feckless we shall be unable to take meaningful action to resolve our problems therefore our world will devolve to nothing not with a big nuclear bomb blast but with a gradual descent into incivility and chaos

  18. yasmeen ahmad zaghab says:

    althogh eliots poem is about hollow men but its full of meanings to all of us that they are tiered and helpless becouse of the domination of the materialestic aspects in this time ,the modern time

  19. TRACI says:

    this poem was really neat it expresses him

  20. patricia Ingram says:

    While reading some of the comments of others, thought I’d add mine..This is a time after World War I,a depression is going on, Eliot is skeptical about man kind. Everyone seems to be lost, empty, void of certain fellings. They can’t seem to be able to make the right decisions concerning behavior, morality and perhaps mortality. Religion seems to play a part because he sees man as being unable to be a good soul, unable to look into God’s eyes. This is our new world purgatory…lost..no hope..

  21. Jennifer Arbutina says:

    I’m researching this poem for an AP English class at my high school. I must say that it took me awhile to uncover this poem’s true meaning. But once I did, I must say that I absolutely loved it. The whole thing about the scarecrow was really amusing and familiar because recently I had participated in The Wiz which was my high school musical and I really good friends with the scarecrow. But besides that I truly believe this poem tackles some serious material which should be truly read in-between the lines to truly understand it.

  22. LOLLI says:

    THE HOLLOW MEN ARE NOT HOLLOW BECAUSE OF WAR!!! There is no war in this poem… except the battle that rages within. The hollow men are the people who decided not to live! Within the idea and the motion of fulfilling that idea falls a shadow… they never accomplish anything because of that in in doing so, they never LIVE!!! that is why they are hollow. In addition, this does relate to Prufrock’s ( I don’t think I spelled that right) inability to complete life adding to his inability to live.

  23. Katie says:

    This poem is directly connected to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Both poems parallel the hopelessness of society, how change is wanted, but cannot occur, because the people in the poems are languid. I dunno if that’s exactly right, we studied both of these poems together in my English class….and my answer isn’t exactly right, but if you read both of them, they are similar in many aspects.

  24. Square Nothing says:

    The ending sounds like a System of a Down song… FISTFISTFIST!!!

  25. Johnny Appleseed says:

    This poem is clearly a symbol for Eliot’s scarecrow fetish.

  26. scot says:

    I think it’s describing scarecrows.

  27. Karen says:

    Nursery rhymes are included in this poem in which it emphasizes how much the society has fallen from faith and religion.

  28. Jade says:

    I have some background that might help with the understanding of the poem. I took the information from my literature book (The Norton Anthology of American Literature). The line “Mistah Kurtz–he dead.” is a quotation from the Heart of Darkness, by Joseph jungle as an official of a trading company and degenerated into an evil, tyrannical man. His dying words were “the horror!” The line “A penny for the Old Guy” refers to a person, Guy Fawkes, who led a group of conspirators who planned to blow up the English House of Commons in 1605; he was caught and executed before the plan was carried out. On the day of his execution (Nov. 5) children make straw effigies of the “guy” and beg for pennies for fireworks. I wonder if that is where line 4 “Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!” gets the straw reference as well. Line 64 “Multifoliate rose” is a reference to Part 3 of The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri which is a vision of paradise. The soulds of the saved in heaven range themselves around the deity in the figure of a “multifoliate rose” (Paradiso 28.30). Well, I hope it helped.

  29. Liz says:

    I really enjoyed this poem despite being kinda confused. I understand the Heart of Darkness referrences and the circles of Hell but I’m not really sure what the point of the nursery rhyme is? any guesses?

  30. Double Bubble says:

    I had done this poet for a poetry project when I was in school. I had happed to stumble upon this poem and found it suitable enough to be analyzed for my paper. I believe that T.S. Eliot is talking about the effects war has on human beings. The men come back hollow(feeling empty and without emotion) and regretting that their lives were spared over others. The men feel that there’s no point in continuing on a morbid path to your death. They will always feel sad and remember how traumatizing undergoing the events of war were. There are some parts in the poem that do relate to religion but I rather not go into the complexities of explianing the poem piece by piece. I only wish you could enjoy his poetry as much as I do.

