To drift, and flutter, hesitate, opine,All the same, plenty of people I respect have respected Eliot, and I thoroughly enjoyed the introduction he wrote to Charles Williams's All Hallows' Eve. Plus, he wrote Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, and that is something I can not only appreciate, but heartily recommend.
Hint at a meaning, murmur that God knows,
And gently settle in a soup of prose.
This is a collection of fifteen or so comic poems for children, all about cats. If you've ever listened to any Andrew Lloyd Webber, or are otherwise familiar with the musical Cats, then you know some of the poetry already. There's Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, the cat-thieves--and there's Growltiger's Last Stand, a chilling and epic account of a pirate-cat's demise--and there's the magical Mr Mistoffelees (who may be deceiving his owners as to where exactly he produced seven kittens from), and Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town.
They are all, of course, completely charming. As nonsensical as the verse is, it doesn't talk down to its audience--Eliot juggles, with supreme confidence, words like legerdemain and extemporize, without the least regard for age-appropriateness. And, though I suppose I really shouldn't be, I'm continually amazed by the wonderful ear for rhythm and internal rhyme and the jolly rattling clatter of well-used words--coming from one who made his name in free verse:
There's a whisper down the line at 11.39Though of course, it should go without saying that no one has the right to write free verse unless and until he's learned to write excellent metred verse. For me, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is not just a terrific collection of funny nonsense verse for children, perfect for introducing the little dears to some high culture--it's also the main reason I'm inclined to treat TS Eliot seriously as a poet at all. The man could write. Look at him, spinning words like juggling-balls!
When the Night Mail's ready to depart,
Saying 'Skimble where is Skimble has he gone to hunt the thimble?
We must find him or the train can't start.'
All the guards and all the porters and the stationmaster's daughters
They are searching high and low,
Saying 'Skimble where is Skimble for unless he's very nimble
Then the Night Mail just can't go.'
Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw--Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is something that's becoming increasingly hard to find: real art, good art, aimed at children--or, indeed, at anyone who enjoys a bit of good poetry.
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 on 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 scap 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, and 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!
Find Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats at Amazon or The Book Depository.