‘The hole Men’ is a city of boundaries. Released in 1925, halfway v the modernist decade of the 1920s, it to be T. S. Eliot’s one major poem in between The Waste soil in 1922 and also his conversion come Christianity in 1927.

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‘The hollow Men’: summary

The ‘Hollow Men’ of the poem are themselves trapped in some kind of between-world, a limbo or purgatory between death and also life, existence and nothingness, light and also darkness.


In 5 sections, Eliot lets the collective voice the the hole Men resolve us from their between-world i m sorry is at once a desert space (‘cactus land’) and a place suggestive that entropic decay, as though the finish of the people or also the universe has actually come: the fading star, and also the basic lifelessness that the people the Hollow guys inhabit, imply that this floor of twilight is a human being in its fatality throes.

And indeed, once we with the last lines of the poem, we are told that we space witnessing the end of the world, which wake up anticlimactically, through a whimper fairly than a bang.


This moment is fill with religious significance – as the allusions to the the Lord’s Prayer imply – but any type of attempt in ~ prayer is only half-formed and also half-achieved: those prayers to broken stone (toppled statues, or damaged icons, perhaps?) prefigure the failed attempts come utter the complete conclusion come the Lord’s Prayer (‘For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and also the Glory, for ever and also ever, Amen’).

‘The hollow Men’: analysis


How need to we analyse this most liminal of modernist poems? Well, it’s tempting to analyse ‘The hollow Men’ as a type of reprise the The waste Land.

Like The waste Land, ‘The hollow Men’ began life as a collection of much shorter poems: beforehand versions of component of ‘The hollow Men’ are had in the Collected Poems 1909-1962 (see ‘Eyes the last I observed in tears’ and ‘The wind sprang up at four o’clock’). These and several other brief verses were published as ‘Doris’s Dream Songs’ in The Chapbook in 1924.


They re-superstructure a variety of features: the five-part structure, the usage of sombre allusions (the publication of common Prayer in The rubbish Land; the Lord’s Prayer in ‘The hole Men’) together snippets of classic nursery rhymes (‘London leg is falling down’ in The rubbish Land; ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush’ in ‘The hollow Men’), the recommendations to a type of wasteland human being populated through rats and also lost souls.

Yet it would certainly be a mistake, perhaps, to analyze ‘The hole Men’ as a just add-on to the earlier, much more famous poem. Although that is not about development or development itself – instead, it’s about stasis, immobility and also a feeling of gift trapped – ‘The hole Men’ does relocate T. S. Eliot’s poetry on in a number of an essential ways.


‘The hollow Men’ is a poem about repetition: in the Collected Poems 1909-62

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Indeed, a clue to the significant themes of the poem is detailed by the poem’s 2 epigraphs. The very first is the four-word declaration of the rogue Mr Kurtz’s fatality given by one African young to Marlow, the 2nd narrator of Conrad’s Heart the Darkness.

This allusion teases us with possible readings the the city that follows: is ‘The hollow Men’, choose Heart the Darkness, about the dark side of imperialism? Is it significant, given the title of Eliot’s poem (arrived at, follow to Eliot himself, by combining william Morris’s ‘The hollow Land’ through Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The damaged Men’), the in Conrad’s novel, the vile number of colonialism, Kurtz, is described as being ‘hollow at the core’?


Perhaps. However then we pertained to the 2nd epigraph, this time a reference to the familiar child’s cry on male Fawkes night: ‘A penny for the Old Guy’. Effigies of guy Fawkes, the conspirator (though not the ringleader) arrested late on 4 November 1605 (not 5 November) because that his involvement in the shooting powder Plot to punch up King James I and also the residences of Parliament, are scorched every year in Britain.

But with this epigraph, it begins to look much less likely that empire is the theme of Eliot’s poem. However the recommendation to straw effigies does pave the means for the poem’s ‘stuffed men’ through the headpieces ‘filled through straw’.


The an initial four sections of ‘The hollow Men’ explain the situation of the titular men, apartment in the ‘dead land’ (recalling the waste soil of Eliot’s earlier poem) and also desert space, ‘cactus land’ (again, shades that The garbage Land here), in a type of twilight world between ‘death and also dying’. Over there is a ‘tumid river’ which can be understood as one allusion to the river Styx, the river across which the dead were ferried to Hades.

The fifth and also final ar of ‘The hole Men’ is a little different: it starts with a song arguing a dance about the abovementioned cactus (‘round the prickly pear’) in ~ the ungodly hour of five in the morning. Us then acquire a collection of ‘between’ statements, which can not be an ext appropriate because that this poem about interim states.