  31. chris mccomb says:

    In T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”, and in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the reader is confronted by an unsavory view of humanity. Both Fitzgerald and Eliot show that society is constantly de-evolving, both morally and spiritually. There are numerous similarities between these two works. However, the differences in the author’s view of modern life distinguish these as two unique and original pieces.
    The diction of both authors is extremely precise. This precision of diction leads to the effective conveyance of all other literary conventions, and thus, the authors’ styles. In “The Hollow Men”, the diction initially appears muddled. This is because the reader does not accept the ideas that Eliot is trying to convey. The passage “In this valley of dying stars | In this hollow valley | This broken jaw of our lost kingdom”(Eliot, lines 54-56) might lead the reader to try to work out some type of muddled metaphor. The diction in this passage is intended only to evoke strong feelings associated with “broken jaw”, “hollow valley” and “dying stars”. Fitzgerald’s diction, on the other hand is made clear solely through his precise use of words: “It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.” Every word is used in its accurate and literal definition to complete the dramatic effect.
    Symbolism is used extensively throughout the works of Fitzgerald and Eliot and assists us in comprehending their style. In “The Hollow Men” almost every word is linked to some symbol of moral downfall. This symbolic density leads to a feeling of symbolic intensity. Eliot packs the repeated symbolic meaning in a hope that some of it will be remembered. Correct moral action is composed not only of action, but also of ‘seeing’ what is correct, ‘speaking’ the truth. The passage “The eyes are not here| There are no eyes here| Inn this valley of dying stars| In this hollow valley| This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms” shows that modern people are incapable of seeing what the correct course of action is (“There are no eyes here…”) and also incapable of speaking correctly of their fellows (“This broken jaw…”). The “lost kingdom” might pertain to the kingdom that existed when morality was still present in daily life. The symbolism in The Great Gatsby is much more sparse, but it is still just as intense when it is presented. The symbolic Valley of Ashes is described early in the book and is recurs several times. This Valley is described as “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” People who live in the Valley might start out full of life, but soon have their vitality sucked from them. This can be interpreted as symbolic of the times in which we live, where a man might start out life full of morals and faith, but soon has them sucked from him by the ethical vacuum of modern society.
    The undertones of both works were surprisingly similar when one considers the diversity of the works themselves. One could interpret the undertone of The Great Gatsby as futility. This is justified by the activities, traits, and backgrounds of all of the characters in the book. Every character, whether their early life was uncorrupt or not, became imperfect. Gatsby, for example, began life as a hard worker, who was aiming to reform the world, “ ‘Jimmy was bound to get ahead…Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind?’ ” (Mr. Gatz to Nick), but ended his life as a mobster chasing an unattainable dream. Even Wilson, a seemingly perfect character, showed his imperfection when he killed himself and Gatsby. When it seems that every person is bound for downfall, it is futile even to try. The undertone of “The Hollow Men” is slightly different, but similarly meaningful. It is the idea of waste as represented by the Shadow. “Between the idea |and the reality| between the motion| and the act| falls the Shadow” The shadow falls between the idea and the reality, and thus stops the reality from occurring. The idea is then wasted, because it was not brought to an active fruition. An alternate undertone for “the Hollow Men” is the same one as in The Great Gatsby: futility. Most people desire to end their lives with a bang, to go out swinging. Nobody wants to end his or her life with a whimper. Thus if “This is the way the world ends| Not with a bang but a whimper” is interpreted as meaning the true end of the individual world, the reader gets a sense of futility.
    Although the undertones were similar, the tones were very different. The overall tone of The Great Gatsby was humanity (or the lack thereof). This was made most clear through the difference in the ‘humanity level’ between East and West Egg. Although no character was morally perfect, there was a marked contrast between East and West Egg. West Egg seems to house characters that have a better concept of humanity. These characters are Nick and Gatsby. They could and did consider other people’s feelings and lives before acting. The inhabitants of East Egg, however, do not concern themselves with others’ feelings. The tone of “The Hollow Men” is death and spirituality. Throughout the poem, various references are made to religion and death. The “multifoliate rose” on line 64 is a reference to “Dante Paradisio”. Toward the end of “The Hollow Men”, several references are made to the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom…. For Thine is the kingdom…For Thine is…For Thine is the…”.
    Another difference between the styles of Fitzgerald and Eliot is their use of imagery. In The Great Gatsby ‘sugar-coated’ imagery is more common than images that show corruption. Most of the images that show the modern society as a farce are associated with the Valley of Ashes: “occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades…”. These ‘dirty images’ are never near East or West Egg. The Eggs exist to show a superficial splendor that is so gaudy it appears sickly. The imagery in “The Hollow Men” is much more intense. Instead of being superficial splendor interspersed with glimpses of the underlying decay, it is an almost uninterrupted view of decay and darkness. From the beginning of the poem Eliot presents the reader with dark images: “Or rats’ feet over broken glass | in our dry cellar”. The images are carried through all the way to the end with “Falls the Shadow” and “This is the way the world ends”.
    Although the points of view that the authors express are nearly identical, there is one fundamental difference. In Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”, nobody is specifically exempt from being considered hollow; everyone is included under “We are the hollow men…”. However, in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald leaves room for redemption. Throughout most of the story, the reader is presented with the idea that nobody is perfect, or even incorruptible. Near the end, however, when Mr.Gatz produces the young Jay Gatsby’s copy of Hopalong Cassidy, it becomes apparent that children have the capacity to be non-corrupt and pure. Indeed, the younger Gatsby had aimed to improve the world as well as himself. When we are presented with this idea of blissful and blessed childhood, it carries with it the promise of adult fruition. That is the one fundamental difference between Eliot and Fitzgerald. Eliot originally presented the idea of a corrupt modern society. Fitzgerald was inspired by Eliot and added one important idea to the mix: hope. And through that hope a promise of blessed triumph on “one fine morning”.

