location: new york, new york
I have two loves, fetishes even as a writer - poetry and papers. so i figure i should post that, i'm sorry if the paper's too long/not appropos/unwonted etc. tell me and i can post something else.
1. Tea & Numbers
I dreamed I was Michelangelo
and David asked me
what I saw in him.
and I couldn't explain it,
and I couldn't comprehend it myself.
so I replied with a simple bit
about the lines in his face
about the composition of humanity
in his legs --
“there will be time,” I muttered.
-and found myself again with tea
across the table from a white bearded man
who spoke of flight, of wings,
who spoke of walking on water
and saving the human race,
of the proportion of space.
“there will be time,” I again muttered
to the idealist
to a dropping face.
“Time is of the essence, I imagine,” he said sipping.
and I drew a line.
“My time is in my lines,
they are numbered,” I replied.
“We have made life an art,” he observed.
I drew another line and found myself
among angels under a curved ceiling,
my time expanding with the arcs
“There will be time,” I muttered,
breathing space between creation and creator.
There will be time.
2. Death’s Other Kingdom: Eliot’s Presentation of Purgatory
Yes, no. Life, death. Heaven, hell. So often we think in terms of black and white, two choices or modes through which life will unfold. T. S Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” however, offers us a startling new gray - a purgatory of inaction. Through his use of imagery and allusion Eliot presents in “death’s other kingdom” : the purgatory of inaction on Earth.
Eliot’s first step in creating this third realm is the constant presentation of contradictions throughout the poem. The first two lines, “We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men” indeed are on the surface the presentation of a contradiction. Further in the poem he presents greater contradictions mentioning “Shape without form, shade without colour, / Paralysed force, gesture without motion” (l. 11-12). These contradictions teeter on the border of negation, almost wanting to be defined as such, but Eliot allows them to exist within the world of “the hollow men” as he as given them a positive definition of existence, a purpose, within the poem. The contradictions create for the reader a specific ambiguity that has us not struggling in the dark of negation, but caught in the confusion of a strange gray. Unsure of the existence of or the nature of this world, of the possibilities of any “shape without form” or a “gesture without motion” we are left floating in Eliot’s in-between world of grays, a world of constant suspense begging for resolution to the ambiguity, a definition, an active sense.
The element of “The Hollow Men” that fleshes out this ambiguity is Eliot’s use of imagery. Though the imagery scattered throughout the poem may seem random and at times meaningless, it does actually point to some intention and give a physicality to Eliot’s ambiguity. Firstly, much of the imagery points to this ambiguity being present not in some fantasy world or some spiritual realm of heaven or hell but rather on Earth. The imagery of “wind in dry grass/ Or rats’ feet over broken glass” (l. 8-9), the “cactus land” (l.40) and the “valley of dying stars” (l.54) are very Earth-oriented, calling to mind familiar places or aspects of parts of Earth. This idea is much solidified as Eliot juxtaposes this imagery of Earth “under the twinkle of a fading star” (l.44). This fading star is clearly defined as some form of heavenly salvation as Eliot in lines 36 and 37 alludes to Judgement Day in Heaven as “that final meeting / In the twilight kingdom”.
The second layer of Eliot’s imagery is presented as he notes the “valley of dying stars / ... this hollow valley” (l.54-55). This valley acts as a definition of the ambiguous Earth of the hollow men, a purgatory. A valley lies between two mountains - it is the middle ground of two distinct and individual slopes of two separate masses. Clearly then, our Earth of “dry grass” is the valley between Heaven and Hell, between Life and Death - it is purgatory. Again this is carried out in the imagery of the “beach of the tumid river” (l. 60). A river, much like a valley, lies between two shores, it is what lies between two pieces of land. This broken imagery like that of the valley solidifies Earth as the place of the ambiguous purgatory.
Eliot’s strong use of allusion helps frame this ambiguous, surrealist realm of Earth as purgatory. Eliot first crafts his own phrase, “death’s other Kingdom” (l.14, 44) that would seem a distant relation or pun on Dante’s concept of “death’s dream kingdom” (l. 20, 30). He then directly references Dante’s Purgatorio in lines 20 and 30, giving the reader something solid, something previously defined, to fall back on. The Dante allusions are strong and crucial in Eliot’s development of his purgatory. Referencing Dante links Eliot’s imagery of a kingdom, that in itself an earthly entity, to his definition of purgatory - inaction. Dante’s own concept of purgatory (the Gates of Hell) is the place for the inactive souls - those who made no moral choices in their lives, the angels who sided with neither God nor Satan in the Great Battle. Here Eliot is aligning his hollow men, that is humanity (defined in line 1, “We are the hollow men”), with the inactive souls of Dante’s poetry, and aligning their limbo of Earth with Dante’s Gates of Hell. Here, too, has Eliot established one of our mountains which must form the “valley of dying stars” (l. 54) , one of the shorelines of the “tumid river” (l. 60) , as hell, for purgatory meets hell’s borders.
The final section of the poem, Section V, acts much as a conclusion to the poem, presenting purely Eliot’s definition of purgatory and alluding to the Lord’s Prayer not as a solid basis for the reader like the Dante allusions, but as more a spring board, a piece of information that helps further Eliot’s own ideas. The presentation of the idea that
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow (l. 72-76)
and the series of similar pairings of before’s and after’s, of actions, and “the Shadow” falling between the two actions is the purest presentation of the Eliot’s concept of inaction as purgatory on Earth. “The Shadow”, the eclipse of the soul to a poor resemblance of itself, falls in between two defined and purposeful concepts much like the valley imagery of Section IV. “The Shadow” which is here defined by Eliot as that which lies between two purposeful concepts, actions, is the inaction. “The Shadow”, inaction, then is the purgatory which is on Earth. It is the “valley of dying stars” (l. 54) - the hollow men’s world.
The allusion to The Lord’s Prayer in Section V solidifies heaven as the other mountain that creates the “valley of dying stars”(l.54), the other shoreline of the “tumid river” (l.60). The specific line “For Thine is the Kingdom” (l.77, 91) ensures heaven as the opposite mountain or shoreline to the hell previously established through the Dante reference. We are here then definitely left with an in-between - a state which lies between Heaven and Hell, the inaction which lies between two actions, purgatory.
Finally Eliot weaves these strings of intense imagery and allusion together in his final stanza leaving us with the conclusion that this purgatory is paradoxically the ultimate end of Earth. It is truly inescapable as he prophetically states “This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends” (l.95-97). The paradox exists in that Heaven and Hell are ends in themselves - that any action would lead to an end. Yet, the hollow men’s valley, our world, is caught in this endless ending, indicated by the repetition of the aforementioned lines. Endlessly we are existing as shadows through our inaction, caught in our indifference, in our purgatory (just as Dante’s inactive souls endlessly chase a banner). This is Earth, this is our endless ending according to Eliot – we live only to continue dying, not reaching some final point with the great impact of decision (the “bang”) but remaining motionless under our own weak “whimpers” of indecision.
While so often reality is perceived as a decision of one way or another, of a black world or a white world, T.S. Eliot brilliantly exposes the dangerous grays of reality in “The Hollow Men”. Using imagery and allusion as his tools, Eliot carefully builds before us the reality of Earth as the purgatory which hangs between Heaven and Hell, between the worlds of decisions. The purgatory that at the hands of the hollow men, of humanity, has become the ceaseless diminishment of Earth. Eliot’s philosophy is fully embodied and developed through imagery and allusion and ultimately finely finished and presented in the final section of the poem. Indeed through the synthesis of this information we can conclude that at least through Eliot’s eyes, “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper” (l.97-98).
Sorry for the length!