The Hollow Men Poem by T.S. Eliot Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


T.S. Eliot’s sorrowful and melancholy poem “The Hollow Men” was published in 1925. It addresses issues including moral decline, spiritual emptiness, and apocalyptic terror. It paints a depressing picture of humanity, highlighting how shallow and disjointed life is. In his rich and evocative depictions of a bleak and surreal environment, Eliot displays his command of language and imagery in this poem. The book encourages readers to consider their own lives, the fallout from moral ambiguity, and the futile pursuit of spiritual salvation in a society beset by spiritual degradation.

About the poet

T.S. Eliot was a British-American poet, dramatist, literary critic, and one of the most significant modernist authors of the 20th century. He left Missouri, where he was born, for England in 1914. His poetry is distinguished by its intellectual depth, complicated issues, and detailed imagery. For his exceptional contribution to poetry and his significant impact on the growth of modernist literature, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. His writing is recognized for exploring subjects including disillusionment, the fragmented aspect of contemporary existence, the pursuit of spiritual significance, and the demise of Western civilization.


Mistah Kurtz-he dead
      A penny for the Old Guy

The poem’s epigraph follows the passing of Mistah Kurtz, an ivory merchant from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The historical person Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up Parliament in the early 1600s are mentioned in this epigraph. The expression “penny for the guy” refers to requesting money on November 5th, also known as Fellow Fawkes Day. Charon, the ferryman in charge of transporting the recently deceased over the River Styx, is another association between death and a penny or currency. One would get stranded if they didn’t have any coins to pay him. The Hollow Men are mostly in this condition.

Part 1

Stanza 1

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


The opening line of the poem features the speaker, who is referred to as the “Hollow Men” as a group. He makes clear to the reader that “We” are both packed and empty to convey this information. Similar to scarecrows, they resemble men but have a “Headpiece filled with straw.” 

Their voices are as dry as the rest of their life and the scene. Although they make an effort to communicate, what they say is “meaningless.” The stanza’s final line compares the speaker’s remarks to the wind and the latter like ‘rats’ footprints across shattered glass’.

Stanza 2 and 3 

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.


He continues by describing himself and those who are similar to him as being “without” actual form. They are a “shade without colour” or a “gesture without motion.” This is how meaningless if at all, their words and ideas are. 

The speaker also mentions a situation in which someone from their community entered their territory. The Hollow Men would be remembered by this individual, according to Eliot’s speakers, “not as lost” or “Violent,” but rather as “hollow men” or “stuffed men.” Though they are filled, the filling serves the same purpose for them as emptiness.

Part 2

Stanza 1

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.


A ten-line stanza marks the beginning of the poem’s second part. The speaker now goes on to discuss a different aspect of the Hollow Men. They are unable to meet anyone’s gaze directly. They are especially concerned about the eyeballs from “death’s dream kingdom.” This is the first time Heaven is mentioned. Although they don’t specifically express it, it is obvious that the rising souls there disturb them. This is one of the greatest illustrations of how Eliot used many pictures to create a bigger picture. The meaning of each of these expressions is obscure, from the “broken column,” which may be a reference to the erasure of culture, to the wind’s singing. Eliot probably wanted to make the idea that the Hollow Men are terrified of something. It can be death, the truth, or a reality they don’t want to face. 

Stanza 2 and 3  

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

The speaker requests that the spirits from Heaven avoid the Hollow Men in the following stanzas. They don’t want to be any closer to Heaven or to anybody whose gaze could reveal something negative about themselves. The final picture in this stanza is quite intriguing. This time, the comparison between the guys and scarecrows is sincere. They are attempting to pass for something they are not but are very close to being. They are propelled by the wind in a manner similar to that of a scarecrow, and they may be identified by their “deliberate disguises” of “crowskin” and “crossed staves.” The men ask that the “final meeting,” or God’s judgment of them in heaven, be postponed in the third stanza, which has just two lines. 

Part 3

Stanza 1

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.


The third part goes into further detail on the environment that the Hollow Men inhabit. They are shattered, parched, and arid, just like the “dead land.” This place is a desert with cactus and “stone images.” These stones have been set up as a prayer to Heaven. It is a meager gesture that appears pointless when viewed against “the twinkle of a fading star.” Even though the star is quite far away and out of reach, it yet holds some glimmer of hope. That is until it completely fades. 

