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The Hollow Men in popular culture

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The Hollow Men in popular culture

T. S. Eliot's poem, "The Hollow Men", has had a profound effect on the Anglo-American cultural lexicon and—by a relatively recent extension—world culture since it was published in 1925. The references below range from American video games (the Halo series) to Japanese literature (the novels of Haruki Murakami).

Sheer variety of reference moves some of the questions concerning the poem's significance outside the traditional domain of literary criticism -- where Harold Bloom, for one, often half-laments Eliot's influence[1] -- and into the much broader category of cultural studies. Here, its history has itself becomes an object for meditation in the work of many critics and artists, including, for instance, film essayist Chris Marker.[2]


  • The poem is used in the opening of "The Compound" By S. A. Bodeen.
  • The Nevil Shute novel, On the Beach, takes its name from the second stanza of Part IV of the poem and extracts from the poem, including the passage in which the novel's title appears, have been printed in the front papers of some editions of the book including the 1957 first US edition.[3]
  • Stephen King's Dark Tower series contains multiple references to "The Hollow Men," as well as The Waste Land (most prominently the title of the 3rd book in the series, which is The Waste Lands). King also makes reference to this poem in Pet Sematary with "Or maybe someone who had escaped from Eliot's poem about the hollow men. I should have been a pair of ragged claws," the latter sentence of which is taken from Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."
  • The Hollow Men, a book by Nicky Hager, presumably takes its name from this poem.
  • Meg Rosoff's book Just in Case that is about a boy and his imminent doom contains the last stanza of the poem and is used in reference to losing his virginity.
  • Tracy Letts' play August: Osage County uses the poem as the skeleton for the story, and is heavily referenced in the prologue and the closing lines of the play.
  • The James Morrow novel This is the Way the World Ends is named for a line in the last stanza of the poem.
  • The novel "Beautiful Creatures" the character Lena quotes the poem on her birthday saying this is the way the world ends, the world ends not with a bang but with a whimper.
  • The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: the Original Radio Scripts by Douglas Adams contains the line "So you mean the universe does actually end not with a bang but with a Wimpy?" in "Fit the Fifth". The line was, however, cut from the actual radio show.


  • Eliot's poem was the inspiration for Gabrielle Aplin's song Start of Time. She got a tatto with lyrics from the poem to mark the release of her debut album English Rain.
  • Denis ApIvor wrote a work called The Hollow Men for baritone, male chorus and orchestra around 1939. It had only one performance, in 1950, under the conductor Constant Lambert, and produced by the BBC through the influence of Edward Clark.[4]
  • "The Hollow Men" were a neo-psychedelic rock band from Manchester, England who rode the Madchester sound to US college radio success in the early 1990s
  • Eliot's poem was the inspiration for The Hollow Men, a piece for trumpet and orchestra by composer Vincent Persichetti.
  • The song "Hollow Again" by the Christian rock band Project 86 is based on this poem and the line "This is the way the world ends" is repeated many times.
  • The song "Longtime" by the band EMF samples T. S. Eliot's reading of this poem.
  • The song "The Shadow" by Devo (Total Devo, 1988) contains the lines, "Between the emotion/And the response/Falls the Shadow"
  • Sections of the poem are used in the song "The Straw" by musical group Idiot Flesh on their album "Fancy".
  • The song "The Chemicals Between Us" by Gavin Rossdale and his band, Bush featured the line "we're of the Hollow Men, we are the naked ones"
  • The song "Thine is the Kingdom" by Greek metal band Rotting Christ contains Part III and Part V of the poem.
  • The song "Hollow Men" by Minneapolis post punk group Rifle Sport quotes extensively from the poem.
  • The song "Hollow Man" appears as the first track on 1983 album Doppelgänger by the group Daniel Amos. The song is a paraphrase of Eliot's poem spoken over the music of "Ghost of the Heart" played backwards. "Ghost of the Heart" is the last song on the group's previous album ¡Alarma! released in 1981.
  • The song "Perineum Millennium" by Tim Minchin was heavily influenced by T. S. Eliot, with the end verse written as almost a direct reproduction of the last stanza of The Hollow Men.
  • The song "No Homeowners" by Twin Cities hip hop collective Doomtree contains the lyric (rapped by fellow Doomtree member Dessa): 'It goes thanks, T.S., but the world ends like this / Not a bang, not a whimper, but a sibilant hiss.'
  • The song "Beast" by Riverside Lawn-based band Tusk takes all of its lyrics from Eliot's poem and ends with the line "Not with a bang, but with a whimper."
  • The song "Greenwood" by folk band Peter, Paul, and Mary contains the line "Is this then the whimper and the ending?"
  • The Cult penned the song "Hollow Man" on their LOVE album.
  • John Cooper Clarke's poem "Psycle Sluts Parts I & II" ends with the lines "or the burger joint around the bend, where the meals thank Christ are skimpy; for you that's how the world could end, not with a bang but a Wimpy."
  • Andy White makes reference to the work among others in his song "Speechless" (1992), a savage critique of the Gulf War: "...for we are The Hollow Men, our heads stuffed with straw..."[7]
  • The line "This is how the world ends... not with a bang, but with a whimper" is used in the song "Nightman" by the band The Acacia Strain
  • The UK electronic music duo Vent (Sam Ashwell & Dan Havers) utilize parts of the poem in their song "Shape Without Colour"

