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Gilda Pinto

"Hollow Men", an explication

By: Gilda Pinto
College Now Course - HUM 1

Mistah Kurtz-he dead.
A penny for the Old Guy.

Epigraph: I 'm not quite sure how this applies to the poem. I am aware that these are characters from Konrad's Heart of Darkness. The first thought I had was that the setting must have been back in the day, possibly with slaves due to the syntax (mistah). The second line presents this feeling of frivolity for a life. An old guy, worth a penny? There is something a little off about that. An elder person deserves more than that since they have more experience and wisdom. However, if a penny is placed on the old guy, maybe he hasn't been correct in some of his ways, making him worthless.


We are the hollow men
Line 1: We are the empty men, women and children that are still forced to live on. We are the people whose soul has been eroded away by the action of this cruel world. We are desolate in any angle, scraped raw.

We are the stuffed men
Line 2: Life has been taken from us, and now we have been stuffed at the expense of somebody else's hands. We are like dolls; susceptible, gullible, and in the possession of others.

Leaning together
Line3: We hollow men, stick together, hollow men all the same. We only have ourselves to support.

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Line 4: Just realizing I'm a mere scarecrow is a revelation. We are stuffed in the head; we are robbed of intelligence, thought and emotion. We are filled with dry material.

Our dried voices, when
Line 5: The straw has taken place of our natural organs, of our humanity. The straw has taken the sweet essence of my own voice. I am dried out, parched and for no one to hear me.

We whisper together
Line 6: We hollow men, stay together, talk amongst one another, since the real physical people won't. We are just murmurs, distant voices spread out in society's' heads that are only to be blocked out for safety reasons.

Are quiet and meaningless
Line 7: Our voices are small, and never to reach the ears of those who should hear us. Our voices are of no value until they are heard and acknowledged. That is unlikely.

As wind in dry grass
Line 8: Our voices are soft, drift through grass, float among the ripples of water, and pass by the business men in their suits. Our noise, if that's what you can call it, bear no meaning and continue to fly over everyone's minds.

Or rats' feet over broken glass
Line 9: No cares about our voices, just like no one cares for filthy, dirty, rats that walk upon glass and bleed. This grotesque image shows what we have been reduced to. We don't matter.

In our dry cellar
Line 10: Rats are our example because they are the closet thing my brethrens of scarecrow see in our home, the cellar. We are stored here; along with the dust and unnecessary objects.

Shape without form, shade without colour
Line 11: This ambiguous statement is very paradoxical in nature. A scarecrow can have shape but it doesn't necessarily have form. Form would mean substance and these scarecrows that Eliot presents, lack feeling and intellect. Shade is ominous since it keeps things hidden. Shade enhances darkness, vanishing color and life. People are left in the dark if they don't listen to these poor scarecrows.

Paralysed force, gesture without motion.
Line 12: How can a force be paralyzed? A force, like an impetus moves, swift but it may be paralyzed be it ignorance, be it injustice, or simply the inability to move. How can one make a gesture without moving? Maybe it is the lack of movement that is itself a gesture. Maybe it is the silence, or the glare that is the gesture.

Those who have crossed
Line 13: The souls that were once solid men have crossed over to the other side, went to another world, a better world. They are lucky; they are free from this present suffering that the scarecrows are going through.

With direct eyes, to death's other kingdom.
Line 14: The spirits or souls of those who have moved on, are focused on death's other kingdom heaven or hell, we know not. Death's other kingdom may be just another life.

Remember us- -if at all- - not as lost
Line 15: A voice of pleading. A request that although I am aware you have territory to conquer and meetings to attend could you at least do me this little favor and remember me, us, your roots, your being.

Violent souls, but only
Line 16: Remember me not as a bad thought, an evil truth, but just know me as what I am or was. Don't go rummaging through history only to dig up hate.

As the hollow men
Line 17: Repetition brings back importance of being empty, vacuous, possessing nothing of our own but straw.

The stuffed men
Line 18:We are the ones that have been taken control of. We are stuffed and you might be next.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
Line 19: Those intent eyes that stare at death's other kingdom are frightening, I wish not to see them in real life, let alone dreams. Eyes are the keys to the souls, and sometimes a soul should not be violated in that way. Eyes tell the truth, no matter how painful.

In death's dream kingdom
Line 20: Death is being personified. It has an ideal place, a favorite kingdom where it loves to dwell.

These do not appear:
Line 21: I am not sure what does not appear, the eyes? If so, in death's kingdom eyes don't exists because they hold too much information. They bear so much meaning.

There, the eyes are

Line 22: They have now come back. The eye are here, wide open staring ahead.

