Jellicle Cats come out to-nightT. S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, 1939
Jellicle Cats come one come all:
The Jellicle Moon is shining bright—
Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.
Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats are rather small;
Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.
Jellicle Cats have cheerful faces,
Jellicle Cats have bright black eyes;
They like to practise their airs and graces
And wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise.
Jellicle Cats develop slowly,
Jellicle Cats are not too big;
Jellicle Cats are roly-poly,
They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig.
Until the Jellicle Moon appears
They make their toilette and take their repose:
Jellicle Cats wash behind their ears,
Jellicle dry between their toes.
Jellicle Cats are white and black,
Jellicle Cats are of moderate size;
Jellicle Cats jump like a jumping-jack,
Jellicle Cats have moonlit eyes.
They’re quiet enough in the morning hours,
They’re quiet enough in the afternoon,
Reserving their terpsichorean powers
To dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.
Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;
If it happens to be a stormy night
They will practise a caper or two in the hall.
If it happens the sun is shining bright
You would say they had nothing to do at all:
They are resting and saving themselves to be right
For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.
‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’
T. S. Eliot was a hugely influential twentieth-century poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Although born in Missouri, Eliot spent most of his life around Europe, making connections and building incredible relationships with other famous writers of his time including his close friend Ezra Pound. Eliot became a director of Faber and Faber, writing and publishing poetry and literary criticism.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was Eliot’s first published poem in 1915, followed six years later by his powerful, allusion-laden Modernist poem The Wasteland. It wasn’t until 1939 that Eliot’s collection of light poetry Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was formally published.
Old Possum and his Cat Creations
A real ‘cat-person’, Eliot had many throughout his life and initially wrote cat poems for his godchildren. Once he collated and published the 15 poems, he named the book using his nickname, ‘Old Possum’ – given to him by Ezra Pound – and referred to his cats as ‘practical’ to show that they had will and purpose.
T. S. Eliot drew inspiration from some of his personal favourite writers and writers of nonsense verse such as Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. The Song of the Jellicles and other ‘nonsense’ Eliot created, could be seen as an active attempt to escape from the mid-century ‘age of anxiety’.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats turned the poems into an incredibly memorable and catchy stage musical. It is not far-fetched to assume that Eliot would have appreciated the musical Cats as it encouraged the recital of his poems which is what they were written for. There are recordings of Eliot’s own recitals available online. The newest and to say the least, controversial 2019 film adaptation of Cats received a host negative reception. However, the lyrics still stay quite close to Eliot’s original poetry.
However you choose to enjoy the practical cats, never forget that they sound best when read aloud! Get your own copy of T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats here, or check out more of T. S. Eliot’s poetry here.
What do you think of our February Poem of the Month? Have you read T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats? Let us know in the comments below.