Similiter et omnes revereantur Diaconos, ut mandatum Jesu Christi; et Episcopum, ut
Jesum Christum, existentem filium Patris; Presbyteros autem, ut concilium Dei et
conjunctionem Apostolorum. Sine his Ecclesia non vocatur; de quibus suadeo vos sic

S. Ignatii Ad Trallianos.

And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of
the Laodiceans.

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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of T.S. Eliot's poem The Hippopotamus


  1. Faisal Abuzeani says:

    I think this poem is quite siimple, Eliot wrote this poem before he converted to christianty. He feels odd between the layers of the society like a hippo in a mud , mud here symbolizes sins and symbolicy states his believe in god but not that earthly church

  2. David Mortimer says:

    Two things not raised in what I have read here.
    Firstly the poem is addressed to the Laodecians.
    To quote another source: “the pejorative term Laodicean is used in the English language to refer to those neutral or indifferent in matters of faith”.
    Perhaps Eliot thought this poem would rock this tepid indifference?
    Secondly, the Church (Catholic at least) does not believe that animals can ascend to heaven. His vision is an affront to such believers.

  3. Naif alarabi says:

    i sure that this poem shows invalidity of the church.This admitation from this poet expresses the stute of peopl with church.The substitution is Islm

  4. Evan Clingman says:

    The Hippopotamus seems to me to be a satirical view of the institutionalized church and its stereotyped utterances…Mankind is weak and frail whereas the church claims to be strong and timeless…when man gathers possessions he is sinful but when the church does it, it is honorable…the ludicrousness of the resurrection story…the church’s fervent claims of a physical location, virgin-filled heaven…The capital letters on True Church suggest to me that he saw it as an untrue church wrapped in the miasmal mist of all its deceptions and false claims through the ages.

  5. jackielee says:

    definitly a poem open to interpretation. personally, i believe it revolves around the idea that the Church is not prejudice and welcomes all walks of life and is a very rewarding experience.

  6. Debbie says:

    note that TS Eliot turned Anglican 10 yrs after this poem was published

  7. human says:

    I believe the poem shows how, the hippo, any human, is frail and shall die, be forgotten, while ideas, in this case the Christian religion, is forever there,engraved, while the people who use it change. The last two stanzas give an interesting twist, that though humans are forgotten, they can break loose from humanity for that reason, allowing them to be then, above that idea, stuck below. maybe, just a thought.

  8. Ariela says:

    I believe the message that Eliot is trying to communicate in this poem is that by working hard all your life, as the Hippo does, and trying even if you don’t succeed, salvation is reached. But, as the church remains in one spot, has everything brought to it and never lifts a finger, it stays on the dismal earth. The message is similar to that of Hollow Men and Prufrock, where the men in question all in fact were soulless because, they really did nothing with their lives.

  9. Barb Gedman says:

    I believe that Eliot is talking about the establishment versus the body of believers which I believe to be “The Church.” The religious rituals and practices are those designed by man and many believe these are the ticket to heaven when in actuality, the
    true Church is “wrapt in the poisonous mist.”

  10. JA writer says:

    this is gangsta ja writer i think t.s elliot is simply critisizing how outdated the church is and in my lastest rymes you can see how i was inspired by the great ts elliot my homy brother who had the balls to critisize what was then the most important organizesation of his time i being a gangsta and all do not agree with his views but repsect him because he has balls.

  11. James says:

    I think that the hippo represents someone who is living a hard life and never knew of god and never could, but he went to heaven. The church is powerful and great but the church still stays on earth.

  12. David Jones says:

    The poem contrasts earthly realities (flesh and blood, susceptible to nervous shock) with a false conception of the church as untroubled and invulnerable. The ‘True Church’ in this sense is an idol which is left behind while it is the messy reality that is redeemed. This is certainly a criticism of hypocrisy and it is reasonable to see it as addressing the humble and the marginal (not those who think they know who is saved), but I do not think that one should see the Hippopotamus as non-believers or isolated individual belivers. In contast to the unreal ‘True Church’ the Hippopotamus is surely the church as she actually is – messy and lumbering, with liturgies which are, in a musical sense, often lacking in harmony or beauty (think of the ordinary bread and butter church services, not the occasional splendid celebrations). The poem reminds Christians not to talk of ‘The Church’ (or the sma ething could be said of one’s country or one’s familly) in a way that is unconnected from reality, or to despair if the reality seems so much more tedious and humdrum than the supposed ideal. It is this messy visible reality with boring parish priests, only partly coverted parishers, disharmony among famillies and ‘communities’ (another word that can be used in an idealised way to disguise reality) that God will redeem. The poem is ultimately positive while using humour to deconstruct the over-seriousness which gives a distorted view of the true church and ultimately presents an obstacle to redemption.

  13. cassie reid says:

    i think that this poem is using teh poem to contrast thosee that believe in God to those that don’t and is using the hippopotamus as unclean as a symbol of unclean people who haven’t been introduced to the Lord.

  14. Rebekka says:

    The message of this poem is quite simple. It is the simple and the humble who are saved. It is the hypocritical who are left behind in the “old miasmal mist,” and Eliot included the Institution that was the Church, which he was obviously cynical about throughout the poem, in the latter group.

  15. Ben Thomason says:

    I believe the poem is meant to contrast people’s conception of an idealized church with the actual result of belief in God. The hippopotamus is portrayed as slovenly and dirty, coarse, feeble, odd, etc. While the church is always shown as a strong and joyous institution. In the end, however, the hippopotamus is the one which is truly glorified while the church is left behind in a haze which blinds it from the salvation the hippo recieved. A few thematic observations: salvation is personal, and not wholly dependent upon an organization, no matter how strong; and while the church seems to be doing everything perfectly with a joyous attitude, the lazy, disgusting hippopotamus is the one recieved into choirs of angels and saints. I believe this reflects the Bible’s message that Jesus ‘the Lamb’ came to save those who are most in need of salvation. open to more points of view, of course.

  16. audra inglis says:

    do not understand this poem at all

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by T.S. Eliot better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.