Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On cats and goldfish; in honour of

Image of a Macanese quasi-feral cat, poised; at attention.Dear Gentle Reader,

Today, Richard presented

In homage to Richard's poem, I offer the following older poem by Thomas Gray (1716-1771).

Chris (and a very perturbed Pommes)

Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes

Twas on a lofty vase's side,
Where China's gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw: and purred applause.

Still had she gazed; but 'midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The Genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue
Thro' richest purple to the view
Betrayed a golden gleam.

The hapless nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first, and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize:
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat's averse to fish?

Presumptuous maid! With looks intent,
Again she stretched, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
Malignant Fate sat by and smiled:
The slippery verge her feet beguiled;
She stumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A favorite has no friend!
From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne'er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.

Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts is lawful prize,
Nor all, that glisters, gold.

Image of goldfish blithely swimming by.

Postscript, prior to 3WW, this is my offering to this week's
Monday Poetry Train.


Barbara Martin said...

How sad and I happen to love ginger cats.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Barbara,

All that glisters is not gold,
Beware when buying what is sold.

That ginger? Should truth be told,
Fret not; neither real, wet, nor cold.

("Ceci n'est pas un pipe.")

Cheekily yours,

Lauren said...

Oh no! That is so sad. Poor little kitty :(

Fledgling Poet said...

Aww, a tragic end for a curious cat...

Heidelweiss said...

Well, I believe all that glitters IS, in fact, gold(ish) and likely would have gone in after the fish. Poor Pommes! To think his pet would have put such a poem about drowning cats on his blog ;). He must feel violated. Correction-The Lizzard (two z's in honor of "Lizzy") will never be lulled. She is a true savage and cannot be controlled (heaven help me!).

Richard Wells said...

Thank you for the homage. I do love cats and have had more than a few. My fave was part Siamese (if you please) and was slightly brain-damaged. When he stood on all fours he had to lean against something in order to stay upright, and he could only walk in circles. Every widening circles if he wanted to get somewhere near. But, he could run like a bat out of hell - as long as there were no stops in route. We called him "Nijinsky".

PS: thanks for doing the interview, I'll post a link next time I'm under the hood.

Sepiru Chris said...


Horace Walpole thought so too. (Selima was his...)

Fledgling Poet,

Curious or avaricious?

(Should it make a difference? And what of malignant Fate? In the image by William Blake, done contemporaneously, if I recall, the relevant Fate appeared to be Atropos, the cutter of the skein of life, the third of the Moirae...)



Or maybe he just rails at Selima's foolishness, like the girls in horror films who go out into the backyard when they think they saw a killer and the music is terrifying. If music is playing and your stereo is off, something bad is up.

Egad, many apologies to the fierce Lizzard with two zs. Heaven help you, and me should she hear of my spelling affront.


You are more than welcome. It popped, like Athena, out of my head in one fully-formed leap. Who knows when last I read it. But your poem drew this one out to the e-light.

Your Siamese (even if I don't please, I am sure, but I do) sounds like quite the character. I would have loved to have made his acquaintance.

We had a cockroach killer in Taiwan with deformed, curled paws. He ran like a ballerina in a modified en pointe. He would catch cockroaches between his wrists, then chew them to satisfied pieces...

You are more than welcome for the interview. Now I have to prepare three sets of questions to send it on its way...

Tschuess all,

rebecca said...

Well, curiosity does kill a cat! And that is why this mama, owner of a triad of furry brood, does keep her home cat-safe...because inquisitive, little souls they are they keep me on my toes....

Tumblewords: said...

I wasn't aware cats drowned until I found one at the bottom of the swimming pool. Must have hit his ninth. Great poem...

Anonymous said...

Chris, that's awesome. I really want to call someone a presumptuous maid right now.

Malignant Fate sat by and smiled:
The slippery verge her feet beguiled;
She stumbled headlong in.

love it!

I actually laughed all the way through, guys... sorry... hahaha

I was just visualizing my husband coming home from work and me telling him (in the form of this poem) how his cat drowned.

Sepiru Chris said...


Again, I stand by avariciousness, given the poem rather than curiosity...

Are you sure you own them? The Hero of this household is fairly sure that he possesses us. Facts seem to bear out his perspective...


Glad you enjoyed it. Sorry about the cat in the pool though... Curse Atropos...


Thank goodness someone has the same reaction I had... I began to feel a bit awkward... I read Richard's poem and this one returned to me in an instant, after an absence of many years. Most people learned to quote Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard; I taught myself this one...

Glad you were chortling with me!


rebecca said...


You are absolutely right and I stand corrected: they do indeed OWN me! *sigh* =)

Sepiru Chris said...


I know the feeling so very well. Usually he looks after me well, fortunately. But, since we have arrived in Hong Kong, he has not brought me gifts of mice or birds.

To the world at large,

Before I seem unfeeling, I should note that my enjoyment of this poem stems as much from the word choice, the mental image of malignant Fate, and the way the poem uses the traditional elgiac ode for a non-traditional subject matter.

Walpole himself kept the offending China tub for posterity and displayed it in his home. Fittingly, he started the neo-Gothic revival in England...


bindu said...

Good one! I could picture the whole poem as I read it - we have two cats, and I've spent a lot of time watching the silly adventures they embark on with such solemn expressions. :)

Sepiru Chris said...

Great way of putting it, Bindu; their solemn expressions strike such visual cognitive dissonance when overlaid upon the outlandish activities of some of our cat masters.


to Chris one nice haiku

If Not for the Cat

by Jack Prelutsky

If not for the cat,
And the scarcity of cheese,
I could be content.

Sepiru Chris said...


That is a great haiku.

I do feel the mice... especially in the toes of my shoes when Pommes could still run outdoors in Switzerland.