Text of the Poem

Mistah Kurtz - he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy


We are the hollow men
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

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. 


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.

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


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.

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.


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 this tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


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

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

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 with a whimper.


  1. Just as section V begins with a musical chant that appears in italics, it ends with another, and both are dark in tone and theme. The world’s ending with a “whimper” rather than a “bang” echoes the “quiet and meaningless” whispering of the hollow men in section I. It also implies that life in the modern world is no longer lived with purpose, passion, faith, or courage.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Juxtaposing fragments of the previous choral responses creates a sense of desperation and dissolution leading to the poem’s nihilistic conclusion.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. A repetition of the previous allusion to the Lord’s Prayer continues the pattern of call and response.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. In Joseph Conrad’s An Outcast of the Islands, sea captain Tom Lingard observes “Life is very long,” and he speaks with “unconscious sadness.” This is the second literary allusion to one of Conrad’s novels, the first being the allusion to Heart of Darkness in the epigraph. In the section’s structure, it continues the pattern of call and response.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The phrase alludes to the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, from Christian tradition, and serves as a choral response to the previous stanza.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. “Falls the Shadow” serves as a refrain in this stanza and the two that follow. The three stanzas are constructed with parallel phrases followed by the refrain. The concept of that which is desired remaining incomplete or unfulfilled is the theme in each of the three stanzas and echoes the lines in section I: “Shape without form, shade without colour, / Paralyzed force, gesture without motion.” The “shadow” may be interpreted as symbolizing the “Paralyzed force”—the paralysis of the spirit and the will—that afflicts modern life, rendering it futile and meaningless.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The stanza is a dark variation of the chant that is sung in playing the children’s game, “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.” A mulberry bush is a plant that produces flowers. The “prickly pear” in this chant is a cactus, which recalls the reference to “cactus land” in section III.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. A multifoliate rose is a rose with many leaves. The term is an allusion to Dante’s description of Paradise or Heaven in Paradiso, the last part of his Divine Comedy.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. “Perpetual” means eternal or never ending. In the context of the passage, “star” alludes to the star of Bethlehem that led the way to the Christ child. The star motif again appears here; where it was fading before, it is perpetual in this instance, suggesting that though its influence has diminished, it nevertheless endures.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The word “tumid” means swollen. The line is an allusion to Dante’s Inferno in which the dead are ferried across the river Acheron on their way to Hell.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. The image recalls the initial description of the hollow men in section I.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. A broken jaw implies the inability to speak or communicate, which reinforces the theme in the poem surrounding a lack of agency and a sense of spiritual sterility.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. The haunting beauty of the metaphor “valley of dying stars” contrasts dramatically with the disturbing images of the hollow men in section I and illustrates the often elegiac tone of the poem.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. A synecdoche for those who had lived and died with purpose and faith, there are no “eyes” in modern society, suggesting a lack of not only vision but clarity.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Section III ends with the image introduced at the beginning: “stone images” receiving the “supplication of a dead man’s hand.” Through repetition, the ideas of faithlessness and futility are underscored. The “broken stone” motif is also found in section II in “sunlight on a broken column.” However, in the context of section II, the image represents opposite ideas.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. The alliteration of the “t” sound unifies the physical (“trembling”) and the emotional (“tenderness”) in expressing the need for human connection.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the afterlife consists of three realms or kingdoms: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise or heaven. In the context of the following lines, the “other kingdom” seems to refer to a realm other than Paradise since it is characterized by isolation and loneliness. If the answer to the question posed in the two lines is yes, the inference can be drawn that modern life is a living death.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. The fading star motif introduced in section II reappears here, again symbolizing the loss of religious faith.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. The word “supplication” means an earnest plea or prayer. The phrase “a dead man’s hand” is a synecdoche for those who live in the “dead land” of modern society.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. In the context of the stanza, “stone images” suggests the worship of idols. The figurative idols worshiped by the hollow men of the speaker’s post-World War I generation are open to interpretation—though being made of stone, they can be considered lifeless and immutable.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. These two metaphors develop the dryness motif introduced in section I. The speaker’s describing his society as a “dead land” and a “cactus land” emphasizes that it is an arid spiritual wasteland devoid of any life or vigor.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  22. Section III concerns the spiritual emptiness, lack of faith, and isolation of the hollow men in modern society.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  23. The phrase develops the motif introduced in section I and continued throughout this section, describing death as a kingdom into which the living will pass. Note the use of “twilight” as an adjective; it has melancholic connotations that suggest a fading or closing.