Poetry Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men

I picked this poem by Eliot for two primary reasons, one of them being that Eliot is
one of my favorite modern poets, and the other being the view presented in it. That view
is one of a barren and dead world, with humans as meandering and meaningless objects
with no true value, and religion (primarily Christianity) as a futile hope for a salvation that
will never be granted. Most of that can be observed in section I, but particularly in lines
5-7, where it is said that “our dried voices... are quiet and meaningless.” Within that
section, Eliot states repeatedly that we humans are objects without worth, and that our
actions and voices mean nothing after we have passed. The statement “Headpiece filled
with straw” in line 4 has a double meaning, representing the straw hat worn by simple
country people, and also showing a lack of meaningful thought within the human mind. In
the last part of this section, there is the first appearance of the recurring theme of eyes
(which appears in the following lines: 14, 19, 22, 52, 53, and 62), as well as one of the
many references to Hell (“death’s other Kingdom”, appearing in lines 14, 20, 31, 38, 46,
and 65). From this point, the poem turns towards the theme of faith and afterlife.

Delving deeply into the subject of the afterlife, the first half of section II deals with
the fear of meeting what waits for the dead (“Eyes I dare not meet in dreams”), as well as
the barren and apocalyptic world view which is presented constantly throughout the poem.
Additionally, references to Shakespeare and the Bible are made in that part: referring to
Shakespeare’s “For in that sleep of death...” in Hamlet using “death’s dream kingdom”;
and referring to the book of Revelations in lines 25-28, with the “voices... In the wind’s
singing” which can be taken as the solemn cry of the angels announcing the imminent
apocalypse, voices that carried across the world on the wind. Line 28 gives the first
appearance of the third and final recurring term in the poem, the fading or dying star
(appearing in lines 28, 44, and 54; also as “perpetual star” in line 63). In the second part
of section II, the focus on the Christian religion becomes far less literal, giving way to
references to the clothing and objects used in Pagan rituals (“Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed
staves”). This is, assumedly, to hide oneself from the eyes of God. The fear of afterlife
shows up again in lines 36-38, with the poem’s subject desiring to be “No nearer--” to the
“final meeting In the twilight kingdom”, or Judgment (Purgatory).

Another important theme for the remainder of this poem is the apocalyptic view of
the world, demonstrated in all of section III. “This is the dead land” could refer to the
place where the apocalypse is said to happen, when humanity is pushed to the wasteland at
the edges of the earth. The “stone images” which are raised could be referring to the
Pyramids of Biblical Egypt, but more than likely they refer to large stone crosses, which
were once used on top of all Christian churches. Prayers are offered in this poem to those
stone images, in hopes of a salvation from the coming destruction, but rejected because of
the human lack of faith (“...prayers to broken stone”).

In section IV, the poem takes on a very Biblical air, as it begins to mirror yet
another ancient event. Humanity gathers together in a valley where the final remnants of
society exist (“...broken jaw of our lost kingdoms”), and something causes them to lose
their ability to communicate with one another (“We grope together And avoid speech”).
This event, more than likely, refers to the building of a tower to the sky to escape their
imminent destruction: very similar to the construction of the ancient tower of Babel. The
meaning of the “eyes” is finally revealed in this section, they are shown as the false hope
given to humanity by religion, like a “perpetual star” to guide them despite being a false
salvation. The absolute futility of this salvation is shown in lines 66 and 67: “The hope
only Of empty men,” suggesting that only one who cannot find his own way will follow
the path of religion.

Opening with a sardonic play on an old children’s rhyme, section V brings the
poem to a close without any reference to earlier sections