T.S. Eliot: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

For “cats are (still) very much like you and me” …


A frequent reread, and my choice for the “Black Cat” square of this year’s Halloween Bingo card — as (almost) always, courtesy of my favorite audio performance by Sir John Gielgud and Irene Worth, as well as parts of th.  In case anybody is wondering, (1) Yes, it does meet the minimum length requirements for a Halloween Bingo read (I checked — word count and all); (2) it’s on the original BookLikes “Black Cat” reading list and would thus have been grandfathered in if it didn’t deal with, inter alia, a couple of veritable feline felons, and (3) it features both the aforementioned feline felons (none short of the feline Napoleon of Crime, in fact!) and a number of black cats (Mr. Mistoffelees, anyone?), so there really isn’t anything more to be said about that!

Original review HERE … now let’s let the felines themselves have their say!

 

MACAVITY: THE MYSTERY CAT

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 crime—Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square—
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair—
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair—
But it’s useless to investigate—Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
‘It must have been Macavity!’—but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

 

 

MR. MISTOFFELEES

You ought to know Mr. Mistoffelees!
The Original Conjuring Cat—
(There can be no doubt about that).
Please listen to me and don’t scoff. All his
Inventions are off his own bat.
There’s no such Cat in the metropolis;
He holds all the patent monopolies
For performing surprising illusions
And creating eccentric confusions.
    At prestidigitation
        And at legerdemain
    He’ll defy examination
        And deceive you again.
The greatest magicians have something to learn
From Mr. Mistoffelees’ Conjuring Turn.
Presto!
    Away we go!
        And we all say: OH!
            Well I never!
            Was there ever
            A Cat so clever
                As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

He is quiet and small, he is black
From his ears to the tip of his tail;
He can creep through the tiniest crack,
He can walk on the narrowest rail.
He can pick any card from a pack,
He is equally cunning with dice;
He is always deceiving you into believing
That he’s only hunting for mice.
    He can play any trick with a cork
        Or a spoon and a bit of fish-paste;
    If you look for a knife or a fork
        And you think it is merely misplaced—
You have seen it one moment, and then it is gawn!
But you’ll find it next week lying out on the lawn.
    And we all say: OH!
        Well I never!
        Was there ever
        A Cat so clever
            As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

His manner is vague and aloof,
You would think there was nobody shyer—
But his voice has been heard on the roof
When he was curled up by the fire.
And he’s sometimes been heard by the fire
When he was about on the roof—
(At least we all heard that somebody purred)
Which is incontestable proof
    Of his singular magical powers:
        And I have known the family to call
    Him in from the garden for hours,
        While he was asleep in the hall.
And not long ago this phenomenal Cat
Produced seven kittens right out of a hat!
    And we all said: OH!
        Well I never!
        Did you ever
        Know a Cat so clever
            As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

 

 

MUNGOJERRIE AND RUMPELTEAZER

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer were a very notorious couple of cats.
As knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians, tight-rope walkers and acrobats
They had an extensive reputation. They made their home in Victoria Grove—
That was merely their centre of operation, for they were incurably given to rove.
They were very well known in Cornwall Gardens, in Launceston Place and in Kensington Square—
They had really a little more reputation than a couple of cats can very well bear.

        If the area window was found ajar
        And the basement looked like a field of war,
        If a tile or two came loose on the roof,
        Which presently ceased to be waterproof,
        If the drawers were pulled out from the bedroom chests,
        And you couldn’t find one of your winter vests,
        Or after supper one of the girls
        Suddenly missed her Woolworth pearls:
Then the family would say: ‘It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie—or Rumpelteazer!’—And most of the
            time they left it at that.

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had a very unusual gift of the gab.
They were highly efficient cat-burglars as well, and remarkably smart at a smash-and-grab.
They made their home in Victoria Grove. They had no regular occupation.
They were plausible fellows, and liked to engage a friendly policeman in conversation.

        When the family assembled for Sunday dinner,
        With their minds made up that they wouldn’t get thinner
        On Argentine joint, potatoes and greens,
        And the cook would appear from behind the scenes
        And say in a voice that was broken with sorrow:
        ‘I’m afraid you must wait and have dinner tomorrow!
        For the joint has gone from the oven—like that!’
Then the family would say: ‘It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie—or Rumpelteazer!’—And most of the
            time they left it at that.