  32. Déborrah says:

    This poem has a sense of hopelessness and despair. but it still is intriguing. especially its connections to other writings, and what was going on at that time. lets not forget this was written during the modernism mov’t.

    (by the way, I put US as my country cuz i couldnt find Haïti)

  33. Craig says:

    Just to correct something:
    “For thine is the Kingdom” is not the first line of the Lord’s Prayer; rather, it’s the fourth-last. The first line is “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

  34. John says:

    I believe that the siginificance of the first line of the Lord’s prayer are the hollow men trying to ask God for forgiveness. They keep trying to pray to him but are unable to get past the first line because they dont actually believe in what they are saying.

  35. Lee says:

    As always the a poem can be analysed anyway, but i also feel that this poem has a Post Trench War feel. The hollow men are those ravaged by the horrors, but have survived. They wander the carnage dazed and horrified. They too should have died. There are much references to “Deaths other kingdom”, and they feel that they are in some horrible purgatory after the neverending war. The second half of the poem deals with thoughts on religion and spirtualsim; after all, how can there be a god if he allows such destruction? They try to remember the Lords prayer, but only get so far as “For thine is the Kingdom”, and the fact that they can never get to the second part “The power and the glory” shows they feel there is no God and beleive in nothing. And this is how the world ends, not with a bang from the war, but the desolation and the lack of spiritualism (theyre hollow now, if you will). I like to think. Its a powerful reminder on war that all governments should recall before going to war. Hint hint.

  36. Brandon says:

    This poem also deals a bit with disillusionment after WWI. Eliot’s line at the end of section 2, “behaving as the wind behaves”, can be connected with the world’s belief that great things would happen after the war and in reality the post-war era included nothing but sadness. you can hear the wind, but you can’t see it

  37. Kid says:

    to SN –
    The Shadow falls between the idea/reality, motion/act, not ambiguously amoung these concepts. The idea is what is worshipped, the concept thrown out. The motion is worshipped, the act carelessly discarded. The fifth section, at least, is a direct reference to religion (for thine is the kingdom, etc.), and what he is trying to tell us about religion is that it is focusing in the wrong places (the shadow). The poem makes absolutely direct connections to religion, and whether or not there are other things in it about war or sexuality, the religious references are there. Also, no one yet has commented on the fact that the world ends in a whimper. If it was referencing war, the world would end in a bang. The world ends in a whimper because of these peoples screwed up beliefs and lack of testicles. They choose to not pursue their own religious beliefs, so they wind up following other hollow men into nothingness.

