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The Hippopotamus and the True Church: T S Eliot

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 martyr’d virgins kist,

While the True Church remains below

Wrapt in old miasmal mist.


Thomas Stearns Eliot


I am indebted to Chris Fewings for sending me off to read this poem. It seemed as good a meditation as any on our Church on which to ponder at Epiphany.

 “The Hippopotamus” is reprinted from Poems. T.S. Eliot. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920.

The illustration is via Wikimedia by H. Barrison

1 comment on this post:

Mike Nash said...

“I shoot the hippotamus with bullets made of platinum because if I use the leaden one his hide is sure to flatten ’em”. So that’s how he died!
Hilaire Belloc was always more fun that gloomly old Thomas Stearns, wasn’t he?

Anyway, the revels aren’t over yet – the Twelve Days of Christmas aren’t over till midnight. Happy New Year to all, Charlie Farns-Barns.

06 January 2013 09:16

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