Study Guide

The Hollow Men Section V

By T.S. Eliot

Section V

Lines 68-71

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.

  • Admit it: if you had to blindly wait on the banks of a river until the end of time, you might join hands and start singing "Here we go 'round the mulberry bush," too.
  • And if you didn't have a mulberry bush, well, then you'd just have to sing about the "prickly pear" cactus.
  • "Here we go 'round the mulberry bush" is a children's song about people dancing around the bush "so early in the morning."
  • Eliot actually gives the time at which they are dancing: 5 o'clock in the morning.
  • According to one commentary on the poem, "5:00 a.m. is the traditional time of Christ's resurrection" (source).
  • The resurrection is the most important moment in the Christ story, but here the Hollow Men are performing a children's dance around a cactus, totally unaware of the significance of the time.

Lines 72-76

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

  • If you look back to lines 12-13, you'll remember the list of "missing essentials," or things that are lacking some essential component, like "gesture without motion."
  • In this final section of the poem, Eliot presents a similar idea.
  • For the Hollow Men, some mysterious "shadow" has fallen between some potential for action and the action itself to prevent them for doing anything.
  • They have "ideas" but cannot bring them into "reality."
  • They can "move" but not coordinate their movements into "action."
  • The "shadow" falls like an iron curtain to block their intentions.

Line 77

For Thine is the Kingdom

  • The Hollow Men begin to say part of a prayer but do not finish it. "For Thine is the Kingdom" is part of the ending to the Lord's Prayer that goes: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen."
  • You get the feeling that if the Hollow Men could just get to the end of the prayer, maybe they would be saved.
  • You'll notice that the word "kingdom" has been used a lot in this poem. God has his everlasting kingdom in Heaven, and the Hollow Men had their "lost kingdoms."

Lines 78-83

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

  • Here comes that Shadow again. "Conception" is the moment of pregnancy or the beginning of idea, but "creation" is when that being comes into existence.
  • An "emotion" is a mental state, but a response is an action resulting from that state.
  • The shadow prevents one thing from leading naturally to the other.
  • If you went to the doctor and he or she tapped your knee with that little rubber hammer, and you had no physical response, it would be a problem.
  • The stanza ends with the beginning of another statement: "Life is very long."
  • You can almost here the Hollow Men sighing wearily as they say that, as if they are bored and worn down.
  • Compared to eternity, of course, life is pretty short.

Lines 84-91

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

  • The poem gives three more examples of the Shadow's dirty work. It prevents "desire" from becoming the "spasm" of sexual satisfaction – that is, orgasm.
  • It also comes between potential or "potency" and existence, and between the higher "essence" of things and the "descent" of this essence into our physical world.
  • In case Eliot is getting too philosophical, here's a simpler way of putting it: the Shadow prevents things that should naturally follow from one another from happening.
  • The stanza ends, again, with a fragment of the Lord's Prayer. They still can't say any more than this one part of the prayer.

Lines 92-94

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

  • The Hollow Men repeat the fragmented lines from the end of the last three stanzas, but this time chopped down even further.
  • They just trail off, as if they can't remember how the rest goes or have slipped into some semi-conscious state.
  • Cut them some slack, though: their heads are filled with straw.

Lines 95-98

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.

  • They pick up again with another crazy adaptation of the "Mulberry Bush" song. The song provides little lessons about how to do chores around the house, like "This is the way we wash our clothes" and "This is the way we sweep the floor." (Read the full song.)
  • (Wow, that song is totally just a way to trick kids into doing work!)
  • In Eliot's version, the Hollow Men are singing about how the world ends as they dance around the prickly pear.
  • These lines are the most famous and frequently repeated lines in the poem.
  • The world ends not with a "bang" like you might expect, with some huge war between angels and demons, but with a "whimper," like a defeated puppy.
  • The question is, does the world end this way for everyone, or just for the Hollow Men? Keep in mind that they are the ones singing.
  • The end of the world is, in a word, anticlimactic.