The Hollow Men

The Hollow Men
TS Eliot

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.

I read this poem out to my friend who was feeling distraught with the shutdown going on in DC today. Humour is a way of coping we talked about, but so is sharing and words that echo from another time about times like these. I have been re-reading Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver and the thought that there have been many little ends of the world that have felt just as apocalyptic is somewhat comforting, in a strange way.

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I love Eliot and have read him since I was a teenager. What intrigues me is that I am having an odd response to the use of men as in hollow men. What happens if we changed hollow men to hollow women?

I recall with pleasure a line from Wallace Steven’s Easter Sunday

Death is the Mother of Beauty

What happens if we change it to this-

Death is the Father of Beauty

The line doesn’t work at all. Why? Mark Turner, a cognitive linguist, said it has something to do with kinship relations. I’m a bit fuzzy on that but clearly the Father doesn’t work.

Then there is Wordsworth’s lovely line=

The Child is Father of the Man

What happens when we change it to this

The Child is Mother to the Woman

We are the hollow women
We are the stuffed women

For some reason this makes me laugh. Eliot’s line is chilling but this odd experiment makes for a difference that brings to my attention a certain rule that is perhaps unconscious that is being broken. Culture some claim are rules that are unconsciously followed.

Pardon my drift…I hope this has some utility.

And it is mentioned that a zoom call will be happening this Friday 7pm EST. I am not sure if that is right or not. If it happens and you can attend, Judith, we might have a chance to present our idea of creating a Cosmos Community Theater Project. We could discuss an approach that might start a ball rolling down a hill. I don’t know which hill? But we can figure that all out.

Poetry, according to W.H. Auden, is for people who like to tinker with words. So, I offer my musings in that playful spirit.

Hollow men works better perhaps because it captures the loss of soldiers in the first world war. Just a hunch.

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And Eliot was a man, who in the end was kind of hollowed out, even poetically in my opinion, and so he fell into a dour sort of religiosity and mystical pessimism. What I love and still appreciate about him is that he never lost his sense of rhythm or rhyme, and his poetry still sings, even when it is mainly a lament.

I like the word hollow because it is so close to hallow. Maybe the counterpart to the hollow men are the hallowed women?

The first half of the 20th century was terrible shock to the human system. I wonder how we’ll have fared by the year 2050, and what poetry we’ll write in the meantime.

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