Sunlight on a broken column
Line 23: The eyes are compared to sunlight on a broken column in this metaphorical line. Columns in Rome represented greatness, a strong balance to hold building up. If columns are broken then they have lost their beauty, value, and stature. Sunlight upon the column can only make the cracks and pieces more visible. They are like scars. The eyes hold in pain and broken promises.

There, is a tree swinging
Line 24: In the distant there is life. Trees don't swing. They bend and conform to the wind. It must be windy on this plain, maybe a storm is coming.

And voices are
Line 25: Voice along with the trees is wavering, shaking, in an uproarious manner. Something is happening, something is coming.

In the wind's singing.
Line 26: Sometimes, wind can pass so swiftly that is creates a whistle sound. That is the singing of the wind. The winds are fierce enough that voices and the swinging of trees are swallowed in it.

More distant and more solemn
Line 27: The wind that has carried our whispers, that distorts trees is "more" far-away and dismal. The wind sweeps through carrying the previous grief of the last place it touched.

Than a fading star
Line 28: Stars are an object of guidance through the dark nights. If they fade, they lose their glow, their purpose and meaning. It will leave you in darkness. The wind is worse than that, Eliot states. The wind is just so far, carrying what needs to be heard with it.

Let me be no nearer
Line 29: Eliot includes many positions; "distant", "there", "here" and now "nearer". Perhaps not be any closer to death's bed, or closer to becoming hollow like the rest of them

In death's dream kingdom
Line 30: I am still not sure of which kingdom Eliot is referring to.

Let me also wear
Line 31: Let me also be prepared! The wearing of clothes is the covering of secrets. Clothes cover our insecurities, they cover our shapes, and they are a tool of civilization. The speaker wants to be covered and hidden (like in the shade).

Such deliberate disguises
Line 32: The speaker wants to wear the appropriate clothing, which will shield him thoroughly from the bitter outside.

Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves

Line 33: He wants to wear the skins of animals that represent evil, filth, and death. May be the speaker needs a disgusting disguise to blend in with the disgusting world that surrounds him, that scares him. After all, he is death's dream kingdom. He doesn't want to die so he'll just camouflage himself.

In a field
Line 34: The dream take place in this are of wide open field, filled with those foreshadowing animals, trees and gusty winds.

Behaving as the wind behaves
Line 35: The wind behaves as it wants. It's an intangible, free spirit on its own. The speaker would like to be just as liberated, here in this dreary place.

No nearer- -
Line 36: This repetition signifies the speakers need to not be any closer to death and heaven and hell. The speaker seems as though he still has some business to finish on earth, not in dreams.

Not that final meeting
Line 37: He hopes that he would never have to go there, go to death, because ultimately that will be the final meeting of his life.

In that twilight kingdom
Line 38: Death's dream kingdom is in twilight. It lies between dimension of space and time. It exists between dusk and dawn. It's always in the obscure, in the middle, so that it never quite began and nor shall it end.


This is the dead land
Line 39: This is where no life can ever prosper. No love can show its face. All is black. All is alone. This is where the hollow men live.

This is the cactus land
Line 40: This land is equivalent to a barren dessert. Where rats and crows may linger. This land has no water or very little, which means there is no room for life.

Here are the stone images
Line 41: Here, I think of ancient religions that worshiped idols. I recall mysticism and Native American - like rituals. "Here", these major stones are next to me.

Are raised, here they receive
Line 42: The stones are erected, to be worshipped and prayed to. The stones seem like the only source of hope in such a wasteland like this.

The supplication of a dead man's hand
Line 43: According to me when I am older, ready to die, it is that time that I will be sorry and afraid, that is the time I will go back to church and ask god to help me. Otherwise I will not kneel or bow to anyone. This is the same theory. A dead man's last request is when he's praying to something or someone for forgiveness of their sins. It is only then that your regular man will plead like a child trying to get out of a whipping.

Under the twinkle of a fading star
Line 44: A fading star leaves man in darkness. A fading star is light falling away, like you slipping closer to death. When stars fade, men pray, life ends.

It is like this
Line 45: Come; let me tell you what it is like, here, in the kingdom.

In death's other kingdom
Line 46: There are certain things that can only happen here, in death's other kingdom. But why is it always the "other"?

Waking alone
Line 47: In the kingdom, you begin your day, in solitude, with no company. We as people are gregarious, and in the other kingdom we are confined to loneliness. We must awake with no one by our side, holding us, because that would be too sensual for this dry land.

At the hour when we are
Line 48: We must be by ourselves when we need someone the most. We are afraid. In these hours we wish not that we were in this god-forsaken kingdom.

Trembling with tenderness
Line 49: Our tenderness is our vulnerability, our weakness; all the motions getting to us. We tremble and shiver for we have no one to comfort us.

Lips that would kiss

Line 50: Lips that should kiss but don't illustrates the absence of love. If lips are not kissing, then what they are doing is more important.