Film, television and gaming

  • Eliot's poem was also a strong influence on Francis Ford Coppola and the movie Apocalypse Now. In the film, antagonist Colonel Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando) is depicted reading parts of the poem out loud to his followers. Furthermore, in the Complete Dossier DVD release of the film, there is a 17 minute special feature of Kurtz reciting the poem in its entirety. The poem's epigraph is "Mistah Kurtz - he dead" which is a quote from Conrad's Heart of Darkness, upon which the film is loosely based.
  • The CBS television show, Beauty and the Beast, created by Ron Koslow also shows influence of Eliot's poem. The nineteenth episode in season two was entitled "The Hollow Men" and featured two young men who murder women soullessly and without remorse.
  • The Hollowmen is an Australian comedy series on ABC1 about a small group of government advisers.
  • The BBC science-fiction programme Doctor Who references both the "Falls the Shadow" section (the words had also been used previously as the title of a Doctor Who novel) and the "This is the Way the World Ends…" conclusion in the 2007 episode The Lazarus Experiment.
  • The final stanza is printed one line at a time at the beginning of the Television production of Stephen King's The Stand. The poem is also referenced in part by the character who feels responsible for the deadly 'Captain Tripps' virus being unleashed.
  • In the game Myth: The Fallen Lords, the Soulless units were nicknamed Hollow Men, floating ethereal skeletons that served as ranged attack units for the antagonist in the single player campaign, and as controllable units in the multiplayer portion.
  • Before the release of Halo: Combat Evolved, a series of emails were transmitted to a gaming website. The emails contained what would later be known as the Cortana Letters. In the first transmission, the letter makes reference to Eliot's last stanza when it states: "Oh, and your poet Eliot had it all wrong: THIS is the way the world ends." The cryptic message would be elaborated upon in the game's sequels, another appearance in promotional material for Halo 3, spoken by the character Cortana. The aforementioned scene was included in the final version of the game with Cortana speaking the line at a critical moment in the story when all hope seems lost. Also, the character Gravemind is heard speaking broken-up lines from this poem in the background at various points in Halo 3. Towards the end of the game, Sgt. Johnson states "Send me out with a bang" as he dies. The final section of the last level is titled "The Way the World Ends". Also, there are three reversed messages in the Halo 3 Soundtrack, one of them making reference to lines from the poem.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 2, near the end, the protagonist, Raiden, has a conversation with an A.I. construct about the saturation of information caused by the internet, and other modern communication advancements. The A.I. tells Raiden: "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper."
  • The trailer for the 2007 film Southland Tales, directed by Richard Kelly, plays on the poem stating - "This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper but with a bang". The film also quotes the line a number of times, mostly in voice overs.
  • In the 1954 movie A Star is Born when James Mason (as Norman Maine) kills himself, the film studio publicist quotes from the poem, saying "This is the way the world ends; not with a bang but with a whimper."
  • The Broadway play August: Osage County quotes passages from "The Hollow Men," stating "This is the way the world ends", and "Life is very long."
  • In the June 3, 2009, episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert signed off by reciting the poem's last four lines, with the word "show" substituted for "world". He then added, "See? You did use your English degree."
  • In Shadow Man, if one loses the battle to Legion, he quotes the final stanza to Michael just before he begins the Apocalypse.
  • In the episode "My Old Kentucky Home" of Mad Men the character Paul Kinsley recites the concluding part of the poem.
  • The penultimate episode of the TV series Dollhouse is titled "The Hollow Men," and concerns the characters' failure to avert a coming apocalypse.
  • In an episode of the television series Frasier entitled You Scratch My Book..., Frasier's short-time lover Honey Snow dismisses him by quoting the last line of The Hollow Men, telling him "the world ends not with a bang, but a whimper".
  • In the mini series version of The Stand, it features the ending lines of the poem.
  • In the anime Highschool of the Dead, the line "This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper" was quoted at the end of episode 12.
  • In the movie Easy A, Emma Stone is making a webcast that has different parts, and at the start of each part is a short introduction written on a notebook. The last one was "Not with a fizzle, but with a bang", referencing the poem.
  • The sixth season finale of Dexter, which deals with religious and apocalyptic themes, is titled "This is the Way the World Ends."
  • The poem was used in the R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour episode "Scarecrow," in which a scarecrow salesman's wares are the cause for mass disappearances.
  • In the 2013 BBC drama The Fall, the murderer quotes a verse from the poem in a journal he maintains relating to his acts and pertaining to his state of mind.
  • Protagonists face enemies of the same name within the Fable video game series. The name, "Hollow Men" could be a reference to the T.S. Elliot poem "The Hollow Men" who fit the description of humans without souls or purpose.


  • Chris Marker created a 19 minute multimedia piece in 2005 for the Museum of Modern Art in New York titled "Owls At Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men" which was influenced by Eliot's poem.


  • The Acid1 test page for web browsers contains the phrase "the world ends" followed by two radio buttons labeled "bang" and "whimper".[8]

See also


External links

  • Text of the poem
  • Chris Marker's "Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men"
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