The Shadow and the Hollow Men

The Hollow Men is an enormously influential poem by T. S. Elliot, influencing and contributing much new vocabulary to 20th Century thought.

In part 5 of the poem it contains the following lines :

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow



Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow


I dont really know what the poem is about, but this is my interpretation.  When we focus on an idea, ideal or ideology – we forget that before we can make it a reality, we will encounter the shadow.  There is indeed a “shadow-side” to every human being.  In Christianity we accept that Shadow, as our sinful nature.   

Some forms of Christianity acknowledge this “shadow” sinful side on an ongoing basis, and see the work of sanctification as a never ending process.  Others focus too much on the shadow.  Still others see the work of sanctification as a once-off event – perhaps a second Christian experience after salvation.  Some Christians would deny that they still have to work on their selfish and sinful natures.

But if we deny the shadow in ourselves and focus entirely on the ideal, we become like the title, mere “Hollow Men”.  The shadow still exists, but if it is not acknowledged it starts to work through us in insidious ways.  And we start to look for shadows in other people instead of within ourselves.

  — wazza2

2 thoughts on “The Shadow and the Hollow Men

  1. I don’t know what this poem means either, but it resonates.

    Your interpretation, wazza, is probably as valid as any other.

    I wondered, reading through the poem in full, if the Shadow was death. But that could correlate with your view, because sin is death.

    Between the idea/And the reality …falls the Shadow. Could that be the death of all the possibilities that did not come into being? When the idea existed, and the reality did not, all things were still possible. Once one becomes reality, the other possibilities cease to be.

    Likewise, the motion could result in an infinite range of acts. All but one cease to be, all but one die, when the act is realised.

    The next verse can be seen the same way.

    So somehow, in the act of doing, completing and realising, we become less than we may be before those things are complete.

    Just my thoughts.

    Thanks for putting up the poem.

  2. This is what someone on another blog thought about this poem – the Shadow being doubt. This is pretty interesting I think:

    “The recurring theme in the poem is doubt. The Hollow Men think over the prospect of faith and Christianity every day; however their doubt stands in their way. Between the ____ and the ___ falls the shadow. The hollow men like the idea of God, but their reality is without him because of the shadow of doubt coming between them and God. This is continued until the end of the poem.
    “For Thine is the kingdom” references the end of the Lords prayer suggesting that the end of the poem parallels the end of Christianity.”
    (Someone on 10/02/2011)

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