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John Palcewski's Journal

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About two weeks before he died of a stroke Vittoria’s husband Jack was moody, distracted, distant. One evening after dinner she saw him at the big computer in the den, rapidly typing, as he looked at the lines of poetry in an open book. She came up behind him, put her hands on his shoulders, and asked him what he was doing.

“I’m rewriting T.S. Eliot,” Jack said. “Don’t laugh. I’m convinced the chain-smoking old bastard surely would admit that a simple shift from the plural to the singular would make 'The Hollow Men' an entirely more powerful thing.”

“Really?”

“Of course. We all die ALONE, don’t we?”








Original:

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.


Jack’s rewrite:

I am a hollow man
I am a stuffed man
Leaning alone
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
My dried voice, when
I whisper
Is quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In my 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 me - if at all - not as a lost
Violent soul, but only
As a hollow man
A stuffed man.










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Very moving and yes, powerful rewrite...

High Literary Criticism

Curious, but the play between singular and plural in 'The Hollow Men' is mentioned in the book Modernism and mass politics: Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Yeats, by Michael Tratner:

"...the poem tries to complete the direct address, the love song, that failed in 'Prufrock,' to retrace Prufrock in reverse and move from 'we' speaking to no one in particular to a speech directed at a particular 'you.'

But instead of addressing an equal (who could be joined to 'I' in the phrase 'you and I' in 'Prufrock'), the poem seeks to address a capitalized 'Thine,' a God who is both singular and plural: 'Thine is the kingdom,' not merely one body.

The hollow men are trying to address the social whole, the 'kingdom,' and at the same time to address the single 'Lord' who is that kingdom...."

  • 1