There is an immediate and direct connection between the two. Toward the conclusion of Heart of Darkness the narrator, Marlow, describes Kurtz as "hollow to the core" (p72). By this, he means that Kutz is lacking in moral fibre and has been seduced into a facsimile of worship by the dark heart of Africa. This is much the same state as the "quiet and meaningless" and "lost, violent" Hollow Men of the poem, with their "headpiece filled with straw". Indeed it is possible to see the poem as almost an epilogue to the novel, rather than the other way round.
Perhaps the clearest textual link between the two is the obvious spiritual symbolism in The Hollow Men: "death's other kingdom" (heaven), "Five o'clock in the morning" (this is the traditional hour of Christ's resurrection) which imply their emptiness is partly spiritual. It is hard to imagine a greater spiritual emptiness in the eyes of a Christian such as Marlow as to have set oneself up as a literal pagan deity as Kurtz has done. It is actually possible to read the poem as a direct representation of this act, with an unnamed narrator inventing a pagan ritual to avoid mortality: "Not that final meeting / In the twilight kingdom."
There are other flashes of imagery. The Hollow Men meet at "the tumid river" which could be the Congo river, central to the narrative of Heart of Darkness. The book describes Africa as a "kingdom of death", a motif repeated several times in the poem. There are literal hollow men in the book: the severed heads on poles which have been stripped of their contents by ants and vultures.
"food for thought and also for the vultures if there had been any looking down
from the sky; but at all events for such ants as were industrious enough to ascend the pole"
During the events of the novel, Marlow has a near-death experience, which he describes thus:
"a vision of grayness without form filled with physical pain, and a careless contempt for the evanescence of all things."
Which is a description of hollowness. The grayness of the vision corresponds to the "twilight" and the "shadow" and the "sightless" in the poem. The evanescence of things is the spiritual emptiness that suffuses the poem.
Finally, the famous final couplet of the poem "This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper" could be read as a description of Kurtz's equally famous final words:
"He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:
'The horror! The horror!'"
- The Savage and the City in the Work of T.S. Eliot. Clarendon Press, 1987.
- Conflicts in Consciousness: T.S. Eliot’s Poetry and Criticism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.
- T.S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays: A Study in Sources and Meaning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956.