Stanza 2

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.

In the second verse of the third part, the Hollow Men inquire as to whether “death’s other kingdom” resembles their own. They seem to be trapped between life and death in some sort of purgatory. The most they can aspire for is a future in which people are considerably happy but nonetheless turn to “broken” stones in their prayers. There is some improvement for those in the other realm of death, but not much. They are not entirely alone, but they do travel alone at the same time as the Hollow Men. 

Part 4

Stanza 1 and 2

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

The speaker returns to the idea of the eyes in the first verse of the fourth part. They cannot accompany folks through their “valley of death.” This quotation alludes to the famous Psalm 23 verse that talks about “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.” However, unlike what the Psalm says, the men in this situation do not have God to console them. The term “broken” appears once more in this verse. It is used here in conjunction with the words “this broken jaw of our lost kingdoms.” It’s unclear what Eliot was getting at with this remark, although it could just be related to aging and the inability to operate without pain. The speakers claim that they congregate in the kingdom in the second stanza. The “last of meeting places” where they may shield their eyes is here. The guys are positioned on the “beach of the tumid,” or swollen “river.” The word “river” links this stanza to the River Styx referenced in the second line of the opening epigraph. They wait for someone to carry them over without speaking. They are trapped at this moment.

Stanza 3 

Sightless, unless

  The eyes reappear

  As the perpetual star

  Multifoliate rose

  Of death's twilight kingdom

  The hope only

  Of empty men.

Eliot’s intention to make literary allusions is seen in the third verse. This time, he discusses the “Multifoliate rose” from The Divine Comedy’s third book, Paradiso by Dante Alighieri. The rose represents paradise and has numerous petals. The kingdom is made up of angels, good deeds, and the favor of God. 

The Hollow Men won’t be able to see again until the eyeballs appear and reassemble themselves into a star. Their optimism will genuinely resurface at this point. The men don’t appear to be able to escape this predicament on their own. 

Part 5

Stanza 1 and 2

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


The fifth part is distinct from the previous four. The stanzas are written in the style of a song, maybe performed by the Hollow Men. They are singing a song that is similar to “Here we go ’round the mulberry bush,” except instead of a bush, they are singing about a “prickly pear” cactus, which is typical of their desert environment. The guys dance, according to Eliot, around “five o’clock in the morning.”The next verse indicates that “the Shadow” was what had prevented them from altering their circumstances all along. This term is vague but refers to the space “between the idea / And the reality.” Any attempts by the guys to modify things are blocked by it. They are unable to translate their gestures into actual actions. 

The word “For” separates the phrase “For Thine is the Kingdom” from the remainder of the sentence. This is a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, although it does not contain the last words, “and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” Eliot uses this portion of the prayer to highlight the men’s sincere efforts but their inability to complete anything. 

Stanza 3 and 4

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


The fifth section’s third and fourth stanzas have a similar structure to the second. They are different listings of ephemeral locations where “the Shadow” lurks. There is a conflict between “conception / And the creation” and “the desire / And the spasm.” Although each of these analogies is intriguing in and of itself, taken together they lead one to the conclusion that “the Shadow” prevents the beginning from progressing to the end. The phrase “Life is very long” appears between these two stanzas. This appears to be a straightforward statement of frustration with their own predicament. They might have a very long “Life” since they were in a precarious position between life and death. Another lengthy phrase follows the second stanza, this one introducing the Lord’s Prayer. Once more, the guys are helpless. The prayer cannot be completed.   

Stanza 5 and 6

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.


Eliot employs three additional broken lines in the fifth stanza. These are sections of the earlier stanzas that came in between them. They are included to highlight the speakers’ disjointed lifestyles. The lines don’t have any conclusions, suggesting that their predicament is just becoming worse. The last four lines are perhaps Eliot’s most well-known writings. In the end, they boil down to the line “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.” The phrase is related to the song that provided the first stanza’s inspiration once again since it contains several sentences that start with “This is the way…” But instead of keeping the song’s original upbeat, kid-friendly tenor, the speakers sing about passing away. 

The end of the world does not involve massive battles, terrible destruction, or even a figuratively enormous explosion. As opposed to that, it exits like the males do: with “a whimper.” It is a gloomy view of the future and, if not depressing, at least purposefully anticlimactic.