Literature

Analysis of “The Hollow Men”

In this post, I flesh out my understanding of and reaction to T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” which can be read entirely here.

Like any good pretentious poet, I keep some of T.S. Eliot’s work lying around, specifically “The Wasteland.” The truth is I don’t get around much. So when an inquisitive Redditor sprung a post into the Poetry subreddit, I was introduced to a piece of Eliot that I hadn’t met. My interpretation of it will be mostly unadulterated; I did dip my toes in another person’s explanation to know that the first two lines of “The Hollow Men” make direct reference to one of Joseph Conrad’s characters along with Guy Fawkes:

Mistah Kurtz – he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy

It’s always interesting to see who an author acknowledges in his literature. I’ve never read Heart of Darkness, so I very well can’t speak thoroughly to how it relates to “The Hollow Men”. And my familiarity with Guy Fawkes is also limited, for I can only claim to be a fan of “V for Vandetta,” a film true to the words must-watch. What I did grasp in my minimal research was the idea of masks or two-sided identities.

Upon reading the poem (or poems?) at hand, one immediately notices there is in fact five parts, I-V. This delineation by Eliot will make it all the more organized to digest “The Hollow Men”.

Part I appears to be an introduction of the characters who inspired the piece’s name. It’s quite properly done in the way it begins and ends with emphasis on being “the hollow men” and “stuffed men”. No matter my ignorance to the aforementioned persons in the epitaphs, Eliot seems to be doing me a service with these lines:

Remember us – if at all – not as lost/

Violent souls, but only

This says to me that the hollow men are usually nonviolent people until they are filled with ideals which light the fire of action in them. These men also have a self-awareness of this transformation and likewise an understanding that their efforts could still keep them voiceless and unremembered like a

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

How very—heroic. It reminds me of the innumerable soldiers who have fallen, whose names are lost to me. I hope they can hear me in the other plane when I say, “Thank you.”

Part II continues with an emphasis on “death’s dream kingdom” that was also introduced in Part I. At least I think it’s the same kingdom—“death’s other kingdom” and “death’s dream kingdom” have an unsubtle difference. If they are one and the same, could Eliot be describing a time in the living world as this kingdom? Interesting reversal, and maybe not the actual direction that the poet targeted; however, I enter the third description of this place, “the twilight kingdom.” Upon closer inspection, it seems to me that Eliot speaks about kindred spirits who sit at the edge of Life and Death, who have accepted Death yet still evade it unlike the people who’ve actually succumbed—

There, the eyes are/
Sunlight on a broken column

The kindred spirits who normally wouldn’t seek each other’s company, or whose “Eyes I dare not meet in dreams”, might ready themselves for Death and the peace it may bring; however, the reality is they surely want to live and not see the truly peaceful eyes on the other side. Thus “The Hollow Men” “wear/ Such deliberate disguises” to keep themselves from “that final meeting”.

Part III screams cemetery! For me it does anyway. It’s called “a dead land” and “a cactus land” where “the stone images/ Are raised,” and the men’s right-hand persons can offer “supplication”. Eliot could also mean the kind of crude cemetery that a battlefield becomes when someone comes to pray over another person clinging to life “Under the twinkle of a fading star.” This is definitely a valid way to read Part III given

Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

The writer returns to the idea of men who usually are filled with “tenderness” but now tremble in their “prayers to broken stone”, perhaps signaling their nervousness to meet an afterlife whose nature might reflect the haphazard way that they adhered to the laws on Moses’ Stone Tablets. Certainly one who fights the good fight against an antagonizing force must have a self-awareness of their own misgivings.

In Part IV, Eliot fully immerses the reader in “death’s twilight kingdom” or the penultimate crossing into it. The imagery of the River Styx is present along with “the empty men” who cling together as they do with life. “And [they] avoid speech”, for there are no more words to speak in “This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms”. It rings to me like the final call to action when patriots can say no more and must show with violent movement. They cannot foresee where they are going or what will happen but can “hope”

The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom

In other words, hope for an earthly peace or another way around what’s to come. Either way, “The Hollow Men” will have their peace in this life or the next, so they find the gamble worthwhile.

