4 Feline Poems for National Cat Day
Oct. 29 marks National Cat Day—a day to celebrate everything we love about these sweet, sometimes sassy creatures. From Alice Walker and Allen Ginsberg to Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allen Poe, famous writers throughout history have had strong relationships with their fuzzy companions. Cats can even prove beneficial to the writing process: Their presence can increase human empathy, a key trait for poets and authors. These four poems showcase the inspiration, both playful and fierce, that cats can bring.
1. “The Naming of Cats” by T.S. Eliot
Yes, it’s the poem that inspired the movie the internet loves to hate. Like its film follow-up, Cats, Eliot’s “The Naming of Cats” is both bizarre and whimsical. At its core, this rhyming, narrative poem points out that cats have a deep, individual identity. It allows cat owners to form fantastical, intricate storylines about their felines’ secret lives, an illustration in how poetry exercises our imagination.
“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,” Eliot writes. “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.”
2. “Lullaby for the Cat” by Elizabeth Bishop
Beloved poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote a whole book about cats, fittingly called Cat Poems. “Lullaby for the Cat” appears in this collection. Like its title suggests, the poem carries the reverent and peaceful tone of a lullaby. The serene word choice and rhythm showcases just how much owners long to comfort their animals.
“Minnow, go to sleep and dream,/ Close your great big eyes;/ Round your bed Events prepare/ The pleasantest surprise,” consoles Bishop. “. . . Joy and Love will both be yours, / Minnow, don’t be glum. / Happy days are coming soon — / Sleep, and let them come.”
3. “The Poem Cat” by Erica Jong
While many humans love cats, we often question if they love us. This can be similar to the love we have for the writing process, which can be complicated by imposter syndrome and writer’s block. Jong channels this metaphor in “The Poem Cat,” comparing the two subjects’ elusiveness, as well as the well-deserved enjoyment that comes after the challenge of bonding with a cat or completing a new draft. This joyful image asks us to consider that maybe love isn’t always easy,but that it can be worth it—both for poets and cat lovers.
“Sometimes the poem/ doesn’t want to come,” Jong reflects. It hides from the poet/ like a playful cat/ who has run/ under the house/ & lurks among slugs,/ roots, spiders’ eyes/ ledge so long out of the sun.”
4. “The Cat and the Moon” by W.B. Yeats
Though we love our couch potato cats who cuddle with us while watching TV, we rarely remember their wild nature. The mesmerizing poem “The Cat and the Moon” taps into the connection cats have with the Earth, harkening back to their untamed origins and casting them as oracles. The result is a poem with a powerful sense of place, which may cause us to look at our feline friends differently.
“Minnaloushe creeps through the grass/ from moonlit place to place,/ The sacred moon overhead/ Has taken a new phase,” describes Yeats. “Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils/ Will pass from change to change,/ And that from round to crescent,/ From crescent to round they range?/ Minnaloushe creeps through the grass/ Alone, important and wise, / And lifts to the changing moon/ His changing eyes.”
Celebrate National Cat Day by writing an ode to your pet. What unique details about your cat can you incorporate?