“A Dog is, on the whole, what you would call a simple soul.”
In the early 1930s, T.S. Eliot — beloved poet and man of ideas — penned some whimsical verses about cats in a series of letters to his godchildren. In 1939, they were published as Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which went on to inspire the famed Broadway musical Cats in 1981 and which was famously illustrated by the great Edward Gorey in 1982. In this wonderful recording from 1947, remastered in 1992 and found in T.S. Eliot reads T.S. Eliot, Eliot reads “The Ad-dressing of Cats” — one of the most delightful poems from the book, also included in the beautifully illustrated 1953 anthology Best Cat Stories:
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:
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
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 OOPSA CAT!
I’ve heard them call him James Buz-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.
Complement with the soul-warming Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology and Eliot on idea-incubation and the mystical quality of creativity.