This is exactly where Part V brings us—the second right before a major cataclysm. If this poem were a movie, this second would be in slow motion, two sides staring each other down with a gulf between them. Their entire lives are up for consideration beginning with their childhood—

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.

And the oscillating flashes of then and now are flying through their minds with so very little time—really no time at all—to make peace with their Makers because here “Falls the Shadow”. Eliot warns vehemently that “This is the way the world ends” before he comes full stop with one of his most poignant lines if not one of the most for any writer ever:

Not with a bang but with a whimper.

Despite me not reading this poem until a Redditor made the introduction, I already knew the final line of “The Hollow Men”. It’s been regurgitated on so numerous occasions to render it like Kleenex or ChapStick whose letters are so commonplace that one cares not to question the original. However, Mr. Eliot was no fool, and a poet can only hope their words become so catchy especially when they grow the understanding that we are all scared children before Death or our Makers. We all came from a point of non-existence, so Death could be our Maker in a strange, circular reasoning.

Moreover, “The Hollow Men” enlivens a sense of inspiration and foreboding. Like many a young person, I’ve had the sickly fantasy of martyrdom, of making my life mean something for a cause. Who doesn’t want to be a hero? With age or maturity, the colors of reality may become more vivid, but even an older person can stumble upon an immovable situation who requires the dynamite of their vigor. For any person, this schema will always bring a terrible fright.

I can say with truthiness in my heart that I love this poem. It’s timeless, universal, wise, prophetic. It strikes the chords which every writer agonizes to brush with strategic fingertips and which Mr. Eliot likely found through his own encounters with “death’s other kingdom”. He proved one line, one movement, one gamble with the unknown can be louder than any bomb.

Copyright © 2019 Jonathan Oyola

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Musings

Promises Ltd.

Often it feels like sifting through a wide river to find the fine pieces of gold, the music which speaks to one’s soul. Thank the universe for Spotify who makes the process that much easier; their Discover Weekly playlist can get it so very right. (They’re not paying me for my words, but it’d be nice if they did.)

Case in point, the self-titled album by Promises Ltd.—I’ve been listening to it so much this past week that if it were a cassette, it would be skipping in worn out fashion. I’m enjoying it even as I write this entry. It hits so many emotional notes for me with a heavy layer of nostalgia. Listening to Promises Ltd.’s ’80s instrumentation reminds me of my formative years when I preferred CD players with an FM tuner, so I could catch 101-5 The Point on the airwaves. Sadly the powers that be in Tampa Bay retired this station from radio existence but not from my memory.

The ’80s groove is a major reason why I love the TV show Stranger Things too which is purposed to strike the nostalgic heart. This digs further into my personal theory of being a timeless person. I didn’t live through the 1980s, yet my connection to the decade is the same as any decade. I’m an entity of the past and the future living in our gift, the present. Barring ethnic barriers, I’d feel at home in every period of time. There definitely is some temporal dysphoria at work in this line of thinking.

It is what it is, and I am what I am, if I may borrow a Popeyeism. Butch, a great man I know, always says things like that. And the lucky devil actually had the privilege of living through so many decades! I’ll just settle for my vicarious experiences and occasionally don a ’70s outfit on Holloween. Aren’t we all such great curators and pretenders?

Copyright © 2019 Jonathan Oyola

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Poetry

Skin

My skin is raw and red
and the scrubbing’s not working—
I am reducing to meaty chum.
Pity that even the soap
leaves scum.

And so humdrum is the plumbing.
Might I borrow some
of another’s skin
the process would be done.
Yet leaving them a wasteland
will only make me shame too
all the Moor.

They’d call my Frankensteinian self
Othello, running suspicions
rampant in my homes.
Mattering where I live,
empty in all I give,
what I’d sacrifice for a little skin.

Something, anything
to cover this cold little heart
might it be warmed once
before its eventual tearing apart.
I can only dream
and continue to scour.

