Thomas Stearns Eliot and Wystan Hugh Auden belong to the brightest representatives of the American literature of the twentieth century. The unmatched virtuosity of each poet deserves particular attention and admiration from the audience. In their work, Eliot and Auden rise such crucial topics as love, war, faith, death, exile, and many others. The current essay is dedicated to the analysis of the theme of faith in Thomas Stearns Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” and Wystan Hugh Auden’s “The Funeral Blues.”
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Both authors describe the theme of faith through the prism of death and loss. The fragile boundary between hopefulness and hopelessness parallels the theme of faith and discouragement. Eliot’s poem begins with the words, “We are the hollow men” (1.1), and this beginning has a twofold nature. Firstly, a reader notices the despair in the man’s voice. Secondly, however, there is courage in admitting their hollowness – they have nothing else to lose, and they have no fear. The men’s faithfulness empowers them with enough courage to admit that they “Are quiet and meaningless” (1.7). The beginning of Auden’s poem bears a similar atmosphere of the loss of faith. While there is no literal (direct) indication of this theme in the poem, the mood of the narrator transmits the loss of faith through numerous exhortations to the audience about quitting enjoying all living things because of the death of the narrator’s lover. The speaker begins with the phrase, “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone” (1), which means that the speaker’s personal grief is more to him or her (the gender of the narrator remains unknown, although it can be assumed that it is a woman since the dead person is addressed as “he”) than anything else in the world, or even than everything else in the world. In this poem, the concept of faith is discussed through its opposite – the unfaithfulness. Due to religious norms, death is merely the passing of the soul to a better place. Therefore, people who have faith do not tend to mourn so much about the deceased, as they know that their close ones are now in a better world. However, the narrator continues, “Silence the pianos and with muffled drum” (3), “Let airplanes circle moaning overhead / Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead” (5-6), “Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves, / Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves” (7-8). Thus, we can observe despair and the loss of faith at the beginning of Auden’s poem.
As the narration evolves, poems begin to diverge in their relation to faith. While Auden’s poem continues to be told in a desperate manner, Eliot’s narrator describes strong belief and faith that even after death, even in such a terrible situation in which the speaker and his or her fellows appear, there is a spark of hope that people will remember them. The narrator pledges, “Remember us – if at all – not as lost / Violent souls” (1.15-16). These lines demonstrate that the “hollow men”- souls which are in an unclear position between heaven and he’ll – still have hope and faith that their lives have not been entirely in vain and that somebody will keep them in memory. On the contrary, Auden’s poem is full of loss of hope and faith. When the narrator says, “He was my North, my South, my East, and West, / My working week and my Sunday rest / My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song” (9-11), it means that all of these things are not going to mean anything for him or her now after the beloved person died.
Finally, there is a striking difference at the end of each poem. While Auden’s speaker reiterates unfaithfulness by saying that “nothing now can ever come to any good” (16), Eliot’s narrator and his friends resort to praying: “At the hour when we are / Trembling with tenderness / Lips that would kiss / Form prayers to broken stone” (3.10-13). Even in a completely unfavorable situation, these “hollow men” remember about God by saying “For Thine is the Kingdom” (5.10). They admit that even though they did many wrong things that led to such end, they have faith in God and are ready to accept His punishment. On the contrary, Auden’s narrator reiterates his or her loss of faith by refusing all God’s gifts: even “The stars are not wanted now” (13). The speaker demands the world to “Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun / Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood” (14-15).
The theme of faith in Wystan Hugh Auden’s “The Funeral Blues” and Thomas Stearns Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” is represented through the reaction of the narrators to the loss. The loss is different in the two pieces: in “The Hollow Men,” the narrator lost the possibility to obtain eternal life after death, and in “The Funeral Blues,” the speaker mourns the loss of a beloved man. While the poems are connected by the common theme, the representation of faith is quite different in both literary works.
Auden, Wystan Hugh. “Two Songs for Heldi Anderson.” NPR Readings, n. d., Web.
Eliot, Thomas Stearns. “The Hollow Men.” All Poetry, n. d., allpoetry.com/The-Hollow-Men. Accessed 25 Apr. 2017.
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