The Hollow Men - T.S. Eliot

From Between the Desire and the Dream

Written in 1925, many critics recognize this major work by Eliot as being concerned with post-WWI Europe under the Treaty of Versailles (which Eliot hated), as well as the difficulty of his own religious conversion. Eliot referenced many works of literature in his poetry. Allusions to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Guy Fawkes (who attempted to bomb England's House of Parliment) are noted in the two epigraphs. Critics also think several cantos from Dante's Inferno were an influence. The final stanza "This is the way the world ends...Not with a bang but a whimper." are the most quoted in all of Eliot's poetry.

Read by Dennis Regan
Music composed by Steve O'Connor

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Between the Desire and the Dream audio book - the poetry of T.S. Eliot Cover art
 

        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.