ENGL 103: “The Hollow Men,” “I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing,” and “Still I Rise” Poem Review


Final Examination: Examine “The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land, ”  Maya Angelou’s “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and “Still I Rise” and answer the following questions. THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN DUBAI Part one: Please answer the following questions about “The Hollow Men.” Note the following quote below: Is there any possibility […]

Poems Analysis

Part One

Question 1. Eliot depicted a land of emptiness filled with hollow men. From a literal standpoint, one can be easily persuaded to think that Eliot meant to display hopelessness and despair. In the first section, Eliot talks of hollow men who are destitute, waiting to join either heaven or hell. Their situation is compared to dryness and bareness. Eliot’s portrayal is motivated by the events of entering either heaven or hell. The transitional state of these men can be mistaken to be mortality. However, Eliot was careful as regards his choice of words. Rather than using the word “empty,” he chose to go with “hollow,” as the latter is an empty space waiting to be filled. Although some may end up in hell, others will gain access to the gates of heaven. Before the ultimate objective can happen, seeing God, one has to undergo a soul purification process. Therefore, the hollow men have a big chance of experiencing salvation. Otherwise, their hopelessness is not fated to last forever.

Although there is a likelihood of redemption, the hollow men are not in a position to save themselves. They have to wait for their fate to be decided by being issued access to either heaven or hell. The state of the hollow men is closely associated with hell, only that the victims are considered less sinful to warrant their entry into hell. Besides, the name “hollow men” denotes vessels with nothing in them and ready to receive content. On their own, these containers have no means to fill themselves. They rely on external forces to save them from their emptiness.

The hollow men may seem to be in the space of desperation that lasts eternally. For the most part of the poem, the men live aimlessly. According to Eliot, the hollow men are stuck in a state of nothingness. He uses phrases such as shade without color, shape without form, and gesture without movement to define the near non-existent state of the hollow men. According to Dante of the Divine Comedy, the man who inspires Eliot’s poem, the first tiers preceding heaven are horrific. Rather than stay dismayed, hollow people have hope that they will get to heaven, where they will meet God. Critics contend that hollowness is not a bad thing.  After encountering the terrifying experiences, the ultimate desire comes to be.

Question 2. The Hollow Men

The hollow men we are

The stuffed men also are

Holding close

Unhappily! Our headpieces made of chaff

Our voices inaudible

In our combined whispers

Are silence and meaninglessness

Like wind running over dry grass

Or rats stepping on broken grass

Inside our waterless vault

Shape lacking form, shade starved of color

Immobilized force, gesture deficient of motion

Those on the other side

To the other side of death
Hope you don’t forget us, we soul-less men

Aggressive souls, except only

Similar to the hollow men

Staffed men

The Waste Land

What roots can make a grip, which twigs can sprout

Out of this bare stone? Earthly man

You can’t state, or presume, all you know is

A stack of shattered images, on which the sun strikes,

And shade-less dead trees, no reprieve for the crickets,

And stone starved of water. The shadow

Is only under the rock of red

(Seek shelter under the rock of red),

I will unleash a world of difference, the complete opposite of either

Your shadow in the morning rays

Or your shadow in the evening rays

I will display terror in a tickle of dirt

In both “The Hollow Men” and “The Waste Land” poems, T.S. Eliot explores the theme of death. Things that people consider important are portrayed as objects of futility. In the title “The Hollow Men,” death is apparent. Eliot asserts that after death, the soul vacates the body leaving behind an empty shell. In section one, the line the hollow men beg for remembrance from those who have crossed to the other side affirms the notion that they are soul-less. The bottom line is that people without souls are useless, which happens when death occurs. In the case of “The Waste Land” poem, death is evident throughout the piece. By using figurative language, Eliot paints the harsh environment of the desert that is not only uninhabitable but also fatal to human beings. The trees are dead and shadeless, and water is absent. In this symbolism, people cannot find comfort in the desert-like environment. The situation is so hopeless that life is impossible here.

Part Two

Question 1. “I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing” is a poem by Maya Angelou that serves two main purposes. Firstly, Maya indirectly expresses her horrific experiences during her upbringing when she battled trauma, racism, and teenage pregnancy, among many other atrocities. Secondly, Maya gives a voice to many others who have either encountered racially-motivated harassment during their early years or are still undergoing oppression. Although many themes can be found in Maya’s poem, freedom is the main topic. The entire poem seeks to sympathize with the subjects of racial prejudice through the message of hope presented. Maya’s work shows the longing to be free from racially-motivated struggles.

Maya decides to use the word “bird” to create a metaphor. The lifestyle of a bird is also important to the poem. Free birds are able to do all they want without limits. Many options are available as they can explore the extensive sky and feel entitled to their surroundings. On the other hand, caged birds have no choice but to remain confined in enclosures without much space for freedom. The clear distinction between the two types of birds allows Maya to express sentiments about isolation and freedom. As anyone could expect, a caged bird would give anything to take back its right to freedom. Life in enclosed spaces represents the oppression and desperation that the minority races face, yet getting out seems a near-impossible event unless the majority races decide to set them free.

Maya uses imagery to show how desperate her community hungers for freedom. In one episode of the poem, Maya paints the picture of a fight between a white and black boxer. The black society to which Maya belongs considers this a key event. If the black fighter were growing dominant, the community would experience the feeling of freedom. On the other hand, if one of their own was losing to a white fighter, the blacks groaned. According to Maya, thrashing was another one of the many ills imposed on the blacks by the whites. Maya uses phrases such as “yet another lynching,” “one more woman raped,” and “a white woman torturing her black maid” to demonstrate the many other freedom-limiting injustices that the whites inflicted on the blacks.

Part Three

Question 1: “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” is a poem by Emily Dickinson. The main metaphor in this piece is the use of the word “feathers,” which embodies a bird and its ability to fly at will. Notably, the theme of hope is at the core of Dickinson’s poem. By definition, hope is a deep longing and great expectation that a specific thing will happen. Dickinson uses feathers to underline this feeling. Feathers comprise vital elements that make up the body of a bird. If one place is adverse, a bird with functional feathers is always at liberty to fly away in search of a safer and more conducive site. If the birds need food, they fly away to the lands of abundance and perch. In the absence of feathers, the birds are helpless like other terrestrial animals. In this metaphor, Dickinson tries to say that human beings are made of hopeful souls who keep telling them not to give up despite life’s many challenges. Dickinson’s theme of hope resonates perfectly with Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” Angelou’s poem represents how she has battled through numerous difficulties without despair. Hope is the one thing that kept Angelou moving until she attained freedom. In one metaphor, Angelou states she is sailing through a black ocean full of strong tides. Still, she perseveres. It is undeniable that Angelou faced a string of harassment during her early years. She was abused, impregnated at teenage, racially discriminated against, and offended in many other ways. The metaphor captures these episodes of oppression and concludes that Angelou is a fighter, having emerged victorious after everything. Apparently, very few people would make it through vast and stormy oceans. The faint-hearted would drown in no time. Knowing the risks involved, Angelou hoped she would overcome the chains of racial oppression and obtain freedom.

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