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T. S. Eliot’s Iconic Vintage Verses About Cats, Illustrated and Signed by Edward Gorey

Two grand masters of delight, together.

Until the wonderful Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology came out, the great Edward Gorey had the corner on feline art with his timeless illustrations for the 1982 edition of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (public library) by T. S. Eliot, a documented cat-lover, who penned these whimsical verses about feline psychology and social order in a series of letters to his godchildren in the 1930s. The poems were first collected and published in 1939, adding Eliot to the ranks of other famous “adult” authors who wrote for children, and eventually became the basis for the famed Broadway musical Cats.

Some time ago, I had the good fortune of tracking down an original edition of this tiny treasure, signed by Gorey himself — please enjoy:

THE NAMING OF CATS

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey —
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter —
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum —
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover —
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
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
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

THE SONG OF THE JELLICLES

Jellicle Cats come out to-night
Jellicle Cats come one come all:
The Jellicle Moon is shining bright –
Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats are rather small;
Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.
Jellicle Cats have cheerful faces,
Jellicle Cats have bright black eyes;
They like to practise their airs and graces
And wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise.

Jellicle Cats develop slowly,
Jellicle Cats are not too big;
Jellicle Cats are roly-poly,
They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig.
Until the Jellicle Moon appears
They make their toilette and take their repose:
Jellicle Cats wash behind their ears,
Jellicle dry between their toes.

Jellicle Cats are white and black,
Jellicle Cats are of moderate size;
Jellicle Cats jump like a jumping-jack,
Jellicle Cats have moonlit eyes.
They’re quitet enough in the morning hours,
They’re quitet enough in the afternoon,
Reserving their terpsichorean powers
To dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;
If it happends to be a stormy night
They will practise a caper or two in the hall.
If it happens the sun is shining bright
You would say they had nothing to do at all:
They are resting and saving themselves to be right
For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.

BUSTOPHER JONES: THE CAT ABOUT TOWN

Bustopher Jones is not skin and bones —
In fact, he’s remarkably fat.
He doesn’t haunt pubs — he has eight or nine clubs,
For he’s the St. James’s Street Cat!
He’s the Cat we all greet as he walks down the street
In his coat of fastidious black:
No commonplace mousers have such well-cut trousers
Or such an impeccable back.
In the whole of St. James’s the smartest of names is
The name of this Brummell of Cats;
And we’re all of us proud to be nodded or bowed to
By Bustopher Jones in white spats!
His visits are occasional to the Senior Educational
and it is against the rules
For any one cat to belong both to that
And the Joint Superior Schools.
For a similar reason, when game is in season
He is found, not at Fox’s, but Blimp’s;
But he’s frequently seen at the gay Stage and Screen
Which is famous for winkles and shrimps.
In the season of venison he gives his ben’son
To the Pothunter’s succulent bones;
And just before noon’s not a moment too soon
To drop in for a drink at the Drones.
When he’s seen in a hurry there’s probably curry
At the Siamese — or at the Glutton;
If he looks full of gloom then he’s lunched at the Tomb
On cabbage, rice pudding and mutton.
So, much in this way, passes Bustopher’s day —
At one club or another he’s found.
It can cause no surprise that under our eyes
He has grown unmistakably round.
He’s a twenty-five pounder, or I am a bounder,
And he’s putting on weight every day:
But he’s so well preserved because he’s observed
All his life a routine, so he’ll say.
And (to put it in rhyme) `I shall last out my time’
Is the word of this stoutest of Cats.
It must and it shall be Spring in Pall Mall
While Bustopher Jones wears white spats!

Complement Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats with Lost Cat and Gay Talese on the social order of New York’s cats, and consider supporting Gorey’s legacy with a donation to the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust.

BP

Henry Miller on the Joy of Urination

Henry Milleroracle of writing, modern philosopher, man of discipline, wise heart — may endure as a literary legend, but part of what made his spirit so extraordinary was his irreverence and his childlike wonder at the world. From This Is Henry, Henry Miller from Brooklyn: Conversations with the Author from the Henry Miller Odyssey (public library) — the same 1974 gem that gave us Miller’s meditation on the mystery of the universe and the meaning of life — comes his delightful paean to something far less exalted and much more grittily human: urination.

