Friday, March 16, 2012

T.S. Eliot's "Practical Cats"

First edition, 1939; Edward Gorey's version
It's always pleasing to view the whimisical side of a dour writer like Thomas Stearns Eliot. Turning from The Waste Land to Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is such a refreshing change:
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 impreccable 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! 
And so on through 12 other colorfully named and depicted personalities. His godchildren must have been delighted, as readers have been ever since.
When the family assembled for Sunday dinner,
With their minds made up that they wouldn't get thinner
On Argentine joint, potatoes and greens,
And the cook would appear from behind the scenes
And say in a voice that was broken with sorrow:
Detail from our edition.
"I'm afraid you must wait and have dinner tomorrow!
For the joint has gone from the oven-like that!"
Then the family would say: "It's that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie--or Rumpelteazer!"-- And most of the time they left it at that.
Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had a wonderful way of working together.
And some of the time you would say it was luck, and some of the time you would say it was weather.
They would go through the house like a hurricane, and no sober person could take his oath
Was it Mungojerrie--or Rumpelteazer? or could you have sworn that it mightn't be both?
And when you heard a dining-room smash
Or up from the pantry there came a loud crash
Or down from the library came a loud ping
From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming--
Then the family would say: "Now which was which cat?
It was Mungojerrie! AND Rumpelteazer!"-- And there's nothing at all to be done about that!
Below are samples of Eliot reading some of the poems (warning: not recommended for their theatrical flair!).


  1. Many people may not know, but Eliot's collection of feline poems inspired the Broadway classic CATS. If you look closely between his poems and the characters, you'll recognize some of the same names and attributes.

  2. That's pretty rad Andrew Lloyd Webber got his inspiration from this book, great little piece of knowledge, thanks Hadiyah:)

  3. The poems were originally composed for Eliot's godchildren

  4. Mr. Eliot has such great rhythm. These poems are lots of fun to read out loud.