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Of Cats and Their Nature in T.S.Eliot’s Words

Children learn verse even before they read. Jack and Jill or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, are poems children the world over know. Once they are done with the kidergarten years both parents and teachers alike revisit poetry a lot lesser than prose. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. A re-reading of T.S.Eliot’s Macavity: The Mystery Cat made me realise that there are far too many important poets whose work  can be read and reread to if not read by children. Droned on endlessly in my 9th grade as part of the syllabus, I could almost set it to the iconic 007 James Bond or Pink Panther tune while I read it.

‘Macavity’s a Mystery Cat:he’s called the Hidden Paw–
For hes the master criminal who can defy the law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime–Macavity’s not there’

Taken from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Macavity and other cats sit in verse ready to regale. Poetry is known to help in learning, reading, improve cognition and encourage experimenting with words. T.S.Eliot’s collection of poems about cats must be read though for sheer fun and laughter. The joy of reading aloud these poems about cats who live such varied lives are many.

Take the poem about The Naming of Cats where Eliot declares cats have in fact three names. An everyday name, a name that best describes them and finally the name that only the cat knows and calls themselves by.

The Naming of Cats

T.S.Eliot

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, 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.

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The Inscrutable

Old Possum as Eliot was know wrote this  collection of poems about his feline friends for his godchildren and hand illustrated the first edition. If you like cats, words, verse , psychology or dogs Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a must read.

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