I apologize if this book entry inspires singing. Then again, would that be so bad?
Although Thomas Stearns “T.S.” Eliot (1888 – 1965) wrote this collection of feline-inspired nonsensical rhymes for his godchildren, he made it purposefully lyrical and vibrantly theatrical. It was only a matter of time until Andrew Lloyd Webber turned it into Cats the Musical.
Jellicle Cats are black and whiteJellicle Cats are rather smallJellicle Cats are merry and brightAnd pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.
Jellicle Cats have cheerful facesJellicle Cats have bright black eyesThey like to practise their airs and gracesAnd wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise.
Macavity’s a Mystery Cat; he’s called the Hidden Paw—For he’s 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 the crime—Macavity’s not there!
Like Doris Lessing’s adoration of the many cats in her life, anyone who loves cats will find one they recognize among this set.
Cats are, after all, just like you and me.
Bustopher Jones is not skin and bones—In fact, he’s remarkably fat.He doesn’t haunt pubs—he has eight or nine clubsFor he’s the St. James’s Street Cat!
He’s the cat we all greet as he walks down the streetIn his coat of fastidious black:No commonplace mousers have such well-cut trousersOr such an impeccable back.
My particular favorite is “The Naming of Cats,” which suggests that cats—rightly—deserve three names to encompass their greatness. There’s the daily family name, the particular name that never belongs to more than one cat, and finally, there’s the name a cat knows himself and will never confess.1
When you notice a cat in profound meditationThe reason, I tell you, is always the same:His mind is engaged in rapt contemplationOf the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:His ineffible effableEffanineffableDeep and inscrutable singular Name.
Who hasn’t stared into the depths of a cat and wondered what lies therein? Secrets only they know.
Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is perched on the edge of poetry and nonsense. The duality of genius, and perhaps its stabilizing power for those who possess it, is its double helix of silliness and seriousness.
Like Richard Feynman’s jumping bean-like personality of self-discovery to Jorge Luis Borges’s life-long quest for imaginary beings and, most of all, poet Marianne Moore’s playful, incisive verse (Eliot was her mentor).
Anyone who can deliver the shenanigans of Mr. Macavity and simultaneously imagine mountains that bring no comfort gives us insight into human complexity and breadth.