The poem’s first section begins with a reference to Kurtz’s death as a required part of the poem’s beginning. To begin, Elliot establishes a contrast between the hollow and stuffed men. To be hollow would mean that something is empty, while to be stuffed would imply that something is overflowing. The hollow men are unimportant and useless. The author suggests, in figurative terms, that he and other hollow men have their headpieces packed with straw. According to Foster (567), this is a sign of a mind overflowing with nonsense, absurd ideas that leave men bare. Their present condition is the product of everything that has happened to them. For instance, they suggest leaning together as a symbol of surrender or prayer, and as a result of it, their voices have become dried and quieted whispers that are meaningless. The contradiction is paradoxical since it is expected that voices have words yet for them there is silence even in prayer. Between lines 8 to 10, the voices of hollow men are compared to wind having no effect on dry grass.
In the next stanza, shape without form is contradictory since the two words are almost synonymous with a slight difference. Because shape is more external and form having both internal and external elements, shape without form of the hollow men would indicate they can be distinguished from the externalities but from inside no difference. Shade without color would mean the futility and meaninglessness of trying to perceive things externally but does not bring the intended results. The situation is further explained by the paralyzed force which implies that although force has the power to bring change, it is seen to be immobilized suggesting stasis and permanence of the current situation (Tearle 92). No effort will change the circumstance.
The final stanza talks about another group apart from the hollow men, those who have crossed to death’s other kingdom. This action in the past with the effects continues to the present indicates that this these individuals have gone to another reality that is associated with death. These gone seem to correlate with the hollow men, and the kingdom of death would imply the vulnerability of the hollow men despite their seemingly religious activities.
In the first stanza, the eyes are introduced as a critical symbol in this part. The eyes are a source of fear because one of the hollow men does not dare to meet them in dreams. If he dared, they would produce an element of horror. These eyes are horrific given that they have traveled the secret path of death’s other kingdom which is full of despair and terror. In this stanza, the death’s other kingdom is identified as a dreamland. Now it is evident that the kingdom is not real but imaginary. It is a product of consciousness, and it seems that that kingdom is distance from the speaker in the poem. The metaphor in verse 22 sheds more light on the current situation by stating that the eyes are like sunlight on a broken column. Instead of the sunlight illuminating by its strength, it just reflects on a column that is broken, a symbol of fallen glory (Baseer, Alvi and Zafran 2011). The sunlight bounces off the column adding to the condition in part 1 of meaninglessness and futility.
Death’s dream kingdom is further expounded using the metaphor of a tree swinging there. This tree instead of swinging to and fro is only able to sway. Line 25-28 stating of the wind singing implies that the trees are swinging in no apparent direction, thus meaningless. The singing more distance is adding to the silent voices in the first part and eventually inaudible. The usage of a fading star being solemn indicates the losing value of the singing voices quieter. The situation seems to be deteriorating in death’s dream kingdom, and the hollow men’s prayers seem unheard and thus unanswerable.
The following stanza expresses the desires of the speaker that he does not want to come nearer to the death’s dream kingdom. This is just a reflection and not addressed to anybody in particular since the speaker is afraid of meeting those eyes that depict horror (Baseer, Alvi, and Zafran 2011). Those eyes in the twilight kingdom are something the author would desire to distance himself from. The twilight kingdom is connected with the fading star indicating the approaching darkness as a result of reducing light. Here, we see the surreal kingdom is also darkening.
In the next verses, the author continues to express his desires of wearing a deliberate disguise (line 31-32). These clothing of disguise are worn in addition to not being near. The choice of the clothes to be worn is intentional and intentional for a given purpose like going for a particular journey maybe in preparation for the darkness that is at hand. It also prepares him such that he goes unnoticed particularly by the horrific eyes he stated earlier. It is no wonders that the clothes are absurd comprising of crowskin, rat’s coat and crossed starves. The imagery here is that of a scarecrow with animal furs of a crow and a rat. This adds to the status of the hollow men who are now compared to scarecrows which are immobile with a sense of humanity only seen from the outside but inward are empty and soul-lacking. Despite this clothing and preparation, the author fears the ultimate.
