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The Hollow Men

The Hollow Men


by T.S. Eliot

Section II Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 19-28

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.

  • We're starting to get it: the Hollow Men do not want to look anyone in the eyes. They are timid and frightened.
  • They worry that the eyes of souls from Heaven ("death's dream kingdom") will enter into their dreams and try to make eye contact.
  • The speaker talks about a place out "there" where the eyes shine like "sunlight on a broken column" and distant voices are carried by the wind, which also makes a tree sway.
  • "There" could be either in their dreams or in "death's dream kingdom."
  • (The poem's imagery is vague and inconclusive, so don't worry if you can't piece together every last thing.)
  • We think of the eyes as revealing truth, and the Hollow Men are afraid to have the truth of their condition revealed.
  • They are too ashamed to confront the reality of what they have become. They live in a fragmented world of "broken" and "fading" objects.

Lines 29-38

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

  • Too bad you can't convey a pirate voice in writing, otherwise we'd paraphrase their attitude as, "Stay back, ye heavenly vermin!"
  • The Hollow Men do not want to go anywhere near "death's dream kingdom," for fear of those truth-revealing eyes.
  • The big hint is "crossed staves," which means two wooden poles. They explain their appearance as an effort not to get recognized by those probing eyes.
  • Just like scarecrows that "behave as the wind behaves" – twisting and turning without direction.
  • The mediocre souls in Canto 3 of Dante's Inferno also run around with no purpose, another sign that Eliot was inspired by that text.
  • At the end of the section, the souls vow not to have a "final meeting" at "twilight." This meeting could refer to the Last Judgment in Christian theology and "twilight" could refer to the end of the world.
  • The Hollow Men are afraid of the judgment they'll receive when their character is finally examined by the "eyes." They can only delay justice, not escape it.
  • (If you wanted to, you could also compare images of light and darkness between this poem and Heart of Darkness.)

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