Raw and red, black and blue,
white and black,
brown and down—
scum all around
the sudden sudd and suds.

Copyright © 2019 Jonathan Oyola

Image by Samuel Rios Cuevas

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Musings

Sound of da Police

I’m scared of the police. No, I wouldn’t say I’m petrified at every encounter with every police officer. A healthy fear is the best way to put it because its my health in jeopardy on any given encounter. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this way.

There are enough reasons for me to be afraid of law enforcement, the cops, 5-0, the po-po—I don’t particularly like the next word—pigs. How interesting it is that we have so many pet names for law men and women. But no matter the numerous cordial interactions I’ve had with our serve-and-protectors, the unnaive voice sitting in a brain cell reminds me of my youngness, my brownness, and my previous breaches of the law.

I don’t want to get things twisted: life hasn’t hardened me so much that I’ve had to flaunt such rigidness arrested in a jail or prison. It commands a certain kind of respect to survive in these institutions because I understand there’s no cakewalk in them especially for sensitive-types like myself. In a selfish and self-sabotaging desire, I would love to have a hands-on peak behind that concrete curtain. Thus it is with a lack of judgement and abundant curiosity that I approach people who’ve had an incarcerated reality.

It is not lost on me that behind those walls are a disproportionate amount of people who are of youth and color. Most of my negations of the law happened while I was young or at least younger than I am now. Young people with their dormant wisdom, chaotic hormones, and thrill-seeking inclinations stand out to the police. Colored ones really stand out. And in the ever changing flavor-seeking of America, Latino and Middle Eastern ones really really stand out today. Unfortunately the young black community still holds the same amount of burden as ever before and likely more if police shooting videos are taken into account. Tupac Shakur captured this realism best with the acronym THUG LIFE.

All that isn’t born out of randomness or mistake, just as the biases against cops isn’t either. In the United States, the aforementioned groups have had long histories with the people we’re supposed to call but hesitate when trouble knocks. How can we know that a different trouble with a badge won’t come knocking?

To my next point, I’ll broaden the group in fear to any kind of person whose so much as broken a single infraction. Of course only you know who you are, speeding just one mile over the limit on a hurried Monday. Or parking in the fire lane outside Junior’s daycare for just a tiny second. Or jaywalking just that single time in Wichita because it was so damn hot out. Any sort of legal disorderliness invites a conversation with our gun-toting trusted servants. Hell, they do many of the same abuses as common folk, yet we can’t very well ask police officers to have a talking-to with themselves, can we? Questions can be loaded as much any gun.

My thoughts on this topic hold no sinister call to arms against the police in general. (I should say this because my blog is public and internet access is freely available at their stations, right?) Truthfully police officers are individuals as we all are, and collectively they mirror the insidiousness and goodness present in the rest of our societies. No, it doesn’t excuse the actions of any single individual. Even so, the treatment of bad behavior varies from person to person, place to place. Enough terrible instances lumped together could make any group look like monsters.

I sometimes feel like a monster when I measure all of my misdeeds. Sure, I could reason much of it as benign, but those times when I really could of killed someone from my carelessness do weigh on me as much as any car I was driving. The coolness of handcuffs should have been mine to feel in a thousand moments; however, mercy found me otherwise. Yes, to date I’ve been spared from dire police sufferings and instead walked away with warnings, tickets, and a sting I felt from the apprehending widgie after twelve-year-old me ran from a vandalized orange orchard.

I’ll refrain from writing in detail about the illicit “things” that I’ve carried with me which may or may not have contributed to many a reckless escapade. Nevertheless, I will highlight this as a root of paranoia, of realizing the far too-many boxes I’ve checked against myself on Mr. Officer’s paperwork. If I’d gotten shot, then my words might seem like a victim blaming himself. Yet if things went in their proper order, Mr. Officer would simply be writing my name next to my responsibility.

