Friday, December 14, 2012

I Wish I'd Written This

The King Of The Cats Is Dead 
By Peter Porter (1929 - 2010)

The light on his thigh was like
a waterfall in Iceland, and his hair
was the tidal rip between two rocks,
his claws retracted sat in softness
deeper than the ancient moss of Blarney,
his claws extended were the coulter
of the gods and a raw March wind
was in his merely agricultural yawn. 
Between his back legs was a catapult
of fecundity and he was riggish
as a red-haired man. The girls
of our nation felt him brush their legs
when they were bored with telling rosaries— 
at night he clawed their brains in their 
coffined beds and his walnut mind
wrinkled on their scalps. His holidays
were upside down in water and then
his face was like the sun: his smell
was in the peat smoke and even his midden 
was a harmony of honey. When he stalked 
his momentary mice the land shook
as though Atlantic waves were howling
at the western walls. But his eyes
were the greatest thing about him.
They burned low and red so that drunks
saw them like two stars above a hedge,
they held the look of last eyes
in a drowning man, they were the sight
the rebel angels saw the first morning
of expulsion. And he is dead—a voice
from the centre of the earth told of his death 
by treachery, that he lies in a hole
of infamy, his kidneys and his liver
torn from his body.
               Therefore tell
the men and horses of the market-place,
the swallows laying twigs, the salmon 
on the ladder that nothing is
as it has been
               time is explored
and all is known, the portents
are of brief and brutal things, 
since all must hear the words of desolation, 
The King of the Cats is Dead
                       and it
is only Monday in the world.

There are folk stories and other tales about a King of the Cats, and Shakespeare bestowed this appellation on Romeo's friend Mercutio — but I think this poem must be taken at face value,  as celebrating the life of a tough old tomcat who is affectionately described in flamboyant, exaggerated terms, and mourning his passing. Can any lines more truly describe the awful disbelief of personal loss than, 'and it / is only Monday in the world'? I'm a cat lover. I never had one quite like this marvellous being, but I very much appreciate him through Porter's lines.

Peter Porter was one of Australia's most renowned poets, who chose to live as an expatriate in England most of his life, though he did make visits back home now and again to take part in literary festivals and the like. I never met him, but I'm told he appeared serious and shy. In his late sixties he said, 'If there is a message in my poetry, it is that human dilemmas are constant, evil exists alongside some manifestations of good, and that one must write out of all aspects of life as one encounters it.'

He was very highly regarded in England as well as Australia, received many honours and prizes for his work, and after his death a literary prize was named after him (by Australian Book Review, which renamed its already existing annual prize in his honour).

A discussion of his poetics appears at the Poetry Archive, which also features him reading from his work on CD. Peter Steele's elegy gives one a sense of both man and poet, and also includes my favourite Porter poem, 'What I Have Written I Have Written' (which nevertheless I would not wish to have written myself, as it is resigned and sad).

Here you can read 716 of his poems, and his Amazon UK page is a good place to find his books.


  1. This was incredibly powerful! I am delighted I received the opportunity to read through the entirety. Thanks very much!

  2. Oh what a tribute to a beloved cat. Bigger than life, extolled in his passing..........I especially am struck by "the words of desolation.......and it is only Monday in the world." Thanks, Rosemary!

  3. I feel the same about my Sid and can not imagine how empty life will be when he departs. thanks for introducing me to these amazing works

  4. Thank you Rosemary!
    You find amazing poems, for us :D


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