William Butler Yeats and Thomas Stearns Eliot both have written very powerful poetry that has changed the face of literature for future generations. Yeats' "The Second Coming" and Eliot's "The Hollow Men" are permeated with the feeling of despair. This despair reflects the feelings of the age in which the poets lived. In these poems, there is a pervasive sense of futility, a sense that mankind will never recover. Through the use of tone, visual imagery, and religious images, W. B.
Yeats and T. S. Eliot paint a verbal portrait of life that is both desolate and apocalyptic. Both poets use apocalyptic images to express tone. The first stanza of Yeats' "The Second Coming" is a statement about the state of the world. The tone is set in the following lines: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world" (Yeats, lines 3-4).
This tone reflects the seriousness of the situation. The "widening gyre" (Yeats 1) image shows society moving away from the centre of civilization, just as the planets would scatter into the universe if it were not for the sun's gravity. In response to the loss of "the centre" (Yeats 3) mankind is thrown into confusion. The state of mind of the people is recounted as "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." (Yeats 7-8). These lines express the reaction to chaos, in particular, the reaction to the times in which the poems were written. Similarly, Eliot uses images of emptiness in "The Hollow Men." The line that opens the poem, "Mi stah Kurtz -- he dead.
/ A penny for the Old Guy" is an epigraph Eliot employs to set the tone and mood. The lines refer to people who are considered evil and to dark moments of humanity. In lines one and two, Eliot presents the reader with a metaphorical image of the speaker. "We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men" characterizes the speaker as a scarecrow, someone who is hollow and empty. One of the most prevalent, visual images common to both the poem by Eliot and the poem by Yeats is the desert. The desert in both of these poems is not just an arid, barren, wasteland; it is a visual way to understand the bleakness of life; ."..
somewhere in sands of the desert / A shape with lion body and the head of a man, /A gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun" (Yeats 13-15). Eliot imparts the same visual idea: "This is the dead land /This is the cactus land" (39-40). The desert images in both poems reflect an aridity of the soul that results in a loss of faith and hope. In the previous passages, both Eliot and Yeats refer to pagan images when describing the desert.
Eliot writes: "Here the stone images / Are raised, here they receive / The supplication of a dead man's hand" (41-43) and in "The Second Coming" Yeats writes about "[a] shape with lion body and the head of man" (13-14). The speakers in the poems are expressing the idea that their lives are so terrible, that faith and hope are being offered to stone idols. The worship of false images is considered sacrilegious. In "The Second Coming", there is a sense of despondency.
The speaker feels that the situation is irreversible and out of humankind's control as evidenced in the line "The blood-dimmed tide is loosed... ." (Yeats 5). The speaker also expresses a belief that whatever may come next, cannot be any better then what they have now: "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" (Yeats 21-22). These lines describe the loss of faith in humanity and the belief that Christianity has disappeared... In "The Hollow Men", there is also evidence of a dying faith in Christianity. "In this valley of dying stars / In this hollow valley" (Eliot 54-55), the speakers no longer feel the love of God.
The stars, to which the hollow men looked to for spiritual guidance, are fading. God has abandoned the hollow men and they cannot hear his word: "This broken jaw of our lost kingdom" (Eliot 56). The "broken jaw" (Eliot 56) represents the lack of communication between God and the speaker. This idea is also revealed in the lines, "The supplication of a dead man's hand / Under the twinkle of a fading star." (Eliot 43-44) This pleading, this supplication is to a God no longer believed in. It is "The hope only / Of empty men." (Eliot 66-67) In "the Hollow Men", it is as if the subjects understand their situation, but wish it were not so. As they cling together, silent, in their despair, there is an understanding of the hell that they are in: Between the idea And the reality Between the motion And the act Falls the shadow (Eliot, lines 72-76) These lines are also suggestive of the contemplation of suicide.
The feeling that maybe it would be better to be dead than to suffer any longer. The wavering between believing in God and the despair that they are feeling is evident. The lines "For Thine is the Kingdom" (Eliot 77) and "Life is very long" (Eliot 81), verbalize the internal struggle the hollow men are going through. The speaker's struggle is that in spite of the terror he feels about living a long life without hope, he still wants to believe that God exists. The short lines, "For Thine is / Life is / For Thine is" (Eliot 92-94), indicate the unwillingness of the hollow men to put their fears into words. The poem ends much the same as their lives: "Not with a bang but a whimper." (Eliot 96).
This line indicates that in spite of the hope, everything is futile. Life goes on whether you want it to or not; and sometimes so does death. Yeats and Eliot, through their clever use of words, both have presented the reader with a realistic picture of how people felt after the turn of the century. Sufficient evidence is present in the poetry to support the idea, that the images brought to mind when reading "The Second Coming" and "The Hollow Men", are ones of despair and the loss of faith that people were feeling. Works Cited Eliot, T.
S. "The Hollow Men." 20 th Century Poetry & Poetics. Ed. G. Geddes.
4 th ed. Don Mills, Ont: Oxford, 1996. 66-69. Yeats, W. B. "The Second Coming." 20 th Century Poetry and Poetics.
Ed. G. Geddes. 4 th Ed.
Don Mills, Ont: Oxford, 1996. 9.