Friday, June 8, 2018

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry
[Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, Lines 695-768

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary. 
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel 
            from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest. 
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion. 
For he is of the Lord’s poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry!
            poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better. 
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection. 
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the 
            bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

– By 
Christopher Smart (1722 - 1771)

I saw a reference to this poem in a book I was reading, vaguely remembered other mentions of it over the years, looked it up and fell in love. Other cat-lovers have written brilliant cat poems (T.S. Eliot and Peter Porter spring to mind) but this portrait of Jeoffry – as individual, archetype and wondrous creation of God – is particularly charming.

The poem – a fragment, as you see, of a larger work – has been much anthologised and written about. You can find many references to it online. So it may well be that you know it already, in which case I trust you are happy to revisit both Christopher and Jeoffry.

The link on the poet's name, above, leads you to the sad story of his life. Well, it was partly sad. There were good things too. He did have a career in letters and was highly regarded in his day. He numbered writers of the calibre of Samuel Johnson and Henry Fielding among his friends. Also he married and had two daughters. However, he had a problem with alcohol, developed religious mania, was twice arrested for debt, and died at only 49.

His verse still survives, in the Penguin Classic illustrated here and an older, hard cover edition, both available from Amazon.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).


  1. Love. "For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness."

    1. I especially like 'For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom', which tells me Christopher had Jeoffry since he was a kitten.

  2. this too. Poor Christopher Smart ending up in Mr Potters madhouse in Bethnal Green. I am pleased his cat gave him so much joy. English cats to this day, still hold him in high regard, I am sure.:)

  3. I think God has a special love for animals, because their spirits are so pure and innocent. The descriptions in this poem show he really understood cats, and his cat especially. So lovely. He did have a sad life. I am glad his cat brought him joy.

    1. I think he was a very keen and constant observer of his cat, too.

  4. Thanks Rosemary, I love any poem about cats!! Such beautiful creatures.

  5. Thank you Rosemary for introducing me to this poet and poem. And what a wonderful poem you have chosen! And here's me a dog person ;)

    1. I think this description is so infused by Smart's deep appreciation of his cat that it's infectious!

  6. Rosemary, what a wonderful selection. I was smiling ear to ear as i read this. All along I admired the author's sincere and great love for Jeoffry.

    1. Yes, and he makes you see this cat too, doesn't he?

  7. Ha, I never knew there was that much to say about a cat.. Brilliant.

    1. Ha ha, glad to be educational! Actually, though i'm a great cat-lover myself, there are things here I'd never have thought to say. Such an amazing list.

  8. "For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat." sweet of the poet :)
    Thanks for this lovely share Rosemary...

  9. I especially like this line ...

    For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.

    Thank you for sharing.

  10. I love cats and poems about cats! I especially enjoyed the lines:
    'For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
    For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
    For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.'
    Just like my two!

    Just to let you know, if I don't submit or participate much over the next few weeks, it is because I start to mark exam papers tomorrow and have a deadline. I have not given up yet and will return with enthusiasm and joy!

    1. We'll look forward to your return, Kim. Love your poetry! Glad Mr Smart entertained you.

  11. Thank you for sharing this--it was the first time I'd ever encountered it and it was the perfect thing to chance upon on a quiet Sunday afternoon. :)


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