I once read a poem "The Hollow Men" by T. S. Eliot. The poet ended the verse like this:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

What does it mean? What is he trying to tell the reader?

Did Eliot express his own personal life or emotions with these lines?

  • If you have multiple questions, you should probably ask them separately. The first two in this question: " what does it mean? What is he trying to tell the reader? "Are related enough they can probably be one question. The other question "did Elliot express his own personal life emotions with these lines? "Is a completely separate question entirely. – Please stop being evil Nov 3 '19 at 23:15

While what a poet is trying to tell the reader will usually be a matter of dispute, B. C. Southam shines some light on these lines in A Student's Guide to the Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot, pp. 217-8:

ll. 95-8: a parody, combining a line from the children's song 'Here we go round the mulberry bush' - 'This is the way we clap our hands' - with a distortion of the phrase 'world without end' from the prayer 'Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.'

l. 98: Not with a bang: cf. 'it all ends, not with a bang, not with some casual incident, but in sustained reflection...', in George Santayana's account of the Divine Comedy, in Three Philosophical Poets (1910). Santayana (1863-1952) was lecturing on Dante at Harvard during Eliot's student days.

whimper: Eliot may have had in mind two lines from Danny Deever (1892) by Rudyard Kipling, a poem he knew by heart at the age of ten. Deever, a British soldier, is executed in front of his regiment for killing another comrade:

What's that that whimpers over'ead?, said Files-on-Parade,

It's Danny's soul that's passin' now,' the Colour-Sargeant said.

Eliot referred to this 'remarkable' poem in his Introduction to A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1941) quoting these lines and commenting that Kipling's choice of the word 'whimpers' is 'exactly right'.

The 'whimper' may also combine an allusive reference to Dante, suggesting the cry of a baby, the new-born leaving one world to enter another, just as at the end of the Purgatorio Dante is leaving the sinful, fallen world in the presence of Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise. In xxx, 43ff. and xxi, 64ff, he stands before her, shamed and conscience-stricken, repentant and silent, like a child before a stern mother.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.