By: Rachel Lyle, July 28th, 2017

Here is a second explication I did in Poetry class on “The Hippopotamus” by T. S. Eliot:

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.

In The Hippopotamus, by T. S. Eliot, ironic metaphor is put to use to show how the life of a Christian is like that of a hippopotamus, but the irony is that in the end the hippo is the one who ends up going to heaven. Eliot uses a rhyme scheme in free verse and adds in many in stances of assonance, consonance, and alliteration to do this.

In the first stanza he shows the hard ships of the christian life. In the first line, “The BROAD- BACKED hippopotamus”, he makes use of alliteration with the heavy sound of the B’s in Broad-Backed and the hardness of saying the word hippopotamus to show the hardships and heaviness of the life that a christian goes through on their journey in life. In the second line, “Rests on his belly in the mud,” he shows that a Christian needs not only physical rest for physical renewal and preparedness, but they also need spiritual and mental rest for spiritual and mental renewal and preparedness, by use of the mental image of a resting hippo. In the third line, “Although he seems firm to us,” assonance in he and seems show an assumption that represents the assumption people make about Christians and assume that they are firm,. tough, and calloused to the world around them. Line four, “He is merely flesh and blood.,” shows the belief that Christians have that we are not permanently in the bodies we now inhabit, that they are merely earthly vessels of flesh and blood that will only last in this life, to die here and let our earthly body decay while we receive heavenly ones.


In the second stanza Eliot explains the foundation of christian beliefs. The first line, “Flesh and blood is weak and frail;” uses parallelism of Flesh and Blood to Frail and Weak to show the belief that our earthly bodies are our temporary bodies and do not belong in eternal life, the same way the hippo is not made for eternal life because they do not have a soul the way humans do. The second line, “Susceptible to nervous shock;,” shows that our earthly boys are fragile, easily heart and very breakable the way that a hippo is only able to withstand certain things and can be easily scared. The third line, “While the True Church can never fail,” shows how the church is unchangeable and immovable by outside forces similar to the hippopotamus, by use of the unchanging consonance in the words True Church. The fourth line, “For it is based upon a rock.,” shows the metaphor in an ironic way by use of showing the foundation it is built on which is firm and strong, unlike the hippo which wallows in the mud which is soft and very weak.

In the third stanza he tells how Christians believe God is in control of any consequences they reap when they falter. In the first line, “The hippo’s feeble step may err,” it basically says the hippo may go in the wrong direction sometimes the same way a Christian does every now and again. The second line, “In compassing material ends,” says that a hippo may not always get what it needs, the way it feels like God is not always giving us answer to prayers. The third line, “While the True Church need never stir,” says the church just needs to stay firmly planted and put it’s roots in God, it dos this through the still unchanging consonance in True Church and is emphasized in the alliteration in the words never need. The fourth Line, “to gather in its dividends” explains that Christians take whatever consequences God chooses to give them.


The fourth stanza explains how God provides Christian everything they need through others. The first line, “The ‘potamus can never reach,” shows that the Hippopotamus, being lazy as represented by the use of an apostrophe to replace the first half of the word, will never get what he needs or wants without the help of another, much like the way Christians have to rely on God and one another to get what they need and want. The second line, “The mango on the mango- tree:,” reiterates with the repetition of mango, shows that the Hippo will not be able to get the mango no matter how hard he tries. The third line “But fruits of pomegranate and peach” shows through the alliteration in peach and pomegranate that the heavenly fruit of their labors will come to the faithful Christian. The fourth line, “Refresh the Church from over sea.,” shows that the church gets replenishment provided by God from everywhere around the world.

The fifth stanza shows how Christians need only to trust God and pray in order for the church to grow. The first line, “At mating time the hippo’s voice,” says how Christians need to use their voice to show others their beliefs, if they stay silent no new believers will ever start going to church. The second line, “Betrays inflections hoarse and odd,” seems to use the hippo’s strange noises to explain the fact that Christians may seem odd to other people, and their beliefs seem strange to nonbelievers. The third line, “But every week we hear rejoice,” seems to be a metaphor for the fact that whether God bring new believers to the church every week or not the current believers still go to church to worship God every week, this repetition being shown through the repeated assonance of the e sound in this line. The fourth line, “The Church, at being one with God.,” explains that no matter how many new believers are brought into the church the current believers still stay faithful to God in solidarity, through fellowship with Him and fellowships with each other.


The sixth stanza shows how Christians always seem to have faith no matter what and are always faithful in sharing that with others. The first line, “The hippopotamus’s day” is showing how the day of Christian is not taken by sleep nor are they dormant, it passed with vigor and constant work. The second line “Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;,” shows how the hippopotamus is lazy but yet vigilant unlike Christians who are constantly vigilant and faithful in hunting and fighting off the forces against them. The third line, “God works in a mysterious way —” explains how God’s ways may not be understood but still work in the Christians favor. In the fourth line, “The church can sleep and feed at once.,” shows through the assonance in the e sounds in sleep and feed that the church may seem dormant but is working and feeding on God’s word and let god doing his work.

The seventh stanza explains what the Christian believe will happen to them after death. The first line, “I saw the ‘potamus take wing,”, through the use of an apostrophe replacing the first half of Hippopotamus, shows the fact that the lazy hippo is doing the work to get to heaven. The second line, “Ascending from the damp savannas,” shows how the same way the hippo ascends the Christian will ascend to heaven, showing that this is something to rejoice about through the assonance of the happy a sounds in ascending, damp, and savannas. The third line, “And querying angels round him sing,” explains the joy that Christians will have in Heaven being surrounded by angels, producing joyful feelings through the consonance of quiring and sing. The fourth line, “The praise of God, in loud hosannas.,” explains how Christians will spend eternity praising God in Heaven.


The eighth stanza shows what Christians believe about salvation. The first line, “Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean,” explains that Christians believe they are redeemed by the death of Christ on the cross. The second line, “And him shall heavenly arms enfold,” explains how God is holding Christians in his arms and protecting them from harm. The third line, “Among the saints he shall be seen,” shows through the assonance in he be and seen how Christians will join their fellow christians who have already died in Heaven when they die. The fourth line, “Performing on a harp of gold.,” shows how Christian will worship God in Heaven for eternity in many different ways.

The ninth and final stanza explains through the use of irony how Christianity will always exist and their flame will never be extinguished. The first line, “He shall be washed as white as snow,” through use of alliteration in washed and white produces a joyful feeling about the fact that Christians believe we are washed of our sins through the blood of Christ on the cross. The second line, “By all the martyr’d virgins kist,” shows that when Christians die they will be happily greeted by all of the martyrs and their fellow Christians with whom they will joyfully spend eternity. The third line, “While the True Church remains below,” through the irony of the Church being still on earth but the hippo being in Heaven, shows that the flame of Christians can never be extinguished. The fourth line, “Wrapt in the old miasmal mist” shows that it may seem that Christianity may be hidden or covered by other things, but it will always prevail and come to be shown and its light will always shine through.