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  24. The phrase refers to a scarecrow standing in a field, another “hollow” man stuffed with straw with whom the speaker identifies. Choosing to wear the disguise of a scarecrow, as well as other disguises, symbolizes the speaker’s alienation from other human beings and the inability to exercise personal agency, behaving instead only “as the wind behaves.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  25. The poem’s star motif is introduced here and developed in subsequent sections of the text. In Christian belief, Jesus is associated with a star; the nativity story in the Gospel of Matthew describes the star of Bethlehem leading the Magi to Jesus at his birth. Describing the star as “fading” suggests the loss of religious faith in the modern world.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  26. The imagery in the passage is visual (“a tree swinging”) and auditory (“wind’s singing”) in describing an afterlife experienced by the ancestors of the speaker’s generation. These images of peace and beauty contrast dramatically with the negative images in section I that describe the “hollow men” of the present age.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  27. The eyes are described here with a direct metaphor comparing them to “sunlight on a broken column.” The connotations of “sunlight” are positive, as the word suggests brightness and clarity. Here it may also represent spiritual truth shining upon what is broken in the modern world.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  28. “Eyes” repeats the reference to “direct eyes” in section I. An example of synecdoche, “eyes” now represents those who had lived with faith and purpose prior to the generation of the hollow men. In the context of this section of the poem, the word also has connotations of being judged. The alliteration of the “d” sound in “dare,” “dreams, “death’s,” and “dream” emphasizes the speaker’s quiet despair as he confronts the truth of his own life.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  29. The voice in this section shifts from the plural first person “we” to the singular “I” as it expresses the speaker’s personal feelings of anxiety, alienation, and spiritual despair.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  30. “Remember us” contributes to the past/present time motif in the poem by drawing a distinction between those who had lived and died in the past and the “hollow men” of the present age. The conclusion of section I brings it full circle to the allusions in the epigraph. Fictional Mr. Kurtz and the historical Guy Fawkes are the “lost / Violent souls” of the past. They stand in contrast to the “hollow men” of the present. It may be inferred that although Kurtz and Fawkes were “lost” and “violent,” they acted on their beliefs, however misguided, which is preferable to believing in nothing and failing to act at all.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  31. The passage is an allusion to Paradiso, the final part of Dante’s Divine Comedy that describes his journey into heaven; those with “direct eyes” enter heaven, “death’s other Kingdom,” and are blessed by God. It also alludes to both Canto 3 of Dante’s Inferno and ancient Greek mythology in which dying is depicted as crossing a river into another realm. The connotations of the word “direct” are significant, for the word suggests action and engagement, rather than the weakness and withdrawal that are characteristics of the “hollow men.” In the context of entering heaven, “direct eyes” also suggests a sense of spiritual vision that comes from one’s religious faith.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  32. “Colour” is the British spelling of “color,” and “paralysed” is the British spelling of “paralyzed.” The phrases “Shape without form,” “shade without colour,” and “gesture without motion” are parallel in construction; the repetition of the parallelism emphasizes the idea that modern life is characterized by apathy and superficiality. “Paralysed force” interrupts the catalogue of parallel phrases in construction and meter, drawing attention to a second idea in the couplet: that the failure to engage in life meaningfully results from a failure of will, a type of spiritual paralysis. The couplet’s standing alone in section I distinguishes it from the rest of the text in the section, indicating that it is of special significance in developing themes in the poem.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  33. Eliot employs two similes in describing the “dried voices” of the men as they “whisper together.” He compares them first to the sound of “wind in dry grass” and then to the sound of “rats’ feet” running “over broken glass” in a “dry cellar.” The two auditory images have negative connotations, especially in the references to rats and broken glass.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  34. The word “dried” has connotations of lifelessness and sterility. A motif in the text, the idea of sterile lifelessness is repeated in the remainder of the stanza in “dry grass” and “dry cellar.” The motif is also found in section III in the references to “dead land” and “cactus land.” The motif contributes to a theme in the poem: that people in modern society are disengaged from life and lack will, commitment, passion, and power.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  35. The word “alas” conveys feelings of alarm and grief. Used here as a stand-alone interjection punctuated with an exclamation point, “Alas!” emphasizes the intensity of the speaker’s feelings.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  36. The image recalls the allusion in the epigraph to the stuffed dummies carried on Guy Fawkes Day. Being “hollow” and “stuffed,” like the effigies of Fawkes, suggests the lack of agency.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  37. The first section of the poem describes the “hollow men” referenced in the poem’s title and introduces a contrast between the past, established in the epigraph, and the present. Modernist poets focused on life in the post-World War I world and the effects of mass industrialization on society and the individual.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  38. The phrase alludes to the historical celebration of Guy Fawkes Day (November 5) in England. After plotting unsuccessfully to assassinate King James I and blow up the Parliament, Fawkes was captured on November 5, 1605, and subsequently executed as a traitor. In celebrating the day, children would walk through the streets carrying stuffed dummies representing Fawkes and call out this refrain as they begged for pennies to buy fireworks. “Old Guy” refers to their effigies of Fawkes.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  39. The poem begins with an epigraph that consists of a literary allusion in this line followed by an allusion to English history in the next. “Mistah Kurtz” refers to a primary character in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899): An ivory trader in the Belgium Congo, Kurtz goes into the jungle intent on improving the lives of native Africans, but cut off from civilization, he becomes a depraved demigod, morally corrupted by his charismatic power over them.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor