~ 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 deep 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 a miasmal mist.
T. S. Eliot irreverently alludes to the familiar lines, “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform,” from William Cowper (1731-1800.)
There are so many great potamus pomes making humorous hay out of the preposterous appearance of the hippo (everyone from Theodore Roethke to Ogden Nash and Shel Silverstein has tried his hand at it) but certainly the master work of the genre is Hippopotamothalamium by John Hall Wheelock.