The Hippopotamus: Poem by T. S. Eliot Summary and Analysis

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The Hippopotamus

THE BROAD-BACKED hippopotamus
Rests on his belly in the mud;
Although he seems so firm to us
He is merely flesh and blood.
Flesh and blood is weak and frail,
Susceptible to nervous shock;
While the True Church can never fail
For it is based upon a rock.
The hippo’s feeble steps may err
In compassing material ends,
While the True Church need never stir
To gather in its dividends.
The ’potamus can never reach
The mango on the mango-tree;
But fruits of pomegranate and peach
Refresh the Church from over sea.
At mating time the hippo’s voice
Betrays inflexions hoarse and odd,
But every week we hear rejoice
The Church, at being one with God.
The hippopotamus’s day
Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;
God works in a mysterious way
The Church can sleep and feed at once.
I saw the ’potamus take wing
Ascending from the damp savannas,
And quiring angels round him sing
The praise of God, in loud hosannas.
Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean
And him shall heavenly arms enfold,
Among the saints he shall be seen
Performing on a harp of gold.
He shall be washed as white as snow,
By all the martyr’d virgins kist,
While the True Church remains below
Wrapt in the old miasmal mist.

THE BROAD-BACKED hippopotamus Rests on his belly in the mud; Although he seems so firm to us He is merely flesh and blood.
The Hippopotamus

Summary and Analysis

      Introduction: Another of the quatrain poems, The Hippos potamus is a satire on he Chrch. The basic antishesis in the poem is between the hippopotamus and the Church, but within this antithesis, smaller antithesis are built up.

      Summary: The Hippopotamus seems firm with its broad back, but is frail; the True Church presents no such opposition, but in reality, its 'rock base' is quite hollow. The hippopotamus's day inverts the usual order, but the Church collapses it, and all because God works in a mysterious way. God's mysterious way provides the consummation of the poem, whereby the hippopotamus and the Church exchange destinies and prove like their opposites where difference was expected. The hippopotamus seems to be solid matter and his ways materialistic, but not when compared to the True Church.

      Critical Appreciation: The poem is not evidence of atheism; it is the expression of dissatisfaction with the negative attitude, both to good and evil, that Eliot saw in the established religion. The poem is striking for the use of naive imagery for ironic effect. Each aspect of the antithesis is pursued with a derisive aptness. The rhymes and diminutives play their part in the ironic effect.

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