The writing here is not particularly funny or enlightening. What I do find interesting though is my use of words like “epistle” and “Laodiceans”. Very uncharacteristic for this stage of my writing career.
Click here to read “The Hippopotamus”
A Virtuous Hippo
In T.S. Eliot’s “The Hippopotamus,” the reader can see Eliot’s contempt for the church and all of its corruption. He compared the church and its people with a lazy Hippopotamus. By the end of the poem, the Hippo is raised up to heaven with choirs of angels by its side while the church remains on earth amidst a dense fog. By using symbols, Eliot show the reader that even the lowliest creature on earth has more merit than the church with all of its corrupt leaders.
The epistle of the poem first expresses Eliot’s disgust with the apathy that the church exhibits. He makes it known from the very beginning that this poem is directed towards the church members who are indifferent and lazy, such as the Laodiceans. This group of people was described by St. John as “lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot.” Apparently, these people had no emotion towards religion, and Eliot wrote this poem to let them know what they can expect in the future.
In the first six lines of the poem, we are given the description of a hippopotamus. This Hippo is much like the human race because, like it, we are simply made out of “flesh and blood.” The image that we receive of the Hippo is of a fat, lazy, beast sleeping in the mud. This animal represents the lowest person in society, who is worthless in relation to the rest of the world. Eliot attempts to contrast this image with that of a solid church founded upon a rock. This comparison seems almost satirical when one considers that the rock in question is actually a human being. How stable is the church when it is built upon something that is often as worthless as an animal sleeping in some mud? Thus, we wonder how serious Eliot is with this comparison.
In the next two stanzas, Eliot continues to contrast the church with the hippo. Eliot goes on to say that the Hippopotamus often has problems collecting items necessary for survival because it does not take the proper steps essential for acquiring all that it needs. Here, we see that the Hippo is too lazy and unmotivated to better its position in life. Eliot contrasts this with the church, but once again, his comparisons seem to be deliberately wrong. He states that the church never needs to act in order to receive money from its members. At face value, this may appear to be good, but in actuality, the church is just as lazy and worthless as the Hippo. It does absolutely nothing to acquire money, and it does nothing for society in return. Unlike the Hippo, who can’t even take a mango from a tree, the church takes all that it can from society. Its outstretched arms are capable of collecting dues and contributions from members around the world.
In the last three stanzas of the poem, the reader can see that the Hippo has been taken into heaven with a lot of praise and glory despite its apathy and laziness:
I saw the ‘potamus take wing…
And quiring angels round him sing
The praise of God, in loud hosannas…
Among the saints he shall be seen
Performing on a harp of gold.
He shall be washed as white as snow,…
In spite of the Hippopotamus’ lack of ambition and worthlessness, God has forgiven him and has taken him into heaven. The Hippo is a symbol of the most inactive and lazy being on this planet, and yet, it makes it to heaven while the church must remain on earth. Eliot is showing the reader here his belief that the church is extremely corrupt; so bad that it does not deserve to enter heaven.
It is in this way that T. S. Eliot shows the reader his idea that the church is so awful that its leaders don’t even deserve to enter heaven. By comparing the church to a Hippopotamus, we can see that the church is even more unscrupulous than the lowest and most worthless creature on earth. If a hippopotamus-like person can make it into heaven but a church member cannot, we can see how wretched and sordid the church really is.