I guess it seems more than anything that I’ve been a dodger of responsibility, and my fear about the police surrounds the state of being. This is true but incomplete. Lots of things embed into a person to perpetuate lasting fears. Just watch “The Fantastic Fear of Everything” and try to tell me that most fears, even the ones for authority, don’t start at an early age. There I go sounding off as my own psychologist. Help! I’m in dangerous water!

A healthy fear is simply a healthy respect masquerading as its lesser emotion. I don’t hold ill-will against the police and likewise shouldn’t assume they harbor it against Jonathan. For god’s sake though, can the respect go both ways all of the time for everyone? Fear is no reason to take a life aimlessly because if it were, the all-out war of emotion would consume every neighborhood in America. There’s a person in each of them afraid to hear the sound of the police.

Copyright © 2019 Jonathan Oyola

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Poetry

The Housatonic

‘atonic river
so smooth in a nighttime.
It mirroring a long shard of glass,
elegance dancing with the color match,
with the other side of ginning.
A glass that takes the la-la-la
of laughing gas,
startling the shatter
of silent grins amongst matter.
One cannot know
why it matters
or why another would
look away.
Its placidity does not ask much
or for much to say—
only for the eyes to be ears,
for the crackling blood to still,
for the acceptance
of its cut into the soul.
I’ll give it to you Hous’
and for a moment not more.
For you have your bed
and mine sits across our bridge.
Let our turbulence be under it.

Copyright © 2019 Jonathan Oyola

The Housatonic River (HOOS-ə-TON-ik) is a river, approximately 149 miles (240 km) long, in western Massachusetts and western Connecticut in the United States. [Wikipedia]

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Musings

Intelligence

Image by M.C. Escher/Digital Commonwealth

Do you think you’re intelligent? Or pretend to be? Relax, these aren’t loaded questions asked by a towering member of the Intelligentsia. I identify more in the latter category. At times I could own being in the former, but several experiences have shot me down off that pedestal. Moreover I looked up some numbers.

135 million books.
1.6 billion websites.
108 billion Homo sapiens.

And wow. People have been busy. Every book, every website, every person brimming with knowledge that I couldn’t possibly absorb in my lifetime. As far as knowing the details of long dead Homo sapiens, much of that data is lost forever or “with God” as some might put it. Okay, barring any AI enhancements, time travel, or pills like the ones featured in “Limitless,” it’s safe to say I’ll stay on the edge of what there is to know.

It’s really humbling and freeing when you think about it. Even geniuses have the same limitations as the peons. I will say that a hallmark of an intelligent person is simply understanding where their limits or expertise begin and end. A distinct self-awareness that mustn’t be encroached or one might suffer the reality of a fool.

So being a know-it-all is truly an oxymoron. Like jumbo shrimp. Tiny giants. Not to get too religious, but the Christian God was trying to avoid tiny giants when he evicted that couple from their slice of Heaven. I thought I knew that story like “everybody else,” yet it took my father asking me to read it for me to understand that there was in fact two trees in that garden. The couple did their big no-no by eating the fruit of Knowledge. The other tree was Life. The couple were already allowed to eat from Life before they knew of good and evil for themselves through Knowledge rather than their maker. They truly would’ve been like their maker if they stayed and the snake did a little more coaxing.

What a great feeling to have one’s knowledge tested! Don’t get me wrong, I still want to gouge some eyes out when a challenge comes along, and I just have to be right. With a more tempered outlook, it behooves me to thank whomever filled a void of understanding that I didn’t realize existed. This is why I don’t understand the contemporary assault, as it seems like often, on knowledgeable people. Well I can kind of understand.

In college I took this elective I believe called Introduction to Art. I have a terrible memory really, perhaps even selective to the moment. My little trickster. Anyway the one thing that stayed with me from that class was the trend or polarization of art styles. It seemed like people would do things one way for a long time, and then someone starts doing it the opposite way with everyone else following suite for another long time. And on and on. The Greeks and Romans to the Dark Ages to the Renaissance. Maybe there’s a bastion for knowledge in the Eastern world that escapes my awareness.

