Celebrating Cats for National Poetry Month
What sort of philosophers are we, who know absolutely nothing of the origin and destiny of cats?
— Henry David Thoreau
The beginning of the relationship between humans and Felis silvestris catus is lost to time. It goes back at least 10,000 years—before even the inhabitants of ancient Egypt “tamed” those early housecats.
And that relationship has always been much more than just a convenient, mutually beneficial domestic arrangement between Man and Animal. Something about the eyes, the attitude, the motion of a cat opens doors into a world beyond the human experience that is exquisitely sensuous and mysterious, even magical.
Because of their own capacity for “seeing beyond” and delving into the mysterious, artists have always been attracted to cats as worthy subjects of their art: drawing, painting, and sculpting them in countless ways to reveal at least a little of that ineffable mystery which surrounds them like an aura. And, of course, for centuries poets have not been able to resist writing about them.
April is National Poetry Month. To celebrate the occasion, herewith Ketchum Mfg. Co. presents five of the best-known poems about cats.To a Cat Which Had Killed a Favorite Bird
by Agathias (c. 536–582 AD)
This verse by a 6th century Greek poet is thought to be the earliest extant poem written about a cat.
O cat in semblance, but in heart akin
To canine raveners, whose ways are sin;
Still at my hearth a guest thou dar’st to be?
Unwhipt of Justice, hast no dread of me?
Or deem’st the sly allurements shall avail
Of purring throat and undulating tail?
No! as to pacify Patroclus dead
Twelve Trojans by Pelides’ sentence bled,
So shall thy blood appease the feathery shade,
And for one guiltless life shall nine be paid.
(Translated from Greek by Richard Garnett)
♦ ♦ ♦The Scholar and His Cat, Pangur Bán
by Anonymous (9th century)
Written by an unknown Irish monk, this poem about his beloved pet (“White Pangur”) draws parallels between the hunting activities of the cat and his own scholarly life.
I and Pangur Bán my cat,
’Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
’Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
’Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
’Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
’Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
(Translated from Old Irish by Robin Flower)
♦ ♦ ♦The Cat
by Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867)
Seductive and powerful, the cat since Egyptian times has often been associated with the Feminine Principle. The French poet Baudelaire harks back to that idea in this poem (one of several he wrote about cats).
Come, superb cat, to my amorous heart;
Hold back the talons of your paws,
Let me gaze into your beautiful eyes
Of metal and agate.
When my fingers leisurely caress you,
Your head and your elastic back,
And when my hand tingles with the pleasure
Of feeling your electric body,
In spirit I see my woman. Her gaze
Like your own, amiable beast,
Profound and cold, cuts and cleaves like a dart,
And, from her head down to her feet,
A subtle air, a dangerous perfume
Floats about her dusky body.
(Translated from French by William Aggeler)
♦ ♦ ♦She Sights a Bird
by Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)
The iconic American poet perfectly captures in words the image of a cat preparing to pounce for its prey.
She sights a Bird—she chuckles—
She flattens—then she crawls—
She runs without the look of feet—
Her eyes increase to Balls—
Her Jaws stir—twitching—hungry—
Her Teeth can hardly stand—
She leaps, but Robin leaped the first—
Ah, Pussy, of the Sand,
The Hopes so juicy ripening—
You almost bathed your Tongue—
When Bliss disclosed a hundred Toes—
And fled with every one—
♦ ♦ ♦
The Cat and The Moon
by W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
This Irish mystic and master of words brings together two great symbols of the occult in a single poem.
The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.
♦ ♦ ♦
Take note: Ketchum Mfg. offers cat-shaped I.D. tags for your feline friend!
P.S.: Lest dog owners feel left out in the pet tag department, be aware that Ketchum also carries a wide selection of dog ID tags in numerous shapes, sizes, and colors!