Form prayers to broken stone
Line 51: The lips of dead men, pray to stone that is broken. If stone is broken like the columns were, then the men are praying in vain. They are praying to worthless, meaningless idols. There is no hope for such men.


The eyes are not here
Line 52: The eyes that death does not want, is not here. It is there instead. Away.

There are no eyes here
Line 53: Repetition is trying to hint that they possibly aren't here any longer. Maybe they used to be.

In this the valley of dying stars
Line 54: Valleys have an abyss, they descend in the middle. Stars lie in a pile at the bottom, like embers, losing their glow. This is such a morbid image.

In this hollow valley
Line 55: Men are hollow, and now a valley is hollow. Both figures have lost themselves somewhere. They are empty of joy and beauty.

This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
Line 56: Jaws are the most noteworthy part of the human body. A jaw makes the man, if it juts out far enough. It symbolizes greatness and power. But if the jaw is broken, it has a flaw; it's lost its importance. There are no eyes in any of these lost, vapid places.

In this last of meeting places
Line 57: I am finally here at this last meeting, my death, the end of the road.

We grope together
Line 58: Here let us get out last grips of reality, sensuality, feeling, and emotion. Let's touch one another so we may remember how it was to be that close to someone so when we pass, we won't regret.

And avoid speech
Line 59: We've talked our whole lives, now let's just bask in the silence. Let's really feel the joy of one another and the pain of losing each other as well. Let's open our ears and hear ourselves go. Avoid speech, but maintain the rest of our senses. Just do

Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Line 60: Eliot has switched the scenes on us. The beach is dry, but there is life near a river. There is hope out there. There is love when we come together at the beach and speak not but feel.

Sightless, unless
Line 61: An undertone of consonance is used with the "s" sound. May we remain here for little bit on the beach where no one can find us.

The eyes reappear
Line 61: The eyes, they seek us out and tell us what to do from here.

As the perpetual star
Line 62: Although there are stars that fall weak, and fade, that live in valleys. There is one that remains, forever shining, giving light to mankind.

Multifoliate rose
Line 63:Don't understand this line; however I believe it link back to Dante's Inferno.

Of death's twilight kingdom
Line 64: The rose of death's kingdom is the only sign of love and life left.

The hope only
Line 65: There is actually hope in this barren land, where the last meeting is held

Of empty men
Line 66: The kingdom's mouth opens, waits for only empty men to consume. The hollow men are what death wants.


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

Lines 67-70: A prickly pair: it has thorns that are painful upon the touch. A prickly pear is an edible, juicy fruit that exists in deserts, as in death's kingdom. The people are like fools going around it. They are probably starving or possibly hallucinating. Going around, in a circle, circles are the shape of life. It is a common pattern, for everything happens in cycles. Maybe life to death and back to life is what they will be doing. Five is a strange number, and it's odd. At five, it is still dark outside, maybe dusk, where the kingdom lies. I am not sure of the significance of a prickly pear and not any other fruit. It's a take on "here we go round the mulberry bush", a nursery rhyme.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Lines 71-76: Death's kingdom lies in the "between" of everything. It is the shadow that exists between what is a concept and what is factual, for what is said and what is actually done. And ultimately we all die, so the kingdom is all of ours.

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the shadow

Life is very long
Line 77-82: Again the repetition, assonance and consonance, emphasize the meaning for the words in the stanza. Once again the shadow lies between making something and then seeing the final product, between the words of a lovers mouth in the hopes of hearing "I love you" back. Death is everywhere. It lingers in every second and every minute of our lives. Yes, then, life can be very long, or so we think.

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence descent
Falls the
and the shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Lines 83-90: Between lusting for a body and the spasm of not getting it, between the struggles and the actual journey of life, between "being" and then dying; there lies this overwhelming shadow of death. Death is a right that belongs to everyone.

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

Lines 91-93: Eliot trails off his sentences making us think, making us remember that life is short and that the kingdom of death awaits all of us. The "thine kingdom" almost sounds Shakespearean or possibly pertains to biblical matters. He uses repetition to keep us enticed, keep us thinking of how precious it is to be living in red blood, with our mind and heart still working.

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

Lines 94-97: I love this repetition, because he definitely ends the poem with a "bang". The world ends, the world ends, the worlds end with shadows of death. Going along with the morbid tone of this poem, life must end with a whimper, in such a pathetic matter. Life, for the hollow men ends in silence; they will die with straw filled to the brim. If one whimpers, they probably had been crying for a long time and is just letting up or they have suffered a severe tragedy. The world is a very say place indeed.


T.S. Eliot brings to life the mentality of his time. He douses his readers with cynicism and agony. The poem speaks of men that have been reduced to nothing, practically worn away by the way life rubbed them. He speaks of death and its kingdom that always wait for us at the end of the day.