What is being defined here? One feasible interpretation is the Eliot is talking about that other interim state in between death and life – no at the finish of our lives, yet at the beginning. In between the conception and the creation – what is a baby after it has actually been conceived but prior to it has been born?

This inquiry is clear a fraught one in the context of stem-cell research and debates end abortion. And what around the conception of a brand-new life itself? between the desire (erotic desire?) and also the spasm (orgasm?)? and also do we should dwell top top the seminal possibilities the a word prefer ‘essence’ in this connection?

This is not to say that such an evaluation of Eliot’s lines decides the issue once and for all, the course. However the truth that this series of ‘between’ statements, almost like a chant, is punctuated by a referral to life chin (‘Life is really long’) and also to the native of the Lord’s Prayer (‘For Thine is the Kingdom’) suggest the nearly divine wonder of human life.

But this needs to be balanced versus the wretched existence of the hole men, who space – like among the speakers from The Waste floor – ‘neither living nor dead’. One is also tempted to propose the these hollow males are the souls the babies who never made it, whether since they to be aborted or as a an outcome of miscarriage – however then lock wouldn’t just be ‘men’, surely, nor would certainly they be adults at all, perhaps.

For an ext on the intersections between The garbage Land and ‘The hollow Men’, us recommend Oliver Tearle’s thing on ‘The hole Men’ in his book, The great War, The garbage Land and also the Modernist lengthy Poem.

‘The hole Men’ remains an elusive poem, like much of T. S. Eliot’s work. It probably presents even more of a challenge to comprehension and also close analysis than The Waste floor does.

But it moves Eliot’s work forward into more spiritual territory, albeit tentatively. Two years after ~ ‘The hollow Men’ was published, Eliot would join the Church the England. The same year, he would certainly renounce his American passport in exchange for British citizenship. The between-man, the Anglo-American poet the the age, would be ‘between’ no more.

Continue to explore Eliot’s work-related with our analysis of his landmark poem ‘The Love tune of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and our discussion of his ‘Portrait the a Lady’.

About T. S. Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) is regarded as among the most important and influential poets the the twenty century, v poems prefer ‘The Love tune of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (1915), The Waste land (1922), and also ‘The hollow Men’ (1925) assuring that a place in the ‘canon’ the modernist poetry.

Modernist poets frequently embraced complimentary verse, but Eliot had a an ext guarded view, believing the all an excellent poetry had actually the ‘ghost’ of a metre behind the lines. Even in his most famous poems us can frequently detect the rhythms of iambic pentameter – that quintessentially English verse heat – and in various other respects, such as his respect because that the literary tradition, Eliot is a much more ‘conservative’ poet than a radical.

Nevertheless, his poetry adjusted the see of Anglophone poetry for good. Born in St Louis, Missouri in 1888, Eliot studied at Harvard and Oxford prior to abandoning his postgraduate research studies at Oxford due to the fact that he preferred the interesting literary culture of London. That met a fellow American expatriate, Ezra Pound, that had already published numerous volumes of poetry, and also Pound aided to gain Eliot’s work into print. Although his first collection, Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), marketed modestly (its publish run the 500 copies would take five years to sell out), the publication of The Waste soil in 1922, v its snapshot of a post-war Europe in spirituality crisis, created him as among the most essential literary numbers of his day.

He never returned come America (except come visit together a lecturer), but became an main British citizens in 1927, the same year that was confirmed into the Church the England. His last major achievement as a poet to be Four Quartets (1935-42), which reflect his turn to Anglicanism. In his later years the attempted to reform English city drama with plays favor Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and also The Cocktail Party (1949). He died in London in 1965.

For one affordable version of his poetry, we recommend Collected Poems 1909-62, although T. S. Eliot’s complete poems have now been published in 2 beautiful definitive academic editions edited through Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue: T. S. Eliot The Poems Volume One and T. S. Eliot The Poems Volume Two. They include previously unpublished poems, are beautifully produced and also scrupulously edited, and are must-haves because that the diehard Eliot fan! We’ve offered an ext tips because that the close analysis of poetry here.

See more: The Question: Which State Calls Itself The Mother Of Presidents?

The writer of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English in ~ Loughborough University. The is the writer of, among others, The secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey with Curiosities that History

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and also The an excellent War, The rubbish Land and also the Modernist long Poem.