Hold back the claws of your paw,
And let me plunge into your adorable eyes
Mixed with metal and agate.”
T. S. Eliot
The early 20th-century poet Thomas Stearns Eliot has earned a reputation as a difficult read – an erudite sophisticate who wove different languages and far-ranging literary references through his verses, but the author of the dense, allusive “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” could also be disarmingly homebodyish, unable to resist likening how cats move to “yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes”: “Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, / And seeing that it was a soft October night, / Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.”
Eliot also took a break from highbrow poetry to dash off a children’s book titled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Published in 1939, it’s a collection of poems about cats that Eliot wrote for his godchildren. (“Old Possum” being one of Eliot’s nicknames.) Good thing this family pastime of his wasn’t locked away for a few generations in a sock-drawer. The English theater impresario Andrew Lloyd Weber found inspiration enough in it to compose his long-running musical Cats.
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William Carlos Williams
A contemporary of Eliot’s, William Carlos Williams was also a poet (who somehow found time to be a career physician, too). Known for his spare, even disjointed use of language, Williams attempts to replicate the precision and litheness of feline motion in his gem “Poem (As the Cat).” The lines are worth quoting in full:
As the cat
the top of
first the right
then the hind
into the pit of
Williams had an affinity for painting and even collaborated with some visual artists. So sparse are the lines above that they almost resemble the strokes of a paintbrush, sketching just the outline of a cat as it climbs past you in perfect balance.
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When most people think of Hemingway, the first animal that probably leaps to mind is a bull. (The man was a bullfighting aficionado.) Next on that list might be any of the big game animals he hunted in Africa, or you might wager that he’d be the proud owner of a few Doberman Pinschers, guessing from the he-man persona he adopted. But, apparently, Hemingway loved cats. He called them his “love sponges.” Who knew?
If that’s not weird enough, remember that left his home in Key West to his cats. Yes, you read that right – he bypassed his wives, children, grandchildren, lovers, friends, and neighbors to bequeath his Florida villa to his cats. Fast-forward a few generations, and these cats still inhabit the estate. (Their numbers have risen into the 40-50 range.) Thing is, one of the cats that Hemingway himself owned was a certain Snow White, a polydactyl (or six-toed) cat. Today, a lot of Snow White's descendants that currently lounge around in the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum are also six-toed. On some shelf in the attic of that house is probably a volume of Hemingway's unpublished work. I think it's called "Six-Toed Love Sponges and Other Tales: The Lost Works of Ernest Hemingway."
The ancient Egyptians made sculptures in honor of cats, these alluring creatures that killed the mice that ate the grain in their storehouses. Ever since, every artist from painters to photographers to writers have tried to capture the beauty of this animal, so strange and beautiful that they excite our creativity and stalk our imagination.
Do you have a beautiful cat? Let us know in the comments!
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