Regardless of knowledge-seeking whims, the genius and the simpleton breathe the same air, sense the same sun, and feel the same feelings. Especially the anguish about the things one knows and the things one doesn’t. It’s great and all to have an intelligence that could change the world, but it isn’t simple. That’s the simpleton’s domain. To live simply, what of it all. Both fruits are delicious. I hope you and me can see that and enjoy the fruit in our hands without temptation of thievery. We’re all tiny giants.

Copyright © 2019 Jonathan Oyola

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Musings

An Artist

I had a conversation the other day with a neighbor in which we shed more light about ourselves. We arrived at the fact that he has a modeling hobby. Not as a supermodel mind you; I mean he’s not the sort, and for this matter neither am I. No, my neighbor enjoys building model cars and figures then meticulously painting them, tons of them accordingly to him. Thirty models since the beginning of the year strung about his apartment and the topside of his kitchen cabinets.

At some point I called him an artist, a title he rejected despite an attempt to convince him otherwise. I thought it strange. Strange because I’ve never met another human who wasn’t even a little bit of an artist. To me it’s such a broad term which encompasses any person (or creature) who does or creates something with a sense of purpose or passion. True, keeping humility in close reach could make one hesitant to adopt the name “artist,” but some designations may be out of one’s control when introducing oneself to the court of public opinion.

To that end I say to you whilst keeping my own hubris in check, I consider myself an artist as a blanket term. I paint words, sculpt pictures, and on rare occasions draw music. Believe it or not, “draw” is the appropriate verb here because most of the music I’ve recorded was born from drawing (or mapping) little rectangles in a “borrowed” (cough) copy of FL Studio which I most certainly (wink wink) don’t still have.

This is why you see the video above and the playlist below. My “Old Loops” came out of a simpler era when I wanted to procrastinate my assignments in college about eight years ago. None of those loops I made in FL—or Fruity Loops as it’s been called—ever ascended to become complete tracks. That wasn’t really their purpose. Plus I really didn’t and still don’t have any technical know-how. Everyone far beyond me in the music world could tell you all that is involved in music production: recording, sampling, mixing, mastering… I think I’ve run out of familiar jargon.

Regardless of how annoying the repetitive noise blaring from my computer speakers was to my family, working on my old loops was a kind of trance-inducing puzzle-solving that could consume several hours out of the day. My goals were to learn the software better, to produce loops which sounded like entire tracks when on repeat, and to drain some of the crazy out of my skull. Another way to describe what an artist does.

Most of my old loops are original with some exceptions and fall in either a Hip Hop or Electronic Dance Music genre. I could say it was just the times I was living in, but these genres still make up a lot of my listening sessions. The tracks that weren’t original were attempted remakes of songs by Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, and Tiësto; I labeled them as such in the video like a good credit-giver-person. The reality is these genres are much easier for an amateur like myself to produce because they follow a simple 4/4 or four-on-the-floor pattern. This is not to say professionals have an easy go at their craft, for the skills they possess push them into other areas of perfecting which are lost on me. For now at least.

The playlist at the end of this post actually contains “complete” tracks! I produced them earlier this year with the “borrowed” copy of FL—how does this keep getting on my computer?!—and an Android version that I actually paid for. Evidently it was the season for me to drain my skull with the music spigot. This time around I sampled a few sources: “Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes for “Sandman Drops Acid;” “Rue des cascades” by Yann Tiersen and Claire Pichet for “Rue De Beats;” and my own pitch-adjusted voice for “Played With Your Heart.” The order of the playlist is roughly in line with what I like the most.

I’m putting all this music out there not because I want some award or praise or any of that crap. Truthfully I oscillate between being proud of my creations and being mortified by the amount of garbage I can make. And here’s yet another facet of “an artist” for you. I find myself by searching for myself in all the things pouring out of my head bone, and the process generates happiness or the sensation of it or at best the balance between it and the bad feelings. Sure my hubris could say otherwise to send me on a chase of external admiration, but I have to remember that I do all this creating, this writing, this producing, this art—for me. To look at me, to know me no matter the court of public opinion.

Copyright © 2019 Jonathan Oyola

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