The history of the hollow men and the bitter rose

The history of the hollow men and the bitter rose

By Rene Daumal

The hollow-men lives in solid rock and move about in the form of mobile caves or recesses. In ice they appear as bubbles in the shape of men. But they never venture out in the air for the wind would blow them away. They have houses in the rock whose walls are made of emptiness and tents in the ice whose fabric is made of bubbles. During the day they stay in the stone. And at night they wonder through the ice and dance during the full moon. But they never see the sun or they would burst. They eat only the void such as the form of corpses. They get drunk on empty words and all the meaningless expressions we utter. Some people say they have always existed and will exist forever. Others say they are the dead and others say as a sword has its scabbard or a foot its imprint, every living man has, in the mountain, his hollow man, which he will seek out in death.

In the village of a hundred houses there lived the old priest magician, Who-Knows and his wife, who-lay-who-lay. They had two sons, two identical twins who could not be told a part, called “Mo” and “Ho”. Even their mother got them mixed up. To tell them apart, on the day of name giving, they had put on Mo a necklace barring a little cross and on Ho a necklace barring a little ring.

Old Who-Knos had one great un-confessed worry; according to customs his eldest son should succeed him. But which was his eldest son? Did he even have an eldest son? At the age of adolescences Mo and Ho were already accomplished mountaineers. They came to be called The Two Mountain Goats.

One day their father said,” to whichever one of you brings back to me the bitter rose, I shall hand on the Great Knowledge. The Bitter Rose is found only at the summit of the highest peaks. Whoever eats of it finds that, whenever he is about to tell a lie, aloud or to himself, his tongue begins to burn. He can still tell falsehoods but he has been warned. A few people have seen the Bitter Rose,” according to them he says,” it looks like a large multicolored Lichen or a swarm of butterflies. No one has ever been able to catch it, for the smallest tremor of fear anywhere close by alerts it and it disappears into the rock even if one desires it one is a little afraid of possessing it and it vanishes. To describe an impossible action or absurd undertaking they say, “It’s like looking for night in broad daylight or it’s like trying to catch the Bitter Rose.”

Mo had taken his rope and pick and hatchet and iron hooks, at sunrise he is already high up on a peak called Cloudy Head. Like a lizard, sometimes like a spider he inches upwards across the high red precipice, between white snow below and blue black sky, Little swift moving clouds envelope him from time to time and then expose him suddenly to the light again.  And now at last, a little distance above him, he sees the Bitter Rose, shimmering with unearthly tents. He repeats to himself unceasingly the charm which his father taught him to ward off fear. He’s going to need his screw ring here with a rope sling in order to straddle this out cropping of rock like a rearing horse. He strikes with his hammer and his hand breaks through into a hole. There is a hollow under the stone, shattering the crust around it he sees that the hollow is in the form of a man, torso, leg, arms, and little tubes in the shape of fingers spread in terror. He has split the head with the blow of his pick. A icey wind passes across the stone, Mo has killed an Hollow-man. He has shuttered as the Bitter Rose has retreated into the rock.

Mo climbs back down to the village and tells his father, “I killed a hollow man, but I saw the Bitter Rose and tomorrow, I shall go to look for it.” Old Who-Knos became grave. Far off he saw one misfortune after another coming in procession. He said, “Watch out, for the Hollow men, they will seek vengeance. They cannot enter our world, but they can come up to the surface of things… Beware of the surface of things!”

At dawn the next day Who-lay-Who-lay gave a great cry, rose up and ran to the mountain. At the foot of the red cliff lay Mo’s garments, his ropes, and hatchet, and his metal with the cross… his body was no longer there.  “Ho,” she cried running back, “They killed your brother, and they killed my son.” He rose up with his teeth clinched and skin tightening on his scalp, he took his hatchet and prepared to set out, when his father said to him, “First… listen to me… This is what you have to do. The Hollow-men have taken your bother and changed him into a hollow man. He will try to escape; he will go in search of light to the serac of the clear glacier. Put his metal around your neck as well as your own. Go to him and strike at his head, enter the form of his body and Mo will live again among us. Do not fear to kill a dead man.”

