This line, which concludes the poem, is itself a kind of quotation from a nursery rhyme. The lines of the nursery rhyme usually go: “This is the way we ____” with an action verb to describe getting ready for the day: wash our face, comb our hair, etc. Instead, in Eliot's version, we are getting ready for the apocalypse. In an ironic anticlimax, the last line shocks because it subverts our expectations of both the end of the world and the end of a poem. It offers what we expect—a "bang"—and then rescinds it. We as readers are placed in the position of Kurtz or Fawkes, wishing for a flamboyant, anarchic, heroic moment. We learned in the epigraph that this modern attempt to bring meaning through dramatic antithesis was a failure. In the end, the poem ridicules religious desire equally. The last “whimper” represents the plea for immortality that we saw in part III, the supplication of a dead man’s hand to the stone under the twinkle of a fading star. In a modern world where there is no God, this is a pitiful gesture. Our language, filled with echoes of pre-modern spiritual meaning, disintegrates into fragments. These last four lines are famous and still often quoted, retaining the power to shock. To this day, we are continuously surprised by the amoral experience of modern reality.
The Hollow Men Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Hollow Men is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.