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The Hollow Men

T.S. Eliot

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Added by: m
a penny for the Old Guy in the beinning of the poem is a traditional cry used by children on Guy Fawkes Day in England. Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was executed for participating in a plot to blow up the kind and both Houses of Parliament in 1605. Each year on November 5, children beg for pennies to buy firecrackers which they use to destroy stuffed dummies representing Fawkes.
Added by: dispatch
actually, my english teacher interpreted this poem is about man's lack of faith and spirituality
eliot is saying that we are hollow in religious righteousness, but stuffed with american superficiality
this theme comes to life through the 2 death kingdoms-"death's other kingdom", inhabited by the people with direct eyes, go to heaven, because they see god with these eyes
the dream kingdom is a metaphor for hell, where those who do not see god becuae they have indirect eyes end up, and the reason they are "eyes i dare not meet...in death's dream kingdom" because he does not want to face his own lack of spirituality, which is also why he decides to disguise himself in the 2nd stanza of II.
he is ultimatley afraid of death becuase he does not have direct eyes, therefore he will go to hell if he dies.
part III is an allusion to the bringing of the 10 commandments at mt. sinai, you'll see it if you look closely
part IV is basically saying that mankind is in despair, they are already on the "beach of the tumid river" (the river styx), and the "hope only of empty men", is to fill the emptiness with religion.
in the last part, he carries out this contrast with his parallelism, showing how some people really do believe in religion, and those who are hollow, and he ultimatley ends up reciting bits of prayer, and then in a confused mess in the next to last stanza, it seems like he is making a desparate plea for salvation, or a symbol for how the meaning of prayers have become lost
he says that the world ends with a whimper becuase it is brought down by non believers... if the people believed had spirituality, god would have to end the world with a great destruction... instead, he is saying that god lets the world sink into its own despair by the world's lack of spirituality
feel free to disagree, this is just one interpreteation
dante allusions
Added by: anonymous
from what i understand and what i have heard, much of this poem alludes to dante's works (Paradiso, Inferno, etc). (eg. tumid river=Acheron, Multifoliate rose=Paradise, death's twilight kingdom=1st level of Hell, and so on)
A Penny for the Old Guy
Added by: Sue Lovell
Jen was wrong to say that this phrase refers to the celebration of a battle in which the British defeated the Irish. Guy Fawkes Day (Nov 5th) celebrates the foiling of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament together with King James 1st in 1605. Guy Fawkes was one of the main conspiritors and his effigy is burnt on bonfires every year on this day. Before the bonfires, children take the effigies out on the streets and ask for "a penny for the Guy", which they then spend on fireworks. (Fireworks are also a major feature of the evening celebrations.) Guy Fawkes was a Catholic who wanted England to return to Catholicism.
The Old Guy - P.S.
Added by: Sue Lovell
Further to previous comment - yes, the effigy that is burnt on Guy Fawkes night would be a hollow man and a stuffed man with a headpiece filled with straw...The "Guy" is made up of old clothes stuffed with straw or paper.
Miniature waste land
Added by: Lisa G.
This poem is stylistically a lot like The Waste Land, and the theme seems to be very similar (the main difference, I think, being that the hollow men probably don't realize they are spiritually dry. It doesn't seem like what is being said in this poem is actually the hollow men's opinion of themselves but Eliot's opinion of them as if they were saying it. In The Waste Land the speaker feels not only his but the land's spiritual dryness keenly enough to lament it), but no way does it come anywhere close to the brilliance of The Waste Land (greatest poem ever written, of course). Maybe it was practice for The Waste Land or something.
Added by: Genevieve
I just love this poem, whatever it means. Once I was driving in Indianapolis, and I saw those last two lines on an electrical box and it was just the loveliest thing I had ever seen. That was before I ever read the poem. Then I read it and fell in love with it. Haha, and to the fellow who thinks this poem is dumb because he can't understand it, go read Dr. Seuss if you want an "easy read," not T.S. Eliot. Anyway...

If you are ever confused about what a poem is REALLY about, try some literary critics' views on the thing. Just a thought.
Added by: sach
This poem is the first time I've come across T S Elliot. And, part V aside, I'm not impressed at all. I find the language average at best, and the poem quite bland. To me it seems Dylan was being kind when he called Elliot lame!
Added by: henning Brinkmann
This poem is definetly not lame.

The language is deliberately chosen by Eliot; his using of only 180 words in a poem 420 words long strengthens the aspect of ritualism. In my opinion, to Eliot religion is question and answer at the same time. It is to question, if it is only based on hollow procedures, and the answer is the reappering of "the multifoliate rose" which is a metaphor used by dante for the virgin mary. He tries to discover christianity in its core and as always, he is difficult to grasp.

Examine the lines 'here we go round the prickly pear' and you will see what i mean. The mulberry bush from the nursery song is replaced by something dead, but people won't notice because they are tranquilized by executing their every-day ritual. Also notice that the original song ends with 'This is the way we go to church', strongly resembling 'This is the way the world ends'.

To me, it is a poem about the superficiality and hypocrisy of modern people's religion and society respectively, about 'behaving as the wind behaves' instead of questioning our own deeds.

Eliot wrote it at a time where he was recovering from a nervous brakedown, three years before he converted to the anglican church (he used to be unitarian). He saw the liberalism of the unitarian church as a way of destroying the fundaments of a christian society. In his opinion, religious liberalism and economic liberalism go hand in hand, and the loss o religion and the focussing on material progress will end up in destroying the earth. A reading of Eliot's 'Christianity and Culture' might illuminate the reader concerning this point.
Another interesting take....
Added by: Icarus
There is probably no documented evidence of it, but the poem could also relate to WWI soldiers preparing to go over the top into certain death. Eliot presents a lot of death imagery but never validates for us whether or not it is real or surreal, therefore I believe that the entire poem is a soldier's thoughts before he attacks. Thinking about himself as a wasted generation who never got to live, visualizing death's kingdom, and throughout it, watching others die, "Cross to Death's other kingdom" Stuffed men could also suggest that they are full of false courage..false guts to do their job, and in reality, most of them would simply like to return home. Eliot also refers to stone images raised in II. This could refer to the way buildings appear on the horizon, and perhaps they are attacking under starlight. In IV Eliot mentions the "broken jaw of our lost kingdoms" think of the countries in the war as kingdoms. I believe the first part of IV talks about sitting in a trench "hollow valley" There are no "eyes" or dead persons in the trench. The river that was referred to earlier could very well be the River Styx, but I believe when he discusses being crouched together, he is talking about soldiers gathering to "cross over" the river into the afterlife. I think he may also be criticizing those who didn't go, deserters, etc. when he says of the star, and death kingdom "The hope only of empty men.

I could go on, but I think there's enough there to validate the argument for WWI.

As for the last few lines, an excellent ending, and if you think about it. When someone is shot, there is a bang, but their death is always a whimper. The world ends could be equivalent to the life of the soldier.......

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