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Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Great Feline Authors: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Gold Standard for Poets of Catymology

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
T.S. Eliot
Faber and Faber, 1940

The original pictures by Nicolas Bentley in this book charmed me much more than Edward Gorey's 1982 illustrations. Dancing on the cover, the dapper Jellicle Cats suggest Mr. Bentley had more of a smattering of catymological education.

As for the poet Eliot himself, who could resist the wry wisdom of "The Naming of Cats?" Of course, a self-respecting cat must have three different names, as the poet says. There's the everyday name--in my case, Aloysius Katz. Then, there's the "more dignified" name: mine is Aloysius Pangur Ban. Even though Eliot says this name "never belongs to more than one cat," I find it quite comfortining to know that I represent only the latest incarnation of a long line. (For the English translation of the popular Gaelic poem "Pangur Ban," and links to some of the many versions in other languages, see my post of October 6, 2005.)

And then we come to the secret name, the name that only the cat himself knows:
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
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
Eliot's word play reminds me of the way I play with mice, teasing them until they manage to escape into a crack in the floor.

I could go on and on about the joys of this immortal collection of poems, but it's almost time for my midday nap. Let me just say that Eliot, like many practitioners of catymology, has a fetish for invisible cats. Witness the rakish Macavity, who--whenever a feline crime takes place--is never to be found.
Tags: cats book reviews


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4 Old Comments:

I LOVE The Old Possum Books of practical cats. I would sell my soul (if I can be said to have one) for a signed first edition.

By Blogger Gigolo Kitty, at 10:59 AM  

Dear Gigolo Kitty,

Of course, we felines have souls. Why else would the ancient Egyptians have worshipped our ancestors, mourned their deaths, and (though I shudder to think of it) mummified their remains?

As for Old Possum's book, have you tried getting your human friends to buy you one on Amazon or Ebay?


By Blogger Aloysius, at 11:27 AM  

You are so right about the reason:

What's in a name?

By Blogger Sissy Willis, at 5:40 PM  

His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

i like this part :)..

By Anonymous guile, at 11:25 PM  

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