“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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“The Owl & the Pussycat” by Edward Lear

I’m feeling light-hearted today, desirous of rhyme and rhythm. This poem is such a delight and one that I suspect doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Make sure you read it out loud, at least to yourself, preferably to a small person while the TV is off. (If you click through to the Poetry Foundation or Poets.org sites, you can see it formatted correctly.)

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

  by Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey, and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! let us be married; too long we have tarried,
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

For a deeper dive into the value of this poem, enjoy this article by David Orr, in which he describes helping his father recover from a stroke by using poetry. “Orr’s father tells him, “I really like the runcible spoon,” and that’s close enough to love for me. “