“For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry”

Poems about cats. (We already talked about poems and dogs, discussing Mary Oliver and Billy Collins.) I love cats. I don’t know that there are as many poems about cats, many poets being dog people, but that’s okay. I know of a few.

Today on The Writer’s Almanac, Garrison Keillor read a poem called “The Cats” by Ann Iverson. It’s got the right attitude for a poem about cats, “To find yourself so remarkable /  all the day long.” That is what cats do. That’s what got me started thinking about cat poetry. I found on the Poetry Foundation’s website an entire page about Cat Poems. The list includes “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” which I lauded here earlier this week, several other children’s rhymes, some very funny stuff, including the concrete poem (poem in a shape) “Magnificat. Brave Cat At Snifter Fishbowl” by George Starbuck (see image below), and some fine work by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, that English couple with all the marriage troubles.

But by far my favorite cat poem, and a very famous one indeed, is the section from Jubilate Agno written by Christopher Smart that begins “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.” You can read all about Mr. Smart at the Poetry Foundation, and many other places, but I encourage you, if you’re tired and need a lift, to read the poem about his cat. There is nowhere else in the English language a more beautiful hymn to a cat, and to their magical spiritual heavenly ordinary lives. The poem is too long to reproduce here, but you can find it here. And just a taste —

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.
Here is George Starbuck’s poem.  The cartoon (check out the awesome blog post of his life) of Christopher Smart and Jeoffry is by Paul Bommer.
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Dog Park Rules

To honor the opening of Cupertino’s Mary Avenue Dog Park, I’ve written a little villanelle. They’ve posted the poem at their website, but I offer it here, too. I read this on Tuesday at my April Fool’s Day reading, and it seemed to appeal to the people there. I hope dogs like it too.

Especially for my dog-loving friends, Michelle, Cristina, and Alice.

Dog Park Rules (A Villanelle)

Watch out for balls and feel the winter sun.
Remember who you came with, when you came.
Run and run and don’t forget to run.

The most important rule is to have fun.
Smell all the smells, then smell them all again.
Watch out for balls and feel the spring-time sun.

Spin your body, spin and when you’ve spun
yourself into a puddle, change the game.
Run and run and don’t forget to run.

Sniff the spots that human noses shun.
Pee and pee and all good places claim.
Watch out for balls and feel the autumn sun.

Stay with that stick until the chewing’s done.
Leap and wiggle your small body like a flame.
Run and run and don’t forget to run.

And now the Dog Park rules are almost done,
and you will learn them as you learned your name.
Watch out for balls and feel the summer sun.
Run and run and don’t forget to run.

For more dog poems, check out Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, fans of dogs and fine poets.

Those of you interested in more information about villanelles, check this out and this.