Ho gazes wide eye into the clear blue of the glacier , is the light playing tricks on him…? Are his eyes deceiving him…. Or is he really seeing what he sees? He watches silvery forms with arms and legs like greased divers under water. There is his brother Mo, his hollow shape fleeing from a thousand hollow-men in pursuit, but they are afraid of the light. Mo’s form seeks the light and rises in the large blue serac turning round and around as if in search of a door . Despite his bursting heart and the blood clotting in his veins, Ho steps forward. To his blood and to his heart he says, “Do not fear to kill a dead man!”.. then he strikes the head shattering the ice. Mo’s form becomes motionless. Ho opens the ice of the serac and enters his brother’s form, like a sword fitted into its sheath, a foot into its imprint. He moves his elbows and works himself into place, then draws his legs back out of the mold of ice. And he hears himself saying words in a language he has never spoken. He feels he is Ho and that he is Mo at the same time.  All Mo’s memories have entered his mind, in the way up Cloudy Head, where the Bitter Rose has its habitation.

With the circle and cross around his neck he comes to Who-lay-Who-lay, “Mother you will have no more trouble telling us apart. Mo and Ho are now in the same body. I am your only son. Mo-Ho.” Old Who-Knos sheds a few tears…and his face showed happiness, but there was still one doubt he wished to dispel. He said to Mo-Ho, “You are my only son, Ho and Mo can no longer be distinguished.” Mo-Ho told him with conviction, “Now I can reach the Bitter Rose. Mo knows the way, Ho the right gesture. Master of my fears I shall have the flower of discernment.“ He picked the flower, he received the teaching, and Old Who-Knos was able to leave this world peacefully.


My commentary which is neither here nor there, as this writing above is about specific things, which I do not know in the way that the writer composed it. So it may not be faithful to the writers understanding, but it is just my ideas, which was evoked by hearing and writing the above as a task, word by word. So my commentary, will be an attempt to put into words what I derived personally from the story, with the Work that the writer engaged in and what I myself know about scripture.

Mo and Ho is the divided form of “Homo”, which is the latin word for “Man”. Man, in this story taken as a full embodiment of harmonious function and harmonious segregation, a whole that is no longer divided against itself. In the gospel, Yeshua says, “A kingdom divided can not stand…” and in another place he says, “If your eye is single your whole body will be full of light… but if it is evil it will be full of darkness,” evil taken here as a point to division and separation. On the second day, God did not say it was good — division, although necessity, creates friction and suffering, as the dichotomy between the two finds its character or expression in the existence of its opposite. Undoubtedly, like a form seeing its reflection, it is drawn into what is its likeness in relation to something else. And what assumes after is a dual condition of yes and no, or that which affirms and that which denies… that which acts/moves and that which reflects/reposes/repels.

So you have a ground for conflict, suffering, and friction. But like the tree of knowledge of good and evil, growth only takes place when such a dichotomy exists, as there is no growth without context of “i” or “It” in relation to something else. And this dichotomy in man exists, because for anything to be truly whole and compete, there must be inner agreement, made perfect through a medium of exchanges, since a change from one side can not truly be a possibility without a change in the other. Growth must take place from both ends of the spectrum — or else fullness is an impossibility, since the product that is fullness, is an vertical element which is developed, nourished, and expanded, based on the developmental process taking place between the two.

Young Ho and Mo are twins, functions of different characterizations in a man in question marks. Young Mo deals with theories, it deals with the map, the concepts. It can know of a way, but it can only intellectualize that way — imagine about it, which is not the same as walking it — and trapped in the voids and emptiness which comes with the trappings of having knowledge introduced into you that is not yet your own. In the gospel, before the rich young ruler could follow Yeshua he had to give away all he had accumulated in this world, this was referring to the philosophizing and mindsets that come with the education that this world imposes upon the mind, it’s limitations and its failings. That part of us becomes an Hollow-man, or has always been one, only know that we try, do we realize the predicament of our organic nature. Young Mo, on the other hand, has the boat, the practicality. Knows the motions, and through the work, has made his intellectual voids have real form — and now with his mind and body, he can now obtain a real conscience, and live in a state of consciousness towards his own inner workings and manifestations.

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