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Love the poems!  But, as for 18th-c. cat poems, was it Christopher Smart who 
wrote that wonderful and highly empathetic poem about his cat Geoffrey?

Susan
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Ellen Moody" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 12:05 AM
Subject: Wompo Wednesday: Anne Stevenson


Dear all,

On my blog I put a funny description of a cat
named Lucy by my daughter, Laura (aka
Caroline),  and accompanied it with one of
Eliot's now famous  poems in his _Old Possum's
Book of Practical  Cats_.  Someone commented by
sending a poem on a cat by Anne Stevenson which I
like so much I'm offering it here:

'Giving Rabbit to my Cat Bonnie'

Pretty Bonnie, you are quick as a rabbit,
though your tail's longer,
emphasizing suppressed disapproval,
and your ears shorter  two
radar detectors set on swivels
either side of your skull, and your yawn
is a view of distant white spires  not
the graveyard jaw of this poor dead naked pink

rabbit, who like you, was a
technological success, inheriting a snazzy
fur coat, pepper-and-salt colored, cosy,
and beautiful fur shoes with spiked toes.
You're both of you
better dressed than I am for most occasions.
Take off your shoes and suits, though,
what have you got?

Look puss, I've brought us a rabbit for supper.
I bought it in a shop.
The butcher was haggis-shaped, ham-colored,
not a bit like you. His ears
were two fungi on the slab of his head.
He had a fat, flat face.
But he took your brother rabbit off a hook
and spread him on the counter like a rug,

and slice, slice, scarcely looking,
pulled the lovely skin off like a bag.
So, Bonnie, all I've brought us is food
in this silly pink shape  more like me, really.
I'll make a wine sauce with mushrooms, but will
you want this precious broken heart? this perfect liver?
See, protected in these back pockets, jewels?
Bonnie. What are you eating? Dear Bonnie, consider!
 Anne Stevenson

**************

About this one I'd like to say I am struck
by how much tougher Stevenson is than Eliot.
Eliot's poems exist at a distance, and make of
the cats analogues for people fancifully and
lightly considered.  So here we have the woman's
poem far harder and aggressive and reaching out
to the object for real than the man, making tough analogies.

In this poem the cat is a predator; so too her
mistress, but Stevenson aligns herself with the rabbit too.
"Slice, slice, scarcely looking,/pulled the
lovely skin off like a bag." How women re-make
themselves. The imagery of food and jewels is
also feminine, but used as utterly vulnerable and hidden.

This is a quietly fearful poem.

Since I've been reading 18th century poetry by
women over the past couple of weeks now I've been
reminded how many playful poems on animals 18th
century writers use, and often cats:  these are
often poems where the cat gets into distress or
eats a fish.  Read with subtlety they are often
fearful in the way of Stevenson's, except they
too show pity and don't align the
poet closely with the cat or animal
devoured.  The men's are characteristically like
T. S. Eliot's at a distance.  The women's are
much closer up, identifying most of the
time.  Here's a more playful witty distanced
one  by Henrietta St John Knight (who I wrote
about last week, that Lady Luxborough, friend of
Lady Hertford, who fled a husband and ended up in
a house without windows or doors, but relieved
anyway), where Knight asserts her freedom in comparison with a bird in a 
cage:

          "The Bullfinch in Town"

Hark to the blackbird's pleasing note,
          Sweet usher of the vocal throng!
Nature directs his warbling note,k
          And all that hear admire his song.

Yon bullfinch, with unvaried tone,
          Of cadence harsh, and accent shrill,
Has brighter plumage to atone
          For want of harmony and skill.

Yet, discontent with nature's boon,
          Like man, to mimic art he flies;
On opera-pinions hoping soon
          Unrivalled he shall mount the skies.

And while, to please some courtly fair,
          He one dull tune with labour learns,
A well-gilt cage remote from air,
          And faded plumes, is all he earns!

Go, hapless captive! still repeat
          The sounds which nature never taught;
Go, listening fair! and call them sweet,
          Because you know them dearly bought.

Unenvied both! go hear and sing
          Your studied music o'er and o'er;
Whilst I attend th'inviting spring,
          In fields where birds unfetter'd soar.
                  (1759)

And from the end of the era, a poem by a poet I
quoted for a foremother day, Helen Maria
Williams.  It's the romantic type (full compassion) identification

Elegy on a Young Thrush, which escaped from
the writer's hand, and falling down the area of
a house, could not be found.


             Mistaken Bird, ah whither hast thou stray'd?
                My friendly grasp why eager to elude?
             This hand was on thy pinion lightly laid,
               And fear'd to hurt thee by a touch too rude.

             Is there no foresight in a Thrush's breast,
                That thou down yonder gulph from me wouldst go?
             That gloomy area lurking cats infest,
                And there the dog may rove, alike thy foe.

             I would with lavish crumbs my bird have fed,
              And brought a crystal cup to wet thy bill;
           I would have made of down and moss thy bed,
              Soft, though not fashion'd with a Thrush's skill.

           Soon as thy strengthen'd wing could mount the sky,
              My willing hand had set my captive free;
           Ah, not for her who loves the Muse, to buy
             A selfish pleasure, bought with pain to thee!

           The vital air, and liberty, and light
              Had all been thine; and love, and rapt'rous song,
           And sweet parental joys, in rapid flight,
              Had led the circle of thy life along.

           Securely to my window hadst thou flown,
              And ever thy accustom'd morsel found;
           Nor should thy trusting breast the wants have known
              Which other Thrushes knew when winter frown'd.

           Fram'd with the wisdom nature lent to thee,
              Thy house of straw had brav'd the tempest's rage,
           And thou through many a Spring hadst liv'd to see
              The utmost limit of a Thrush's age.

           Ill-fated bird!---and does the Thrush's race,
              Like Man's, mistake the path that leads to bliss?
           Or, when his eye that tranquil path can trace,
             The good he well discerns through folly miss?

                                 [from Helen Maria Williams, Poems on 
various
subjects (1823)]

************
Women's poetry, different from men's.

I do like Anne Stevenson.

Ellen