CAT POETRY OF THE EARLY MODERN PERIOD

John Skelton - cat poetryCats made their mark upon men’s hearts, whether for better or for worse, throughout the poetry and literature of the Early Modern PeriodJohn Skelton (1460-1529), a poet laureate under Henry VII and Henry VIII’s Jester, wrote a poem much like Agathias did in 550 AD entitled, Philip Sparrow.

 

Philip Sparrow

“When I remember again

How my Philip was slain,

Never half the pain

Was between you twain,

Pyramust this be, (tragic lovers in the tale by Ovid)

As then befell me.

I wept and I wailed,

But nothing it availed

To call Philip again,

Whom Gib our cat had slain.

 

Oh Cat of churlish kind,

The fiend was in your mind

When thou my bird untwin’d!

I would thou hadst been blind!

The leopards savage,

The lions in their rage

Might catch thee in their paws,

And gnaw thee in their jaws!

The serpents of Libany

Might sting thee venomously!

The dragons with their tongues

Might poison thy liver and thy lungs!

The manticors of the mountains

Might feed upon thy brains!

 

An it were a Jew,

It would make one rue,

To see my sorrow new.

These villainous false cats

were made for mice and rats.

 

From me was taken away

By Gib, our cat savage,

 

That in furious rage

Caught Philip by the head

And slew him there stark dead!

 

(Payne & Hunter, 2003, pp. 3-11)

 

Joahim du Bellay- cat poetryIn addition, there were other poets, Joachim du Bellay (1525-60), for example, who greatly loved and grieved the loss of his cat if only just because it offered him some respite from the gnawing rats and mice that plagued his mattress at night.

 

Eptiah on a Pet Cat

 

My life seems dull and flat,

And, as you’ll wonder what,

Magney, has made this so,

I want you first to know

It’s not for rings or purse

But something so much worse:

Three days ago I lost

All that I value most,

My treasure, my delight,

I cannot speak, or write,

Or even think of what

Belaud, my small grey cat

Meant to me, tiny creature,

Masterpiece of nature

In the whole world of cats,–

And certain death to rats!—

Whose beauty was worthy

Of immortality.

 

Then a detailed description of Belaud….

 

My only memory

Of him annoying me

Is that, sometimes at night

When rats began to gnaw

And rustle in my straw

Mattress, he’d waken me

Seizing most dexterously

Upon them in their flight.

 

Now that the cruel right hand

Of death comes to demand

My bodyguard from me,

 

My sweet security

Gives way to hideous fears;

Rats come and gnaw my ears,

And mice and rats at night

Chew up the lines I write!”

(Ayer, n.d. pp.26-31)

 


Gib is a reference to an old tom cat, derived from a contraction of the name Gilbert.

 

REFERENCES

NA (n.d.). The poet’s cat. Ayer Publishing.

Payne, M. and Hunter, J. (2003). Renaissance literature:  an anthology. Wiley-Blackwell.

 

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