terrible angels

Saturday, February 10, 2007

moore smart cats

There are great poems about dogs. I don't mean of the sentimental variety. I'm against sentimental poems about dogs on principle (it is too easy) but I can be willing to make an exception. However the domestic cat is a less common subject for literary inspiration. T.S. Eliot's Old Possums Book of Practical Cats is terrific fun. Sadly, I don't think that is will recover from being Andrew Lloyd Webber-ized, at least not during my lifetime.

Cats have lagged behind their canine domesticated companions lacking in solidity or depth or complexity or nuance or whatever property is needed to carry the burden of being poetic subjects. We have been drawn instead to its wild ancestors -- tigers and panthers. Cats have been more useful as figures -- metaphors, images -- than as objects in and of themselves and I suspect that this has something to do with the nature of cats.

There are two great poems about the domesticated cat: Marianne Moore's "Peter" and the unparalleled section of Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno, "For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry." It is unfair to put them side by side because I don't want to diminish the pleasures of Moore's poem and there is really nothing that compares with Smart.

I would recommend reading them on separate occasions. Also Moore demands more of her reader, at least at first reading the Moore appears more difficult. Smart is more complex than it seems, but it depends on how you want to read it. It is, also, quite frankly, madness. Moore does not give you choice. I find that is part of the pleasure in reading Moore, that she is so exacting.

"Peter" by Marianne Moore

"For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry" by Christopher Smart


lotusgreen said...

do you know this one?:

Sleeping with Cats

by Marge Piercy

I am at once source
and sink of heat: giver
and taker. I am a vast
soft mountain of slow breathing.
The smells I exude soothe them:
the lingering odor of sex,
of soap, even of perfume,
its afteraroma sunk into skin
mingling with sweat and the traces
of food and drink.

They are curled into flowers
of fur, they are coiled
hot seashells of flesh
in my armpit, around my head

a dark sighing halo.
They are plastered to my side,
a poultice fixing sore muscles
better than a heating pad.
They snuggle up to my sex
purring. They embrace my feet.

Some cats I place like a pillow.
In the morning they rest where
I arranged them, still sleeping.
Some cats start at my head
and end between my legs
like a textbook lover. Some
slip out to prowl the living room
patrolling, restive, then
leap back to fight about
hegemony over my knees.

Every one of them cares
passionately where they sleep
and with whom.

Sleeping together is a euphemism
for people but tantamount
to marriage for cats.
Mammals together we snuggle
and snore through the cold nights
while the stars swing round
the pole and the great horned
owl hunts for flesh like ours.

trixie said...

Hey! I've been think about you. Thanks for the poem posting. It's been a LONG time since I have read Marge Piercy.

It makes an interesting comparison. Piercy writes personal poetry and she isn't interested in doing what Moore does: making the object distinct and separate. On the contrary, the cats and the speaker are constantly merging together -- and, I believe, that is her point.

I haven't thought it out past this initial observation that cats tend be used as metaphors, figures for other things rather than as the subject itself. It's not a good or bad thing it is just a curious thing.