Readers of Poetry for Cats: The Definitive Anthology of Distinguished Feline Verse by Henry Beard will notice how much influence humans have on cats. Cats will not enjoy having this pointed out. They work hard to protect their free will and try to dictate the terms of their relationships with humans. You can not just pick up a cat and expect it to be happy being held; you have to wait until the cat is ready. Cats will not play with toys just because you want to play. Cats appear to think independently, but their poetry betrays them.
Here is a bit of verse written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s cat:
I chased a mouse beneath the stair,
It went to ground, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it ran, my sight
Could not follow it in its flight.
There is more. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s cat wrote the following:
In Xanadu did Kubla Kat
A splendid sofa-bed decree
With silken cushions soft and fat
A perfect feline habitat
Set on a gilt settee.
Here is another sample, this time by William Shakespeare’s cat:
To go outside, and there perchance to stay
Or to remain within: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis better for a cat to suffer
The cuffs and buffets of inclement weather
That nature rains on those who roam abroad
Or take a nap upon a scrap of carpet …
Have you noticed a trend? It appears that cats listen more than they let on, and they even identify with the humans with whom they relate. They certainly borrow verse as freely as they claim their favorite chairs.
Cats do deserve some credit for knowing what poetry to borrow and adapt as their own. They are able to turn bits of Chaucer, Keats, Frost, or Ginsberg into works that serve their purposes, such as catching goldfish, breaking vases, or berating Whitman for sleeping too late. In near unison they raise their voices to complain about their vets.
One thing that surprises me about Poetry for Cats is that Henry Beard never reveals the cats’ names. I can not imagine that Emily Dickinson had a nameless cat!
Poetry for Cats is an attractive book with colorful illustrations and is still in print after eleven years. I found our copy when inventorying the poetry collection. I am afraid few people have borrowed it lately, so I am going to put it on display. The cats need to be heard.
Beard, Henry. Poetry for Cats: The Definitive Anthology of Distinguished Feline Verse. New York: Villard Books, 1994. ISBN 0679435824