Monday, May 24, 2010

Hell, Hollow-men, and the Ordeal of Regeneration (as explained by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

The following is an excerpt (pp.108-9) from Russell Kirk's Book Eliot and His Age. Here Kirk gives a reading of Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men":

These Hollow Men...are the souls that will be spewed out of His mouth. They choose to linger in their despicable death-in-life, rather than to pass through the jaws of death into "death's other kingdom," which might be Paradise. It is not that they have sinned violently: their vice is flaccidity of will. Life is for action, but they have not acted in spirit. Phlebas the Phoenician sailor, dying by water that he might experience rebirth, was more happy then they.

These Hollow Men dare not meet those Eyes--Christ's, or the reproachful eyes of Dante's Beatrice--that would demand repentance and the ordeal of regeneration; fearful, they hide in "death's dream kingdom," preferring illusion to transcendent reality. In one sense, they are the humanitarian and secularistic liberals who put their faith in the trauma of immanent perfection; in another sense, they are the large majority of mankind..., preferring the feeble comforts they know to the quest of the Chapel Perilous. [...]

No, it is safer to scuffle about in the dream kingdom, where no Eyes invade the darkness. By their timorousness, these Hollow Men have lost personality. They huddle together in a cheerless collectivity that is not community. They are guisers, scarecrows, venerating graven images, sightless.

Upon them falls the Shadow, frustrating their feeble aspirations: their ideas slide away unrealized, their gestures accomplish nothing, their imagination is sterile, their emotions wake no responses, their desires end in barrenness, their powers remain latent only, and their being itself is nerveless. Their attempts at supplication are tardy and vain: it is too late for them to profess faith with humility. They cannot even fractured atoms; they will put no match to gunpowder under Parliament House; their world ends "Not with a bang but a whimper."

[In] death's dream kingdom, in the desolation of cactus and prickly pear, such Hollow Men are confined forever. This poem is the last of Eliot's delineations of Hell. From "The Hollow Men" forward, he would be a Seeker still--but a seeker after "the perpetual star, multifoliate rose" of timeless love, now knowing that rose to be real. A man who has emptied himself of vanity and fleshly desire may struggle through suffering to that rose; but a Hollow Man, a stuffed man, stirred only by the wind of the dead land, circles endlessly round the prickly pear.

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