As in much of his poetry, in "The Hollow Men" Eliot uses a basically free-verse format with modifications in which the lines take on a quasi-metrical quality at times. For instance:
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkling of a fading star.
These two lines stand out from their context as being more or less in iambic pentameter. Elsewhere there are occasional rhymes:
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are in the wind's singing.
That the poem does not achieve any sort of formal regularity in meter or rhyme is perhaps symbolic of incompleteness: of the broken, stunted character of the hollow men themselves. As in "The Waste-Land" Eliot creates a poem that is self-consciously fragmentary. There are the usual quotations—from the Lord's Prayer and from nursery rhymes—interspersed with Eliot's own words. As usual, also, an epigraph is given without identifying the source: "Mistah Kurtz—he dead" is from Joseph Conrad. The lack of identification enhances the air of mystery and remoteness as well as the dream-world quality of the whole poem. One gets the impression of the speaker stumbling about in the dark:
The eyes are not here,
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars.
Is the poem "musical"? Yes, in the sense that the combination of free verse with meter gives us a sing-song effect, but one which is ironically used to convey the grim and even horrific tone of the poem. The musical approach is explicit as Eliot is paraphrasing the jingle "Here we go round the mulberry bush [or prickly pear]" and then transforms the rhythm of it into "This is the way the world ends." It is deeply ironic and typical of the resigned tone of much of the poetry of Eliot's age.