Colonel Kurtz reading Elliot's "The Hollow Men"

Status
Not open for further replies.

Rufus

Puritan Board Junior
For those of you who have seen Apocalypse Now you might remember that the entire poem is not in the movie, however it was on the extras on the AN Redux dvd:

[video=youtube;th8Y2V0qumE]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th8Y2V0qumE&feature=player_embedded[/video]

The Hollow Men (1925) is a major poem by T. S. Eliot. Its themes are, like many of Eliot's poems, overlapping and fragmentary, but it is recognised to be concerned most with post-World War I 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 own failed marriage (Vivienne Eliot may have been having an affair with Bertrand Russell).[1] The poem is divided into five parts and consists of 98 lines.

Eliot wrote that he produced the title "The Hollow Men" by combining the titles of the romance "The Hollow Land" by William Morris with the poem "The Broken Men" by Rudyard Kipling:[2] but it is possible that this is one of Eliot's many constructed allusions, and that the title originates more transparently from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar or from the character Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness who is referred to as a "hollow sham" and "hollow at the core".

The two epigraphs to the poem, "Mistah Kurtz - he dead" and "A penny for the Old Guy", are allusions to Conrad's character 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 Kingdom on Guy Fawkes Night.

Some critics read the poem as told from three perspectives, each representing a phase of the passing of a soul into 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|The 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 this beach of the 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 the prickly pear," the figures worship false gods, recalling children and reflecting Eliot's interpretation of Western culture after World War I.

The final stanza may 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 Plot mentioned at the beginning: not with its planned bang, but with Guy Fawkes's whimper, as he was caught, tortured and executed on the gallows.

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.[3]

Other significant references include the Lord's Prayer, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and Conrad's An Outcast of the Islands ("Life is very long").
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top