  38. Samuel says:

    I have been rather depressed by the Mr. Neilsen comment concerning “sexual context” in the poem. Well, it certainly is freudian-like but apart from agreeing with the comment about reading Konrad’s novel, I’d also like to add that from my point of view the poem also has to do with Dante’s Inferno, since these are not “lost violent souls” but “the hollow men, the stuffed men”, though, naturally, Dante is not enough to be able to appreciate Eliot’s poetry properly. As for “freudian” comments, I think that they merely simplify things, thus leaving interpreters no chance to really understand poetry or anything else. The comment in question shows quite explicitly how a philosophical masterpiece may be spoiled by a careless reader.

  39. Kyle Christopherson says:

    Most all of you are truly missing the point. The true concepts of these poem cannot be percieved without reading Joseph Conrads, “Heart of Darkness”. This poem is an allusion to this book in every way. The Hollow Men is refering to all men in the world who live their lives with no purpose except to pursue money and waste their lives. These are the Hollow Men, on their trip to the after life, finally realizing where they went wrong; but it is already too late. Although this poem an apply to all men, Eliot probably was refering to the main characters of Heart of Darkness, such as Marlow.

  40. M. Kline says:

    Although, I dare not guess what Eliot was thinking, as I try to see meaning in this work, I see someone talking about the desparity of waking up on the wrong side of the afterlife. Notice, how death’s other Kingdom is capitalized, while when speaking of the kingdom he finds himself in, there is no capitalization. The constant use of the word “death” seems to suggest we are in afterlife discussion here. 🙂

  41. Stephen Neilsen says:

    The poem shows Eliots personal struggle with the concept of love in a sexual context. The shadow about which he speaks is his shame, he cannot love in a sexual way as he sees sex as an idea, reality motion and act, conception, creation, desire and spasm, potency, essence and descent.
    Whether he was impotent, premature or celibate or just scared is neither apparent or of any consequence, it is his reading of the act that ties this poem together and makes it so powerfull.

    SN

  42. Erin says:

    Throughout this poem, I find a sense of helplessness and insecurity. Everything seems to be a mystery not only for the reader but also for the protagonist as well. Yet through the hoplessness, there is a sense that there is more to life than just fragments of what was left behind. There’s more to live for!

  43. john says:

    I love that show!

  44. Jeremy says:

    I think a lot of you guys are missing the epigram at the top of the poem: “Mistah Kurtz — he dead.” This is a quote from the novel Heart of Darkness. Eliot wants you to keep this book in mind while reading his poem, and the book doesn’t have anything to do with any World Wars or even America.

  45. jason says:

    this poem reminds my of my huge genitals…amazing

  46. Twiggy says:

    I think the poem is depicting how men, especially war veterans, feel when they have no purpose or meaning in their lives. They feel empty or “hollow”, and they don’t want the “eyes” to look at them, or even look back at them, because it would only reflect the pain and emptiness in their souls. Just a thought.

  47. Simone says:

    The hollow men was written in 1925 after the World War. Eliot seems to be using imagery to reflect a post war society. The world at this time was just recovering from the war and many felt that the death of many was for nothing, and caused the people to have a sense of liflessness, and lack of connection between two people. This is clearly what Eliot is trying to depict.

  48. Mark says:

    This is the situation to which romanticism in poerty and idealism in philosophy have brought Eliot.

  49. Tohru says:

    becuse he was American when he wrote this. what happened afterward doesnt matter. a dead man has no citizenship.

  50. andrewk says:

    I think you’ll find that towards the end of his life Eliot began to denounce his American citizenship. With this in mind I do not understand why he is featured so prominantly on this website as an “American Poet.”

  51. Tim says:

    The poem makes a person think too quickly of insanity, but, I think, when you look, or read, more closely, a truly sane person is revealed in the midst of insanity. It is as if this person, the poem’s protagonist, has seen through the fog of human nature and transcended to a level beyond, where he/she looks back at us and see how screwed up we still are.

  52. carla says:

    it’a a difficult poem but the reference to the Grail myth clarifies it a bit. I like the final part where quotations, phrases, songs and visions are added one to the next without apparent cohesion. How could a poet who wanted to show the fragmentation od thwe modern world write a well written poem?
    There’s more. Eliot says ” these fragments I have shored against my ruins” isn’t it clear? Carla from Italy

  53. Melissa L says:

    This is one of my favorite poems of all times. I fell in love with it when my highschool teacher read it to us in class. I’m surprised there are no comments on this yet.

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