The cats of T.S. Eliot and Edward Gorey. Old Possum on naming cats
T.S. Eliot's ``The Waste Land'' put a poetic signature on a generation between the world wars. His similarly dry and searching criticism (``We know too much, and are convinced of too little'') did not exactly prepare readers for the literary jocosity of ``Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats'' (1939). Here is the first poem, ``The Naming of Cats,'' from the small volume that was read by Robert Donat in a classic phonograph recording and more recently put on stage in a London and New York musical hi t, ``Cats.'' The photograph to the right is of a forthcoming United States postage stamp in honor of the poet. 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 more 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. From `Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats,' By T. S. Eliot, Illustrated by Edward Gorey, copyright 1939 by T. S. Eliot, renewed 1967 By Esm'e Valerie Eliot; illustrations copyright 1982 by Edward Gorey. Reprinted and reproduced by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, inc.