- The Hollow Men
"The Hollow Men" (1925) is a major poem by
T. S. Eliot, a Nobel Prizewinning modernist poet. Its themes are, like many of Eliot's poems, overlapping and fragmentary, but it is recognized to be concerned with: post-War Europe under the Treaty of Versailles(which Eliot despised--compare ' Gerontion'); the difficulty of hope and religious conversion; and, as some critics argue, Eliot's failed marriage (Vivienne may have been having an affair with Bertrand Russell). [See, for instance, the biographically oriented work of one of Eliot's editors and major critics, Ronald Schuchard.]
The two epigraphs to the poem, "Mistah Kurtz - he dead" and "A penny for the Old Guy", are allusions to
Joseph Conrad's " Heart of Darkness" and to Guy Fawkes, attempted arsonist of the English house of Parliament, and his straw-man effigy that is burned each year in the United Kingdomon Bonfire Night.
Some critics read the poem as told from five perspectives, each representing a phase of the passing of a
soulinto one of death's kingdoms ("death's dream kingdom", "death's twilight kingdom", and "death's other kingdom"), Eliot describes how we, the living, will be seen by "those who have crossed with direct eyes... not as lost violent souls, but only as the hollow men — stuffed men." The image of eyes figures prominently in the poem, notably in one of Eliot's most famous lines "Eyes I dare not meet in dreams". Such eyes are also generally accepted to be in reference to Dante's Beatrice (see below).
The poet depicts figures, "gathered on the beach of [a] tumid river" — drawing considerable influence from Dante's third and fourth
cantos of the " Inferno" which describes Limbo, the first circle of Hell- showing man in his inability to cross into Hell itself or to even beg redemption, unable to speak with God. Dancing "round a prickly pear," the figures worship false gods, recalling children and reflecting Eliot's interpretation of Western culture after World War I.
stanzamay be the most quoted of all of Eliot's poetry;
:"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 last line alludes to, amongst some talk of war, the actual end of the
Gunpowder Plotmentioned at the beginning: not with its planned bang, but with Guy Fawkes's whimper, as he was caught, tortured and executed on the gallows. Some critics, particularly Helen Gardner, have also pointed out a (perhaps un-Eliotic) note of hope insofar as that 'whimper' could be interpreted as the sound of a new-born.
Perhaps most revealing, though, is Eliot's response, a 'no', when asked if he would write these lines again:
One reason is that while the association of the H-bomb is irrelevant to it, it would today come to everyone's mind. Another is that he is not sure the world will end with either. People whose houses were bombed have told him they don't remember hearing anything. ['T. S. Eliot at Seventy, and an Interview with Eliot' in "Saturday Review". Henry Hewes. 13 September 1958 in "Grant" p. 705]
Other significant references include the
Lord's Prayerand Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar".
Relation to Eliot's career
Allen Tate, reviewing Eliot’s new volume in 1926, perceived a shift in Eliot’s method and noted that, ‘'The mythologies disappear altogether in "The Hollow Men"’—a striking claim for a poem as indebted to Dante as anything else in Eliot’s early work, to say little of the modern English mythology — the ‘Old Guy [Fawkes] ’ of the Gunpowder Plot—or the colonial and agrarian mythos of Conrad and Frazer, which, at least for reasons of textual history, echoes " The Waste Land". ["T. S. Eliot: the Critical Heritage". Michael Grant ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982] The ‘continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity’ that is so characteristic of his mythical method remains in fine form. ["'Ulysses", Order, and Myth.' "Selected Essays" T. S. Eliot (orig 1923)] Yet Tate is right to point that the practice of this method has indeed changed. Moving away from the bathos and ironic deflation of Eliot’s earlier work, the mocking juxtapositions of Tiresiasand the figure of the (sexually, spiritually) exhausted typist have disappeared, leaving the pathos of mental and spiritual exhaustion to deepen even beyond ‘What the Thunder Said’ — "The Hollow Men", as Eliot once put it to Pound, was ‘post-Waste’. ["A guide to The Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot", 6th edition ed. B. C. Southam.] (This is not to say that such ironic juxtaposition does not happen at all — it does, for instance, occur in each chorus, which seems variably to be made of ‘the hollow men’ and children at play — but this, too, is used to amplify the new emphasis of the poetry.) Rather than enriching a single plane of existence — "The Waste Land", for all its mythic expansions, is, like "Ulysses", ultimately grounded in the life of a particular city — "The Hollow Men" is one of the earliest poems to seriously attempt the ‘doubleness’ of action that Eliot later called characteristic of ‘poetic drama’:
‘We sometimes feel, in following the words and behavior of some of the characters of Dostoevsky, that they are living at once on the plane we know and on some other place of reality from which we are shut out.’ [‘John Marston.’ "Selected Essays" T. S. Eliot (1934)]
If "The Waste Land"’s
London, then, shaped by a comparison to Dante’s Limbo(‘I had not thought death had undone so many’), it remains an imaginary, ‘Unreal’ London, but a London nonetheless. The ‘doubleness’ of "The Hollow Men", both London and Limbo with its ‘tumid river’ and its ‘wind’s singing’, brings the worldly and the religious into a poetry whose spiritual pregnancy seems well aligned with Eliot’s conversion soon after.
