A poem written before his religious conversion
A poem written before his religious conversion, Eliot’s The Hollow Men portrays a poetic consciousness of a spiritually-empty Modern man of their doomed fate if they do not spiritually transform, a mere reflection of his position in the world.
Due to morally horrific events such as World War I in Eliot’s Modern world, the metaphoric light of spiritual purpose within the Western world decays into a “fading star.”
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With this degradation of all moral good in society, Modern man devolves into a “violent soul” as his spiritual life becomes “hollow” and paradoxically instead “stuffed” with moral and existential “meaninglessness.”
Thus, mankind is “gathered on this beach of the tumid river” – as this Dantescan imagery articulates Eliot’s concerns that Modern man’s spiritual position is dangerously close to “death’s dream kingdom” of hell.
Despite Eliot’s religious warnings, Modern man still metaphorically choses to continually reject spiritual goodness as he instead creates a “deliberate disguise” to hide his “violent soul” under the demonic imagery of a “rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves.” However, the “sunlight” of Eliot’s growing faith in Christianity exposes the spiritual “broken columns” of Modern man, condemning their “dried voices” and “broken jaw” which “avoid” spreading the biblical ‘good news’ as his use of free-verse embodies his plea for man’s spiritual freedom. Yet, the ‘good news’ in the fragmentised Lord’s prayer is interrupted by Eliot’s poignant reminder that if Modern man’s spiritual position is overtaken by the “shadow” of sin, his “world” will “end” with a spiritual “whimper” – as foreshadowed by the epigraphical allusion to the immoral Guy Fawkes who died in the gallows rather than ending the Parliament with a “bang” or Kurt’s last words of ‘no more than a breath’ in the Heart of Darkness. However, Eliot provides the alternative that Modern man – and “we” by extension – can be saved from this doom if we are reborn from a spiritually futile “prickly pear into a “multifoliate rose” through the “hope” of Christianity’s “perpetual star.” Allowing us to have the recurring motif of spiritual “eyes” to guide us to the “other kingdom” of heaven, saving us from being “hollow men” in this “valley of dying stars.”