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 T.S. Eliot's poem The Hollow Men

56 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. Stephen J. says:

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. TRACI says:

    this poem was really neat it expresses him

  7. 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..

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Square Nothing says:

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

  12. Johnny Appleseed says:

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

  13. scot says:

    I think it’s describing scarecrows.

  14. Karen says:

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

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

  18. 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”.

  19. 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)

  20. 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.”

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