This period was, in various ways, a kind of extended ‘
dark night of the soul’. He was struggling with the failure of " Sweeney Agonistes" —‘...even Pound thought it might now be “too late” for him’ ["T. S. Eliot: A Life." Peter Ackroyd. NYC: Simon and Shuster, 1984. p. 147] —and his relations to his estranged wife, Vivienne, were continuing to disintegrate; and, since critics like Edmund Wilson, reviewing "Ash Wednesday" in 1930, could look back on "The Hollow Men" as ‘the nadir of the phase of despair and desolation’, it is all too tempting to look for expressions of the biographical moment in the poem. [Article in Grant] Indeed, some, like Bernard Bergonzi, have seen elements of the ‘process poem’ in it: ‘it has the teasing fascination of an almost-erased inscription’; the failed religious conversion echoing Eliot’s failed play and, perhaps, failed marriage vows. ["T. S. Eliot." Bernard Bergonzi. London: Macmillan, 1972]
Eliot, of course, did convert soon after; things could only get just so bad with Vivienne; and he was, finally, able to take much from "Sweeny Agonistes": Peter Ackroyd suggests that its dramatic form contributed to the clearer, simpler imagism and the ‘uncomplicated accentual meter’ of "The Hollow Men". [See entry in Grant] And, if many critics read "The Hollow Men" as the conclusion to Eliot’s "Inferno"—with "Ash Wednesday" beginning the "Purgatorio"—it is interesting that
Ronald Bush, after a study of the textual sources, finds something of the " Vita Nuova" here: ‘Psychologically, the drama moves downward from resistance to submission, but spiritually it moves upward from proud isolation through humility to a thirst for divine love.’ ["T. S. Eliot: A Study in Character and Style." Ronald Bush. (1983)] This interpretation assumes, of course, that the eyes ‘I dare not meet in dreams’ are an echo of Dante’s Beatrice, spied but avoided because of shame across the lost Edenic waters in the "Purgatorio".
The poem was first published as now known on
November 23, 1925, in Eliot's "Poems: 1909-1925". Eliot was known to collect poems and fragments of poems to produce new works. This is clearest to see in his poems "The Hollow Men" and "Ash-Wednesday" where he incorporated previously published poems to become sections of a larger work. In the case of "The Hollow Men" four of the five sections of the poem were previously published:
* "Poème," published in the Winter 1924 edition of "Commerce" (with a French translation,) became Part I of "The Hollow Men".
* "Doris's Dream Songs" in the November 1924 issue of "Chapbook" had the three poems: "Eyes that I last saw in tears", "The wind sprang up at four o'clock", and "This is the dead land." The third poem became Parts III of "The Hollow Men".
* Three Eliot poems appeared in the January, 1925 issue of his "Criterion" magazine: "Eyes I dare not meet in dreams", "Eyes that I last saw in tears", and "The eyes are not here". The first poem became Part II of "The Hollow Men" and the third became Part IV.
* Additionally, the March 1925 of "Dial" published "The Hollow Men", I-III which was finally transformed to "The Hollow Men" Parts I, II, and IV in "Poems: 1909-1925".
