[AUDIO] “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.” – “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot (poetry reading)

The Hollow Men (1925) is a major poem by T. S. Eliot, the Nobel-Prize-winning modernist poet. Its themes are, like many of Eliot’s poems, overlapping and fragmentary, but it is recognised to be concerned most with post-War 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).

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: 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.

Other significant references include the Lord’s Prayer, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Conrad’s An Outcast of the Islands (“Life is very long”).

The Hollow Men has had a profound effect on the Anglo-American cultural lexicon and—by a relatively recent extension—world culture since it was published in 1925. References range from Apocalypse Now to video games (the Halo series, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and Fable II) to Japanese literature (the novels ofHaruki Murakami) to American television shows (Mad Men, The X-Files (“Pusher” episode), and 30 Rock).

Sheer variety of reference moves some of the questions concerning the poem’s significance outside the traditional domain of literary criticism—where Harold Bloom, for one, often half-laments Eliot’s influence—and into the much broader category of cultural studies. Here, its history has itself become an object for meditation in the work of many critics and artists, including, for instance, film essayist Chris Marker.

–the above from wikipedia

Thomas Stearns Eliot OM (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965) was an American-born English poet, playwright, and literary critic, arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. The poem that made his name, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock—started in 1910 and published in Chicago in 1915—is regarded as a masterpiece of the modernist movement, and was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including Gerontion (1920), The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925), Ash Wednesday (1930), and Four Quartets (1945). He is also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, and educated at Harvard, Eliot studied philosophy at the Sorbonne for a year, then won a scholarship toOxford in 1914, becoming a British citizen when he was 39. “[M]y poetry has obviously more in common with my distinguished contemporaries in America than with anything written in my generation in England,” he said of his nationality and its role in his work. “It wouldn’t be what it is, and I imagine it wouldn’t be so good … if I’d been born in England, and it wouldn’t be what it is if I’d stayed in America. It’s a combination of things. But in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America.” Eliot completely renounced his citizenship to the United States and said: “My mind may be American but my heart is British”.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “[AUDIO] “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.” – “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot (poetry reading)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s