Title of Paper : "The Hippopotamus" is not a Church

Grade Received on Report : 100

"The Hippopotamus" is not a Church

In "The Hippopotamus," T. S. Eliot uses irony and contrasting metaphors to illustrate the secularity of the

Christian Church and the spirituality of mankind. It is a satirical look at the establishment of Christianity.

The hippopotamus in the poem is a metaphor for mankind and the True Church is a metaphor for

Christianity. There are several sharp ironies that emphasize the dichotomy of the professed ideals of

Christianity and reality. The whole poem is ironical because it does not portray Christianity as the path to

heaven. The awkward hippopotamus is celebrated by the heavenly hosts. The author illustrates these

points by contrasting images of the Church with aspects of the plodding, modest hippopotamus. These

contrasts are juxtaposed in the same stanza to make the author's point. The techniques of irony and

contrasting metaphors may be found in four representative stanzas.

The first stanza of the poem contrasts the hippopotamus with a Church clique. The first two lines of the

first stanza describe, "The broad-backed hippopotamus." He is resting on,"His belly in the mud,...." This

description gives the image of a big hippopotamus contently lying in the mud. The last two lines,

"...Although he seems so firm to us He is merely flesh and blood," contrast with the contented

hippopotamus image. The line "...Merely flesh and blood," is an often used Christian clich? used to

trivialize man's existence on earth.. "Merely" minimizes,"...Flesh and blood." A portrayal of an individual

made from flesh and blood might otherwise be considered a strength. The author has juxtaposed this clich?

with the image of the firm, content hippopotamus. This contrast illustrates Christianity's failure to validate

mankind's few contentment's. The popular image of Christianity is a protector of humanity. The irony is

this stanza is that the Christian clich? is u!

sed to undermine humanity.

The third stanza begins with, "The hippopotamus's steps may err In compassing material ends,...." The

faltering hippopotamus illustrates mankind's tendency to fumble in his attempt to make ends meet.

Mankind, the hippopotamus, must work hard to survive. If at first he does not succeed, he must try again.

His existence is at stake. This representation of mankind is contrasted with the image of, "...The True

Church need never stir...." The Church has no need to support itself and therefore it does not labor. The

Church is opulent and has no concern for the daily trials of mankind. This is a depiction of a slothful

Church. The irony is twofold. The Church is illustrated by a sloth which Christians call a deadly sin.

Additionally, it is ironical that Christianity has so little concern for the condition mankind, when, it

considers itself a protector of humanity.

In the sixth stanza, all of the hippopotamus's time is chronicled. All his waking time is required for

hunting. He must hunt all night. The only time left in the, "...Day Is passed in sleep." The hippopotamus

has no time for play. Mankind's survival depends on his constant effort. This image contrasts distinctly

with the image of the church which "...Can sleep and feed at once...." Here the Christian culture is

portrayed with the ultimate image of greed and sloth. It is ironical that the Church is portrayed with two

vices it calls deadly sins. The final irony in this stanza is in the third line, " God does work in a mysterious

way,...." This satirical line aludes to the author's true meaning in the poem. The common examples of

Christianity are the worst examples of Christianity.

In the final stanza, the hippopotamus is, "...White as snow." This image portrays humanity's return to all

that is good and holy, mankind's natural state. While the Christianity image contrasts with "...The True

Church remains below Wrapt in the old miasmal mist." This is Christianity's true state. It is ironic that the

Church is described by a putrescence, disease causing mist. The choice of the word, "Wrapt," seems to

indicate that Christianity made a conscious choice between achieving it's professed goals or maintaining it's

worldly position. This certainly is not the normal portrayal of Christianity. Additional irony is found in the

second line, "By all the martyr'd virgins kist,...." Christians killed the majority of these martyrs.

The author has juxtaposed images to show the differences between the hippopotamus