In this part, the speaker is finally in the death’s dream kingdom since he moves from calling it there to here. However, the situation is as bad, and the desolate land is compared to the desert by the use of cactus, a vegetation known to thrive in dry areas. It is the dead land and is characterized with hopelessness and barrenness. The speaker describes himself as being under the twinkle of a fading star maybe to indicate he feels under the scrutiny of a higher authority like God. In fact, because of this description, the speaker wonders if he is in death’s other kingdom. He seemed alone and detached from other hollow men, but all men are trembling with tenderness. Here an element of affection and fondness that has not existed before is introduced. Astoundingly, the lips have even gained their power, and they can now kiss even the inanimate objects like the stones and prayers depicting the existence of love as Maxwell (2) notes. Sadly, this actions indicates the desolation of the land such that the desire to express love to another human being goes unmet another form of paralyzed force.
In this section, the anticipated eyes are absent in death’s dream kingdom. In fact, the hollow realize that there are no eyes there including their own and as such are blind and unable to perceive the surrealism of the surrounding in line 61. The drama continues in this land by the existence of dying stars in a valley. The valley is as hollow as the men and is termed as a broken jaw. Maybe depicting the men’s inability to speak but figuratively explaining the remoteness of the place like a black sheep. That is a land that is not easily accessible or explorable. This valley is a shadow of death that makes the men avoid speech and grope in darkness together. This suggestion would imply the possibility of the men parting ways. With the eyes missing, the hollow men’s hope seems futile.
.The last part opens in a nursery hymn of the mulberry bush which is at the prickly pear. The pear alludes to the cactus mentioned earlier one in that desolate and dry land in death’s other land. The nursery song sand by the hollow men occurs at five o’clock in the morning, a song that is characterized with much dancing while holding hands in a circular motion. The timing is important since it indicates a time after dark and the sunrise is approaching. A moment or rejuvenation and a resurrection, one of hope and bouncing back to life and the hollow men getting their strength (Atkins 2013). Nonetheless, the lyrics seem to mock the future hope and instead it is a liturgical ritual of interruption bringing a dramatic change in the poem. The good things seem to be interrupted, and things get back to obscurity. Here it is evident that the hollow men cannot avoid their tragic destiny, not even death’s other kingdom. In the end, it is apparent that man’s departure occurs in a humiliating manner as opposed to a grand departure.
Impact of Different opinions on the Viewer
The people who perceive Elliot’s poem of the hollow men to depict the casualness of God and the vulnerability of human beings live their daily lives with that persuasion such that their pursuits are not wholehearted. Those individuals seeing the susceptibility of humankind in a way allow fate to take center stage such that they do not fight given that there is a power that controls everything. Additionally, these individuals desire death even suicide as life is considered too long only bringing prickly cactus instead of roses. These are people who are pessimistic about life and all things that occur are interpreted with that pessimism. And those people dislike the systems of authority as they are seen as not beneficial but burdensome only to result in miserable death.
Reading and interpreting the poem as one that denotes that death is not as good as people imagine, may as well change a person’s attitude towards overly desiring death. This would be indicated by the fact that in death’s kingdom people don’t talk and eyes don’t see. That makes people appreciate the present world with its difficulties and challenges yet with the opportunity to express love and affection. In that other kingdom, people’s longing for intimacy causes them to kiss the inanimate like stones. As such, a person’s desperate longing for death and negative attitude towards life only makes them miss opportunities. However, with optimism, life can bring greater outcomes leading a person to add value in hope and not allow mortality that is outside their control to bother them.
Atkins, G. TS Eliot and the Failure to Connect: Satire on Modern Misunderstandings. Springer, 2013.
Baseer, Abdul, Sofia Dildar Alvi, and Fariha Zafran. “Foregrounded Irregularities in TS Eliot’s The Hollow Men.” Language in India 11.11 (2011).
Foster, Genevieve W. “The Archetypal Imagery of TS Eliot.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1945): 567-585.
Maxwell, Desmond Ernest Stewart. The poetry of TS Eliot. Vol. 6. Routledge, 2015.
Tearle, Oliver. “HAMLET and TS Eliot’s THE HOLLOW MEN.” The Explicator 70.2 (2012): 92-95.