literature

Cats & Poets

I’ve got a cat. It is a she-cat and her name (her full name, I mean) is Dock-tailed Anita II from Green Park.

Well, it took us some time, in the family, to decide all this. Maybe some explanation is due: Anita is a tribute to the wonderful jazz singer Anita O’ Day, with whom my cat shares the fascinating facial expression (this is why she is “the second”); Anita is dock-tailed after an accident she underwent when still a stray cat (she was probably run over by a car, but who knows?); and, last but not least, Green Park is the name of a block of flats in Bitetto (Bari) where she had taken refuge after the accident.

Of course, in everyday life she is simply “Anita”. But her long, full, dignified name is what she needs to keep up her tail perpendicular  (I’m sure she would keep it up, if she had one) and spread out her whiskers and cherish her pride, because names like these never belong to more than one cat.

This is what T.S. Eliot exactly says in a poem called The Naming of Cats.

In this poem, Eliot also deals with a more difficult and mysterious matter, i.e. the third name of cats, the one containing the purest platonic essence of  felinity, the one human beings can’t guess but which each cat perfectly knows.

I’m sure that whenever Anita regally sits on her cushion blinking in the afternoon sun, she is actually contemplating her name.

Can you think of a more purrfect form of happiness?  

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey–
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

The Naming of Cats, T.S.Eliot

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4 thoughts on “Cats & Poets

  1. “ineffable effable effanineffable deep and inscrutable”… great Eliot!

    … it took us about three days to agree on “Vanilla” as her name… she didn’t seem to be interested then, as she is not interested now in how we call her, since other names have been added since then… the Hunter, Leavemealone, Hatefish&humanfood… maybe it’s just us, “humans”, who need to give a name to everything (I even give names to ants and spiders visiting my desk!)
    A cat doesn’t need a name…
    Thanks a lot for this post, ukulele franz!!! 🙂

    • My first ant-friend’s name was Eugenia. She used to spend some time travelling on my desk and visiting the “ups and downs” of my computer keyboard.
      I guess she was a bit tired of her boring job (look-for-food-find-food-go-back-and-tell-the-others-go-and-fetch-food) and, being an adventurous ant, one day she decided to travel on her own… 😉
      But that’s not so interesting as what happened to Casimiro, the spider…

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