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Analysis of "The Hippopotamus"

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Mike Kunath

on 23 May 2011

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Transcript of Analysis of "The Hippopotamus"

The Hippopotamus Poem by T.S. Eliot; Project by Michael Kunath He 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. This poem was written before Eliot converted to a religion. The mud represents the church structures that Eliot sees as sinful and corrupt, literally mire. Eliot is the hippo, reaching for mangoes (God), but to get there he is stuck in the mire of earthly institutions. Taken in context, this poem can be fitted to be an allegory for Eliot's struggle with a belief in God, yet not in earthly institutions that structure belief in God. Here, in the first stanza of the poem, the hippopotamus is established as one who seems solid and ageless, but his mortaliy is established, as he is just a large animal, and is thus mortal. Eliot ironically reflects on the state of religion, the idea that men need an institution to come to God, for they are too weak and frail to come to God on their own. Along this same idea, civilizations, and religions, products of mortal man will fall as did their creators. Sarcastically, the church is based on "rock" and can never fail, a reference to when Jesus placed the responsibility of the church on Peter, the rock, who is, to his eyes, simply another mortal, weak and frail. Again, Eliot refers to the church with an ironic tongue, that it need do nothing, but be supported by its believers, who "need". In his eyes, the believers, or hippos (here the idea of the hippo shifts from a focus on Eliot to that of one that the church has already snared) are like children, who falter without their parent, the Church, in this instance the "True Church". Eliot means this sarcastically, as it is based on flesh and blood, which is what the Church exploits. Thus the institution is hypocritical, attacking that which is its very essence. here, the church is refreshed with "pomegranates and peaches" or new believers buying into the idea of structured religion. Yet, again, the believer can never reach God without, or even through these institutions. 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 church visibly grows weaker as ages pass, and betrays itself through antiquated modes of worship and custom. Despite this, every week, the believers gather and sing its praises, this is the only way they know in which they can be close to 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. Eliot again mocks the church, its ability to sleep and feed its believers at once, an impossible feat for a mortal institution. This is a jab at organize churches attempts at charity, and how the job is always unfinished, because they are a humna, not divine institution. Instead Eliot advocates a hippopotomus who is able to fend for itself on its way to God. 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. In the first section of the poem, Eliot attacked institutional religion, or at least expressed his lack of faith in them as a means towards God. In this last section, Eliot praises the believer who comes to God without an institution and his reward. An independent believer is no longer mired down in the muck of religion, and is then free to fly towards heaven to be with God. Once in heaven, or free, the believer can be washed of the earthly muck, institutionalized religion, and sin. Then the clean man can walk among the angels and join in their chorus. While the free believer is enjoying the fruits of heaven, those who stuck with corrupt religion die with it, or remain stuck forever on earth below. THE END
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