148. Death’s Only Twilight Kingdom – The Hollow Men (T.S. Eliot; a capella)


T.S. Eliot

I had ideas and intention for accompaniment for this song, and I may still add it, but there is something very intriguing about a capella.  For me, it creates endless possibilities for color and harmony change without telling you “This IS as it’s supposed to sound!”   There are obvious choices one might make, but hearing only a skeleton makes the ear reach for what is only implied, not given to it so easily.  I can hear strings for sure, maybe even brass…and you?  It’s a healthy exercise for ears.

Writing: I found the first three notes of the opening melody by laying in my bed just plucking my uke (some of my most fulfilling ideas came while I was laying down: it works. Try it.).   I went to the fancy library on 5th and 42nd not realizing that the fanciness of the library is because it’s a reference only library: you can’t check anything out.  I went there to check out some W.B Yeats, but, upon walking across the street to the library where you can walk out with stuff, I got T.S. Eliot.  As a girl we had his cat poetry in my house, which I liked, but never went further into his work.  Upon reading “Portrait of a Lady” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, I’m really enjoying myself.  It’s really beautiful.

The lyrics, partially inspired-partially quoted, come from Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men – A Penny for the Old Guy”.  I used a healthy portion of his words (a few are used in a different order, line-for-line).  It became an exercise in working with someone else’s work, attempting to intertwine, but not totally quote line-for-line, fitting them into a different intention.

Recording: This is the first take.  I constructed the lyrics in conjunction with the melody.  I would write a line, put melody to it, record it quickly and move on.  The take you’re hearing is the first pass of putting it together.  In the poem, the last line of section IV is “The hope only of empty men.”  I intended to use this whole line, but accidentally said “lonely”.  I also intended to use the line, “In death’s only twilight kingdom” as a reoccurring line or a more subtle chorus even.

Several people have used this poem for their songs, too (Bush, Amanda Palmer, Devo).  You can read about the poem from Wikipedia: The Hollow Men and The Hollow Men in Popular Culture

Death’s Only Twilight Kingdom (The Hollow Men)

Cactus thin, thin like my good hand
Once to live, here on deadened land
Here they receive, in death’s other kingdom
Lips to kiss, as a broken motion
Dying star, as a broken stone
Those who have crossed, in death’s other kingdom
Glimpse another sun, burning across revolutions
Trembling tenderness leading to no one
Sightless, sunless the eyes reappear so…
Leave it here my love, death’s only twilight kingdom
The hope, only love,
Of lonely men.

The Hollow Men – T.S. Eliot


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
                                For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
                                Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
                                For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

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.

2 thoughts on “148. Death’s Only Twilight Kingdom – The Hollow Men (T.S. Eliot; a capella)

  1. First, this is beautiful. I love the a capella; it’s entrancing and intimate, and this morning it enveloped me. It’s so close and personal, yet somehow that closeness creates not claustrophobia, but the illusion of such space and atmosphere. Like you said, my mind picks up on a world of sound that isn’t there, and that’s really powerful.

    Second, I’ve got a whole collection of songs that I attribute to T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” a book of his poems and prose (and everything in between) that I found last August. I can’t stop reading it any more than I can stop stealing from it.

    Side-note: If you’ve got a wall that you’re sure would be complete if you could only find a gigantic (5.5’x4′) painting (various wall paints and charcoal on cardboard) of Mr. Eliot, then look no further!! I painted it before I realized there was no remotely realistic way it would fit in my studio apartment.

    Third, Thank you.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s