The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,

Well, if we are to feature some poems by TS Eliot on this blog, we might as well include one of the cat poems, from the collection which eventually inspired the musical show “Cats”. This is Eliot’s light-hearted poems, a light-heartedness which often comes through in his more “serious” work, but which can be somewhat overwhelmed by obscure references and unusual vocabulary. The cats poems, including this one, are more like Dr. Seuss, of green eggs and ham fame, and are very accessible to all.
This particular poem is about the naming of cats, a serious matter indeed.


The Naming Of Cats


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
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

From <;

I love how Eliot proposes names like Admetus or Demeter as sensible everyday names. And I love his verbal dexterity in phrases like “His ineffable effable effanineffible…” There is also real observation in the poem, of the inscrutability of a cat’s demeanour, of the way the cat walks about with its tail raised in the air etc. Eliot must have been a cat person.

The Poetry Dude


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