(Publication information from Gallup [Gallup, Donald. "T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (A Revised and Extended Edition)" pp. 33, 210-11 (Harcourt Brace & World 1969)] )
Influence in culture
*The poem is referenced in
Alan Moore's " V for Vendetta" graphic novelwhere Guy Fawkes is the inspiration for the character V.
Nevil Shutenovel, "On the Beach", takes its name from the second stanza of Part IV of the poem.
Stephen King's Dark Tower series contains countless references to The Hollow Men, as well as The Waste Land (most prominently the title of the 3rd book in the series, which is The Waste Lands). King also makes reference to this poem in Pet Sematary"Or maybe someone who had escaped from Eliot's poem about the hollow men. I should have been a pair of ragged claws," the latter sentence of which is taken from Eliot's poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
*The last line was used in the title of an anthology of short stories in which the world ends, "Bangs and Whimpers".
Dean Koontz's novel, " The Taking" contains lines that are heavily influenced by this poem.
Sharon Kay Penman's novel " Falls the Shadow," recounting the life and career of Simon de Montfort, takes its title from this poem.
The Hollow Men (book)by Nicky Hager presumably takes its name from this poem.
Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shorecontains parts of the poem.
Louise Lawrence's apocalyptic novel Children of the Dustcontains a reference to the last stanza of the poem.
Meg Rosoff's book Just In Casethat is about a boy and his imminent doom contains the last stanza of the poem and is used in reference to losing his virginity.
*"The Hollow Men" were a neo-psychedelic rock band from Manchester, England who rode the
Madchestersound to US college radio success in the early 1990's
*Eliot's poem was the inspiration for "The Hollow Men", a piece for trumpet and orchestra by composer
*The song "Hollow Again" by the
Christian rockband Project 86is based on this poem and the line "This is the way the world ends" is repeated many times.
*The song "
Meant to Live" written by Switchfootlead singer Jon Foremanand his brother Tim Foremanis based largely on this poem. [http://www.landofbrokenhearts.org/LetdownSongStories.htm]
*The song "
Young Shields" written by Casiotone for the Painfully Alonefrontman Owen Ashcroftis a modern interpretation of this poem.
*The song "Longtime" by the band EMF samples T. S. Eliot's reading of this poem.
*The song "The Shadow" by
Devo(Total Devo, 1988) contains the lines, "Between the emotion/And the response/Falls the Shadow"
*Sections of the poem are used in the song "The Straw" by musical group
Idiot Fleshon their album "Fancy".
*The song "The Chemicals Between Us" by
Gavin Rossdaleand his band, Bush (band)featured the line "we're of the Hollow Men, we are the naked ones"
*The song "Thine is the Kingdom" by Greek metal band
Rotting Christcontains Part III and Part V of the poem.
*The song "Hollow Men" by Minneapolis post punk group
Rifle Sportquotes extensively from the poem.
*Jazz Saxophonist, Paul Desmond ("Take Five") parodied The Hollow Men in the following quote: Of Vogue fashion models, he said, "Sometimes they go around with guys who are scuffling -- for a while. But usually they end up marrying some cat with a factory. This is the way the world ends, not with a whim but a banker."
*The song "Hollow men" on the album "Doppleganger" by the group Daniel Amos in 1983
*The song "Perineum Millennium" by
Tim Minchinwas heavily influenced by T. S. Eliot.
*The song "No Homeowners" by
Twin Cities hip hopartist Sims contains the lyric (rapped by fellow Doomtreemember Dessa): 'It goes thanks, T.S., but the world ends like this / Not a bang, not a whimper, but a sibilant hiss.'
*The song "Beast" by Riverside Lawn-based band Tusk takes all of its lyrics from Eliot's poem and ends with the line "Not with a bang, but with a whimper."
*The song "Black Tower" from the Halo 3 soundtrack, when played backwards, has a paraphrased stanza from "The Hollow Men".
*The song "Greenwood" by folk band Peter, Paul, and Mary contains the line "Is this then the whimper and the ending?"
*The song "Lips That Would Kiss Form Prayers to Broken Stone" by the Durutti Column, (Factory Benelux FBN 2), is an elegiac response to the death of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. The title is a quotation from the poem.