I do not find it strange that America placed a urinal in the middle of the Paris exhibit in Chicago. I think it belongs there, and I think it a tribute that the French should be proud of. … I am a man who pisses largely and frequently, which they say is a sign of great mental activity. One likes to piss in sunlight among human beings who stand and smile down at you. Standing behind a tin strip and looking out on the throng with that contented, easy, vacant smile, that long reminiscent pleasurable look, is a good thing. How many times have I stood thus in this smiling gracious world, the sun splashing over me and the birds twittering crazily, and found a woman looking down at me from an open window. Standing thus with heart and bly and bladder open, I seem to recall every urinal I ever stepped into. To relieve a full bladder is one of the great human joys.

This Is Henry, Henry Miller from Brooklyn is a treat in its entirety, an unprecedented glimpse of Miller’s character in all of its dimensions, from the playful to the profound. Complement it with Miller on the art of living and the future of mankind.

BP

How Elvis Presley Ushered in the Era of Teen Consumer Culture

The 1950s were a time of monumental transition — color replaced black-and-white, the century of the self was coming into full bloom, and the American Dream was taking its first bold steps into new economic freedom after the sequential devastation of the Great Depression and World War II. But one particular change that took place in that seminal decade grew to be a central driving force of contemporary culture.

In The Fifties (public library), Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist David Halberstram considers how Elvis Presley’s music, at the perfect confluence of the golden age of portable radio, the rise of credit buying, and the rock-and-roll cross-over spearheaded by Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, ushered in a new era of the teenager as a flag-bearer of consumer culture:

Presley’s timing was nearly perfect. … Parents might disapprove of the beat and of their children listening to what they knew was black music. But their disapproval only added to Presley’s popularity and made him more of a hero among the young. Local ministers might get up in their churches (almost always well covered by local newspapers) and attack demon rock as jungle music and threaten to lead a crusade to have this Presley boy arrested if he dared set foot in their community (generally, there was no problem, their towns were too small for him to play). It did not matter: Elvis Presley and rock music were happening.

A new young generation of Americans was breaking away from the habits of its parents and defining itself by its music. There was nothing the parents could do: This new generation was armed with both money and the new inexpensive appliances with which to listen to it. This was the new, wealthier America. Elvis Presley began to make it in 1955, after ten years of rare broad-based middle-class prosperity. Among the principal beneficiaries of that prosperity were the teenagers. They had almost no memory of a Depression and the great war that followed it. There was no instinct on their part to save money. In the past when American teenagers had made money, their earnings, more often than not, had gone to help support their parents or had been saved for one treasured and long-desired purchase, like a baseball glove or a bike, or it had been set aside for college.

An essential byproduct of this, just as the new middle class had begun to take over the country, was the rise of a new consumer class: youth. By 1956, the 13 million teenagers in America had a cumulative income of $7 billion a year, a staggering 26% increase over the figures from three years prior. Those numbers, Halberstam notes, were astounding at the time, not far from the disposable income of an entire family of average Americans after basic billpay a mere fifteen years earlier.

But beyond the changing social structures, what fueled this tectonic shift in consumer culture was technological innovation:

Technology favored the young. The only possible family control was over a home’s one radio or record player. There, parental rule and edicts could still be exercised. But the young no longer needed to depend on the family’s appliances. In the early fifties a series of technological breakthroughs brought small transistorized radios that sold for $25 to $50. Soon an Elvis Presley model record player was selling for $47.95. Teenagers were asked to put $1 down and pay only $1 a week. Credit buying had reached the young. By the late fifties, American companies sold 10 million portable record players a year.

What this technological liberation achieved above all, Halberstam argues, was a reshuffling of the authoritarian hierarchy:

In this new subculture of rock and roll the important figures of authority were no longer mayors and selectmen or parents; they were disc jockeys, who reaffirmed the right to youthful independence and guided teenagers to their new rock heroes. The young formed their own community. For the first time in American life they were becoming a separate, defined part of the culture: As they had money, they were a market, and as they were a market they were listened to and catered to. Elvis was the first beneficiary. In effect, he was entering millions of American homes on the sly; if the parents had had their way, he would most assuredly have been barred.

The Fifties goes on to explore the social, political, and economic changes swept in by the era’s whirlwind of affluence and anxiety, control and chaos, uplift and unease.

Public domain images via Flickr Commons

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