All That Glisters

Apropos of nothing, this is a good poem:

Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes
Thomas Gray, 1747-8

‘Twas on a lofty vase’s side,
Where China’s gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers, that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw; and purred applause.

Still had she gazed; but ‘midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The genii of the stream:
Their scaly armour’s Tyrian hue
Through richest purple to the view
Betrayed a golden gleam.

The hapless nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat’s averse to fish?

Presumptuous maid! with looks intent
Again she stretched, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled,
She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A favourite has no friend!

From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters gold.

3 Responses

  1. 18th Century Cat PoemsI think
    18th Century Cat Poems

    I think this must be a popular topic for 18th century poems… here’s one that I find amusing, interesting and somewhat disturbing by Christopher Smart, somewhat of a crazy cat himself…

    For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry (excerpt, Jubilate Agno)

    For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
    For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
    For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
    For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
    For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
    For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
    For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
    For this he performs in ten degrees.
    For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
    For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
    For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
    For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
    For fifthly he washes himself.
    For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
    For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
    For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
    For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
    For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
    For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
    For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
    For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
    For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
    For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
    For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
    For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
    For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
    For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
    For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
    For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
    For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
    For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
    For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
    For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
    For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
    For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
    For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
    For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
    For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
    For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
    For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
    For he is tenacious of his point.
    For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
    For he knows that God is his Saviour.
    For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
    For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
    For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually–Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
    For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
    For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
    For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
    For he is docile and can learn certain things.
    For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
    For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
    For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
    For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
    For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
    For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
    For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
    For the former is afraid of detection.
    For the latter refuses the charge.
    For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
    For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
    For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
    For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
    For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
    For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
    For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
    For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
    For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
    For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
    For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
    For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
    For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
    For he can swim for life.
    For he can creep.

    –Christopher Smart

    Of course, this has nothing on Mister Mistoffelees…

  2. I love catsHere’s one of my
    I love cats

    Here’s one of my favorite cat poems:

    The Cat

    I.

    In my brain strolls,
    Just as in his apartment,
    A beautiful, strong, sweet, and charming cat.
    When he meows, he can hardly be heard,

    So tender and discreet is his tone;
    But whether his voice is calm or scolds,
    It is always rich and profound.
    That is his charm and his secret.

    That voice that pearls and filters into
    My most shadowy depths,
    Fills me like a well-balanced verse
    And rejoices me like a philter.

    It lulls the cruelest ills
    And contains all ecstasies;
    To speak the longest sentences,
    It has no need of words.

    No, there is no bow that catches
    At my heart, perfect instrument,
    And makes its most vibrant cord
    Sing more regally,

    Than your voice, mysterious cat,
    Seraphic cat, strange cat,
    In whom all is, as in an angel,
    Just as subtle as it is harmonious!

    II.

    From his blond and brown fur
    Rises a perfume so sweet that one evening
    I was saturated with it after having
    Caressed him once and once only.

    He is the familiar of this place;
    He judges, he presides, he inspires
    All things in his empire;
    Is he perhaps a fairy or a god?

    When my eyes, drawn as to a magnet
    Toward that cat that I love,
    Return with docility
    And I look within myself,

    I see with astonishment
    The fire of his pale pupils,
    Bright beacons, living opals,
    Fixedly contemplating me.

    Charles Baudelaire

  3. Wow, I didn’t know Baudelaire
    Wow, I didn’t know Baudelaire wrote a cat poem. Cool.

    The first cat poems that come to my mind are the ones by T.S. Eliot in his book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which I’m told is the basis for the Broadway play Cats. Here is one of those poems:

    The Naming of Cats

    The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
    It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
    You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
    When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
    First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
    Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
    Such as Victor or Jonathan, or George or Bill Bailey –
    All of them sensible everyday names.
    There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
    Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
    Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter –
    But all of them sensible everyday names.
    But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
    A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
    Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
    Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
    Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
    Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
    Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum –
    Names that never belong to more than one cat.
    But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
    And that is the name that you never will guess;
    The name that no human research can discover –
    But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
    When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
    The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
    His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
    Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
    His ineffable effable
    Effanineffable
    Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

    – T.S. Eliot

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