*The Cult penned the song "Hollow Man" on their LOVE album.
*John Cooper Clarke's poem "Psycle Sluts Parts I & II" ends with the lines "or the burger joint around the bend, where the meals thank Christ are skimpy; for you that's how the world could end, not with a bang but a Wimpy."
*The last line of the poem is referenced in
Amanda Palmer's song Strength Through Music, based on the Columbine Shootings. [http://www.theshadowbox.net/forum/index.php?topic=4987.msg107083#msg107083]
Film, television and gaming
*Eliot's poem was also a strong influence on
Francis Ford Coppolaand the movie " Apocalypse Now". In the film, antagonist Colonel Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando) is depicted reading parts of the poem out loud to his followers. Furthermore, in the Complete DossierDVD release of the film, there is a 17 minute special feature of Kurtz reciting the poem in its entirety. The poem's epigraph is "Mistah Kurtz - he dead" which is a quote from Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", upon which the film is loosely based.
*The BBC science-fiction programme "
Doctor Who" references both the "Falls the Shadow" section (the words had also been used previously as the title of a "Doctor Who" novel) and the "This is the Way the World Ends…" conclusion in the 2007 episode " The Lazarus Experiment".
Barry Evans' character in the film "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush" (1967) states "This is the way the world shall end. Not with a bang, but with a Wimpy."
*The final stanza is printed one line at a time at the beginning of the Television production of Stephen King's
The Stand. The poem is also referenced in part by the character who feels responsible for the deadly 'Captain Tripps' virus being unleashed.
*Before the release of , a series of emails were transmitted to a gaming website. The emails contained what would later be known as the
Cortana Letters. In the first transmission, the letter makes reference to Eliot's last stanza when it states: "Oh, and your poet Eliot had it all wrong: THIS is the way the world ends." The cryptic message would be elaborated upon in the game's sequels, another appearance in promotional material for Halo 3, spoken by the character Cortana. The aforementioned scene was included in the final version of the game with Cortana speaking the line at a critical moment in the story when all hope seems lost. Also, the character Gravemind is heard speaking broken-up lines from this poem in the background at various points in Halo 3. Towards the end of the game, Sgt. Johnson states "Send me out with a bang" as he dies. The final section of the last level is titled "The Way the World Ends". Also, there are three reversed messages in the Halo 3 Soundtrack, one of them making reference to lines from the poem.
Metal Gear Solid 2, near the end, the protagonist, Raiden, has a conversation with an A.I. construct about the saturation of information caused by the internet, and other modern communication advancements. The A.I. tells Raiden: "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper."
*The trailer for the 2007 film
Southland Tales, directed by Richard Kelly, plays on the poem stating - "This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper but with a bang". The film also quotes the line a number of times, mostly in voice overs.
*In White Wolf Game Studio's
World of Darknessroleplaying game , the "Hollow Ones" are a Tradition of Mages named after Eliot's poem.
*The poem appears in the PC game
Super Columbine Massacre RPG!during a cutscene in which Dylan Kleboldremembers how he was always the only one sitting alone in the cafeteria.
*In the 1954 movie
A Star Is Born (1954 film) James Mason(as Norman Maine) quotes the poem, saying "This is the way the world ends; not with a bang but with a whimper."
*The Broadway play quotes passages from "The Hollow Men," stating "This is the way the world ends", and "Life is very long."
*The announcement trailer for Halo 3 included the last line where the AI Cortana says it before the trailer ends.
*The lines "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" are employed in the film
Southland Tales, but the last portion is inverted to "Not with a whimper, but with a bang."
Chris Markercreated a 19 minute multimedia piece in 2005 for the Museum of Modern Artin New York titled "Owls At Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men" which was influenced by Eliot's poem.
Acid1test page for web browsers contains the phrase "the world ends" followed by two radio buttons labeled "bang" and "whimper" [ [http://www.w3.org/Style/CSS/Test/CSS1/current/test5526c.htm display/box/float/clear test ] ]
* [http://poetry.poetryx.com/poems/784/ Text of the poem]
* [http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/2005/owls.html Chris Marker's "Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men"]
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