Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Tuesday Poem: For I will consider my cat Jeoffry

For I will consider my cat Jeoffry

by Christopher Smart

For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in
his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant
quickness.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in
the spirit.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.






As a cat-lover and grandmother of three kittens I thought this unusual poem was very suitable this week.   Christopher Smart was born in 1722.  He wrote under the wonderful pen names of  Mrs Mary Midnight (a midwife) and Ebenezer Pentweazle.  One of his poems is the mock epic The Hiliad.   But apparently he began to have religious delusions - believing himself to be a prophet.  His relatives (some say it was his father-in-law) committed him to St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics suffering from “religious mania” . The confinement was considered controversial and attracted the attention of Dr. Johnson.  In Boswell's Life of Johnson,  he records this conversation between Johnson and Fanny Burney. 
 
BURNEY. “How does poor Smart do, Sir; is he likely to recover?”
JOHNSON. “It seems as if his mind had ceased to struggle with the disease; for he grows fat upon it.”
BURNEY. “Perhaps, Sir, that may be from want of exercise.”
JOHNSON. “No, Madam; he has partly as much exercise as he used to have, for he digs in the garden. Indeed, before his confinement, he used for exercise to walk to the ale-house ; but he was carried back again. I did not think he ought to be shut up. His infirmities, were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying with him; and I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as any one else. Another charge was, that he did not love clean linen; and I have no passion for it.

'For I will consider my cat Jeoffry'  is one of the poems that Christopher Smart wrote there and it's a fragment of a much longer piece called 'Jubilate Agno'.  Even after his release from the asylum his troubles weren't over and he ended his days in a debtor's prison.

For more Tuesday Poems from around the world, please go to the Tuesday Poet's website at http://www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com


9 comments:

  1. Sone friends once had a cat named Jeoffry after this very poem! Hope the kittens are doing well...

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  2. Love the line 'For he is of the tribe of Tiger' - so apt. I don't know this poet, so thanks for the intro & poem, Kathleen! The pile of kits in the previous post is hilarious. They do find the most awkward ways/places to sleep, don't they?

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  3. Kathleen, I'm SO glad you posted this marvelous poem--too few people know it--or that it goes on for pages and he, like Jeoffry, never loses it footing as he describes this masterful and mystical animal. Thank you. It's a wonderful poem. But poor Smart suffered so afterwards. Cruel and unfair.

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  4. A very modern poem. I was surprised to learn that the poet wrote this in the 1700s. "For by stroking of him I have found out electricity." Perhaps he was a prophet. I didn't even know that "electricity" was a word or concept before Edison and others got cracking with their inventions.

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    1. I agree with Andrew above. I was very surprised at the age of this poem. I like the clear bright gently amusing style. 'For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.'...so true.
      As for the extract from Boswell...it's delicious! Thanks Kathleen.

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  5. I love the poem, particularly as one who has lived long with the 'tribe of cat,' but the poet's tale was very sad.

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  6. Thanks for all your comments - yes, it is a curiously modern poem, isn't it? I was also puzzled by the word 'electricity', but it presumably existed before we applied it to the stuff that flows through the wires. Unfortunately I don't have my big dictionary here that tells me the origins of words. Elizabeth and Accidental Londoner - the kits are doing beautifully - quite fat and roly-poly by now! Hope they have their eyes open soon.
    Apparently there's a new book out which includes Christopher Smart called 'Six Eighteenth Century Poets' by Neil Curry. Review here http://www.newwritingcumbria.org.uk/shut-it-wordsworth/ I hadn't seen it until someone sent it to me after seeing the blog. Sounds interesting - I'd like to know more about him.

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  7. Someone introduced me to this poem years ago when I was at university. I didn't know about the pen name Mrs Mary Midnight though - a wonderful name, almost as good as Magdalene Moonlight (which I came across when studying Scottish birth register indexes)

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