I had never read T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” until this week. In reading this poem for the first time, I noticed consistency with the dark themes Eliot focuses on in the majority of his poetry. I was also struck by the many allusions sprinkled throughout the poem from authors like Joseph Conrad, Shakespeare, Dante, and even Jesus’ words from The Lord’s Prayer.
These allusions helped enliven (ironic?) the text for me, prompting me to keep reading and consider how these allusions connected or disconnected the ideas between their texts and Elliot’s text. The Heart of Darkness epigraph certainly captured my attention, as it is one of my favorite works by Conrad. Through knowledge of these allusions, I felt like I had a starting point for imagining the themes and images Eliot introduced in his poem.
Similar to the dark themes Eliot conjures in his poetry, Brynn Saito’s “How to Prepare the Mind for Lightning” has a dark tone to its lines. I connected the poems of Eliot and Saito through their shared attention to hollowness and emptiness. Eliot weaves this idea of hollowness/emptiness throughout his poem; however, he strays from its focus at the end of his poem in section V. For Eliot, emptiness or hollowness is a condition of the men that seems unshakable.
Saito presents emptiness as a goal for the woman in her poem. She works up to this eventual status of the woman in the last four lines of her poem with the majority of its lines focusing on what is needlessly filling and imprisoning the woman’s mind. The emptiness is portrayed as a positive outcome for the woman in Saito’s poem instead of a negative essence for the men in Eliot’s poem.
“How to Prepare the Mind for Lightning” | Brynn Saito
In the recesses of the woman’s mind
there is a warehouse. The warehouse
is covered with wisteria. The wisteria wonders
what it is doing in the mind of the woman.
The woman wonders too.
The river is raw tonight. The river is a calling
aching with want. The woman walks towards it
her arms unimpaired and coated
with moonlight. The wisteria wants the river.
It also wants the warehouse in the mind
of the woman, wants to remain in the ruins
though water is another kind of original ruin
determined in its structure and unpredictable.
The woman unlaces the light across her body.
She wades through the river while the twining wisteria
bleeds from her mouth, her eyes, her wrist-veins,
her heart valve, her heart. The garden again
overgrows the body—called by the water
and carried by the woman to the wanting river.
When she bleeds the wisteria, the warehouse
in her mind is free and empty and the source
of all emptiness. It is free to house the night sky.
It is free like the woman to hold nothing
but the boundless, empty, unimaginable dark.
P.S. For those of you interested, you should check out Julian Peters’ comics. He does a great strip on Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: http://julianpeterscomics.com/page-1-the-love-song-of-j-alfred-prufrock-by-t-s-eliot/ Enjoy! 🙂