Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw–

Here is one of TS Eliot’s cat poems, which were revived in the 1980s, if I remember rightly as a hit musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. These poems are more accessible than most of Eliot’s other work, but still very well put together and a lot of fun.
This poem is about Macavity a cat whom Eliot presumably modelled on Sherlock Holmes’s arch-enemy, Moriarty – both criminal masterminds who weave dastardly plots which are almost completely undetectable.
So let’s see what Macavity is up to…

Macavity: The Mystery Cat
by T. S. Eliot

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw–
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime–Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime–Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air–
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly doomed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square–
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair–
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office finds a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair–
But it’s useless of investigate–Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
“It must have been Macavity!”–but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, or one or two to spare:
And whatever time the deed took place–MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

From <;

When reading out loud you get carried along by the rhythm of this poem. In that sense it reminds me a bit of one of those Gilbert and Sullivan numbers which pile up comic references at a faster and faster pace until you almost can’t understand any word. It is the repetitions which keep the reader in the game , “Macavity. Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity”, and “Macavity’s not there”.

There are references to Sherlock Holmes mysteries here – the loss of the Admiralty plans for example, or the reference to Macavity (Moriarty) as the Napoleon of crime. You can also think of Macavity as a sort of James Bond villain, or the gang leader in that old cartoon series “Top Cat”.

This poem brings pleasure on many levels.

Here is a YouTube of the treatment of this poem in the musical Cats

The Poetry Dude


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