The Hollow Men

The Hollow Men Summary and Analysis of Parts II - III


Part II

This section introduces a singular speaker—"I"—one of the hollow men, in “death’s dream kingdom.” The speaker is afraid of meeting the eyes of the dead in sleep. Eyes are a motif of the poem, symbolizing moral certainty and judgment.

Part III

In this part, the poem describes death’s other kingdom in spare, powerful images. The hollow men raise stone images in religious supplication, but with a dead hand; they say ardent prayers, but to a broken stone.


Part II

In dreams, the eyes of the dead are figured as sunlight on a broken column. The sunlight, bright and direct, represents an unwavering truth. Standing in for the narrator, the broken column is a traditional graveyard memorial for a premature death. The wind singing and tree swinging contrast with the wind in dry grass in the first section: the world we are now in is one with at least a hint of life. In the dream state, the narrator has access to a distant, fading world of faith. The fading star refers again to the sun, the truth, and also the star over Bethlehem in the Christian gospel story. The star is fading because of the hollow man’s inability to believe in the afterlife.

“Let me be no nearer” expresses apprehension of being closer to the eyes, the motif representing judgment in this poem. It’s a plea to be no nearer than the faded suggestion of the ancestor’s world of faith and moral clarity. The deliberate disguises refer back to the first section: the rat, the field, the crowskin, and the crossed staves describe the scarecrows, or stuffed men. The deliberate disguises are the act of imagination—of writing poetry. The narrator is begging to escape the final judgment while in the twilight kingdom, which represents sleep, but also purgatory, and moral ambiguity.


The repetition of “This” in the lines “This is the dead land/This is the cactus land” echoes the structure of the beginning of the poem: “We are the hollow men,/We are the stuffed men”—reminding us that, as in the opening lines, a paradox is at work. A cactus is a living plant that grows in the desert. So the land is not entirely dead. These lines can be read as a dialectic, a vacillation. This is the dead land: faith is gone, so this land is dead. Or, this is the cactus land: We are still living, but barely, within harsh arid conditions.

The stone images represent the various efforts of humankind to establish a myth of rebirth, a wish for immortal life. The dead man can’t speak to beg for salvation, but even in death, he lays in a posture of supplication. The fading star returns to represent the tiny bit of hope that remains.

Then, the poem asks the question: "Is it like this /In death’s other kingdom"? The speaker is trying to imagine the way across the River to heaven, and wondering if the barrenness of faithlessness is analogous to the experience of death. The speaker wakes from sleep. "Trembling from tenderness" refers to sexual desire for fecundity and meaning, but also religious desire—the desire for a transcendent experience. "Lips that would kiss" imagines a sexual impulse transformed into a spiritual one. The broken stone continues the motif of the broken column and stone images. "Prayers to a broken stone" refers to prayers of an unbeliever, which is either futile or a paradoxical remnant of hope.