The Hollow Men

The Hollow Men Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Straw men (Allegory)

The Hollow Men/Stuffed men signify modern men who are spiritually dead.


The second epigraph: the “old guy” refers to a straw effigy of Guy Fawkes, which will be burnt in a ritual.

Lines 1-4 and 17-18: Presents straw men as a paradox, both empty and full, present but meaningless. Straw has the quality of once having been alive, but now being dead and dry.

Lines 32-35: The “crossed staves” have several connotations: wooden planks of support for the exhausted hollow men, a crucifix, and in an alternate word meaning, the lines of poetry.

Dryness/Desert (Motif)

The dry landscape represents a world that once had life or faith, in the figure of water, but it has disappeared.


Lines 5-8 The repetition of “dry” three times implies a lack of water or life.

Lines 9-10 Two similes imagine a world which has lost its fecundity: “wind in dry grass” and “rat’s feet over broken glass in our dry cellar.”

Lines 39-40: “This is the dead land/This is the cactus land.”: 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.

Lines 68-71: The Hollow Men alter the children's song "Here we go 'round the Mulberry Bush" to "Here we go round the prickly pear." The prickly pear is a kind of cactus that grows in a desert, representing the barest amount of life.

The Shadow (symbol)

Lines 72-90: The Shadow, repeated in a refrain, is a symbol of death. Without the comfort of faith in God, death paralyzes all action.

Eyes (Motif)

Eyes symbolize moral certainty and judgment.


Line 14: “Those who have crossed/With direct eyes, to death’s other kingdom.” refers to Canto 3 of Dante's Inferno as well as Ancient Greek mythology, where death is figured as a passage across the River Styx. The poem sets up a contrast between the hollow men and those who have crossed with direct eyes. These are ancestors who have, through faith, crossed into “death’s other kingdom”: heaven.

Line 19: “Let me be no nearer” expresses apprehension of being closer to the eyes, or judgment. It’s a plea to be no nearer than the faded suggestion of the ancestor’s world of faith and moral clarity.

Lines 22-23: In dreams, the eyes of the dead are figured as sunlight on a broken column. The sunlight, bright and direct, represents an unwavering truth.

Lines 61-62: “The eyes are not here,/There are no eyes here.” If there are no eyes there, that means that the hollow men are blind.

Lines 63-64: “Sightless, unless/The eyes reappear/As the perpetual star,/Multifoliate rose/Of death’s twilight kingdom.” The eyes of faith might reappear as the perpetual star—the star over Bethlehem, the star of the Christian faith.