L'hippopotame au large ventreThe first epigraph belongs to St. Ignatius of Antioch (died ca. 110), one of the early fathers of the church who defined doctrine and heresy. Eliot quotes from his epistle to the Turkish city of Tralles. See "Ignatius to the Trallians," III.1-2, in The Apostolic Fathers, with a translation by Kirsopp Lake (London: William Heinemann,1919), I, 215:
Habite aux Jungles de Java,
Où grondent, au fond de chaque antre,
Plus de monstres qu-on n'en rêva.
Le boa se déroule et siffle,
Le tigre fait son hurlement,
Le buffle en colère renifle,
Lui dort ou paît tranquillement.
Il ne craint ni kriss ni zagaies,
Il regarde l'homme sans fuir,
Et rit des balles de cipayes
Qui rebondissent sur son cuir.
Je suis comme l'hippopotame:
De ma conviction couvert,
Forte armure que rien n'entame,
Je vais sans peur par le désert.
(Poésies Complètes, ed. René Jasinki [Paris: A. G. Nizet, 1970], II, 207).
Likewise let all respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as the bishop is also a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the Council of God and the college of Apostles. Without these the name of "Church" is not given. I am confident that you accept this.The second epigraph comes from Colossians 4.16, where Paul urges the churches in Laodicea to read his address aloud in public. Eliot read this poem -- "some light satirical stuff" (as he wrote his mother on Dec. 22, 1917) -- at a charitable benefit for the rich that month in the home of Sybil Colefax, well-known in London's society. Valerie Eliot also notes that one of those attending, the novelist Arnold Bennett, wrote in his journal, "Had I been the house, this would have brought the house down" (The Letters of T. S. Eliot, ed. Valerie Eliot, Vol. 1: 1898-1922 [London: Faber and Faber, 1988]: 212-13). B. C. Southam suggests that Eliot saw a private joke here. He started as a banker's clerk at Lloyd's in March 1917, "an event he signified here through an allusion to one of the Songs in Sylvie and Bruno (1889), the novel by Lewis Carroll: `He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk /Descending from the bus: / He looked again, and found it was / A Hippopotamus: "If this should stay to dine," he said, / "There won't be much for us!"'" (A Guide to The Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot, 6th edn. [San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1994]: 106). Back to Line
© T.S. Eliot and Faber and Faber Ltd 1974