Comparing T.S.Elliot's "Hollow Men" with Skyclad's song "Cardboard City"

Essay by AnnaB6n6n6 October 2006

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Comparative Piece

The piece that I have chosen to compare with T.S.Elliot's, "The Hollow Men", is a song written by the group Skyclad entitled "Cardboard City". As discussed in class, The Hollow Men, is Elliot's response to a survivor's spiritual torpor after a great war. He writes about the fact that even though they escape from death's grip with their lives, they have no meaning anymore. Throughout the entire piece Elliot uses the word hollow to describe the men and writes, "We are the hollow men; we are the stuffed men" (Elliot, verses 1-2). Similarly, Skyclad writes, "And did those feet in ancient times; walk bare upon these lonely streets like mine? (Skyclad, verses 9-10). Both writers set a very depressing mood by describing loneliness and hollowness to show that the characters are simply floating in a void between life and death, yet Skyclad chooses to form it into a question for the reader, while Elliot chooses to state this fact in the first person.

Another similarity between Cardboard City and The Hollow Men is the symbol of hope. Both poems illustrate that there is still hope left for society and while Elliot writes, "Leaning together... we whisper together" (Elliot, stanza I, verses 3-6) Skyclad chooses to depict this through the image of a moth, "Hands locked in darkness - a nocturnal greeting; we flutter like moths round the brazier's flame; shrouded in shadow - our clandestine meeting" (Skyclad, verses 1-3). The difference in the authors' lines is that Elliot chooses to use the image of human beings huddled together, while Skyclad uses the image of moths driven to a burning flame. This shows how Elliot and Skyclad both feel that there is the necessity to work together, even if it is just whispers in the darkness, because there is still a flame of hope left for society's restoration.

The most prominent comparison left to make between the two pieces is the similarity in the description of the setting. In both pieces, the authors describe a very desolate and inhospitable place where the lost souls of survivors drift. In The Hollow Men, Elliot writes, " This is the dead land; this is the cactus land, here the stone images are raised" (Elliot, stanza III, verses 1-3) to depict this setting, while Skyclad chooses to write, "Chip-wrapper flowers blown onto this cardboard grave" (Skyclad, stanza 5, verse 7). Although the two images of the setting are very different, there are distinct similarities in meaning. Skyclad's description is one of a homeless man hiding form the eyes of the world and either rebelling against society's values or possibility being rejected by society. The image of flowers blown onto a cardboard grave foreshadows his death and the fact he now almost lives in what will be his own grave. As a homeless man, he sleeps on the ground outside, and when he dies he will still sleep on this same ground, but society will cover his face with soil so that they do not have to be reminded of him. He will be buried and dead in society's mind, but in his own, he is already there. Similarly, Elliot writes about a land of the dead, where the stone images are raised. This is also a reference to burial where the stone images describe gravestones. Elliot also describes death and a land where those that have died go to be forgotten and the only thing that is left is their headstone. In Elliot's description, it seems as if the character is being pulled to this dead land in order to escape whatever meaningless life is left form him after the war.

Skyclad - Cardboard city

Hands locked in darkness - a nocturnal greeting

We flutter like moths round the brazier's flame

Shrouded in shadow - our clandestine meeting

Here where past and present are one and the same.

No-one dies in Cardboard City

Faces only fade away

Eat your pride and take their pity

Fight to live another day.

And did those feet in ancient times

Walk bare upon these lonely streets like mine?

Does God watch us from that penthouse high above

His children down below who live on air and love?

Wrapped in old headlines beneath this shop awning

I shiver in silence and wait for the morning.

No-one cries in Cardboard City

That would be a waste of tears

Eat your pride and take their pity

Like you have so many years.

Youth of our nation - A lost generation

Like lepers we march to the chimes of Big Ben.

Exiled and rejected by powers elected

Our cries from the gutter don't reach number ten.

Give us this day our daily bread

Before the headlines read "bring out your dead."

Chip-wrapper flowers are blown onto this cardboard grave

My spray paint epitaph upon the wall it says...

"Here lies the bones of some poor homeless vagrant

He died as he lived, in the shit on the pavement."

No-one dies in Cardboard City

Faces only fade away

Eat your pride and take their pity

Fight to live another day.

No-one cries in Cardboard City

That would be a waste of tears

Eat your pride and take their pity

Like you have so many years.