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had a wonderful way of working together.
And some of the time you would say it was luck, and some of the time you would say it was weather.
They would go through the house like a hurricane, and no sober person could take his oath
Was it Mungojerrie—or Rumpelteazer? or could you have sworn that it mightn’t be both?

        And when you heard a dining-room smash
        Or up from the pantry there came a loud crash
        Or down from the library came a loud ping
        From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming—
Then the family would say: ‘Now which was which cat?
It was Mungojerrie! AND Rumpelteazer!’—And there’s
            nothing at all to be done about that!

 

 

BUSTOPHER JONES: THE CAT ABOUT TOWN

Bustopher Jones is not skin and bones—
In fact, he’s remarkably fat.
He doesn’t haunt pubs—he has eight or nine clubs,
For he’s the St. James’s Street Cat!
He’s the Cat we all greet as he walks down the street
In his coat of fastidious black:
No commonplace mousers have such well-cut trousers
Or such an impeccable back.
In the whole of St. James’s the smartest of names is
The name of this Brummell of Cats;
And we’re all of us proud to be nodded or bowed to
By Bustopher Jones in white spats!

His visits are occasional to the Senior Educational
And it is against the rules
For any one Cat to belong both to that
And the Joint Superior Schools.
For a similar reason, when game is in season
He is found, not at Fox’s, but Blimp’s;
He is frequently seen at the gay Stage and Screen
Which is famous for winkles and shrimps.
In the season of venison he gives his ben’son
To the Pothunter’s succulent bones;
And just before noon’s not a moment too soon
To drop in for a drink at the Drones.
When he’s seen in a hurry there’s probably curry
At the Siamese—or at the Glutton;
If he looks full of gloom then he’s lunched at the Tomb
On cabbage, rice pudding and mutton.

So, much in this way, passes Bustopher’s day—
At one club or another he’s found.
It can be no surprise that under our eyes
He has grown unmistakably round.
He’s a twenty-five pounder, or I am a bounder,
And he’s putting on weight every day:
But he’s so well preserved because he’s observed
All his life a routine, so he’ll say.
Or, to put it in rhyme: ‘I shall last out my time’
Is the word of this stoutest of Cats.
It must and it shall be Spring in Pall Mall
While Bustopher Jones wears white spats!

 

 

THE NAMING OF CATS

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.



THE AD-DRESSING OF CATS

You’ve read of several kinds of Cat,
And my opinion now is that
You should need no interpreter
To understand their character.
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse—
But all may be described in verse.
You’ve seen them both at work and games,
And learnt about their proper names,
Their habits and their habitat:
But
        How would you ad-dress a Cat?

So first, your memory I’ll jog,
And say: A CAT IS NOT A DOG.

Now Dogs pretend they like to fight;
They often bark, more seldom bite;
But yet a Dog is, on the whole,
What you would call a simple soul.
Of course I’m not including Pekes,
And such fantastic canine freaks.
The usual Dog about the Town
Is much inclined to play the clown,
And far from showing too much pride
Is frequently undignified.
He’s very easily taken in—
Just chuck him underneath the chin
Or slap his back or shake his paw,
And he will gambol and guffaw.
He’s such an easy-going lout,
He’ll answer any hail or shout.

Again I must remind you that
A Dog’s a Dog—A CAT’S A CAT.

With Cats, some say, one rule is true:
Don’t speak till you are spoken to.
Myself, I do not hold with that—
I say, you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
Resents familiarity.
I bow, and taking off my hat,
Ad-dress him in this form: O CAT!
But if he is the Cat next door,
Whom I have often met before
(He comes to see me in my flat)
I greet him with an OOPS A CAT!
I think I’ve heard them call him James—
But we’ve not got so far as names.

Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste—
He’s sure to have his personal taste.
(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he’s finished, licks his paws
So’s not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat’s entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his NAME.

So this is this, and that is that:
And there’s how you AD-DRESS A CAT.

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