Friday, November 16, 2012

Do you dance, Stella dear, do you dance?

Editor's note: A wonderful cat named Stella died this week.  Science fiction and fantasy literature is filled with cats, ranging from the Cheshire Cat to Mogget (from Garth Nix's Sabriel).  And anyone who has ever owned (or spent time around) a cat will also attest to their supernatural powers of sneaking, squeezing in small places, and climbing up on places they should not be.

But it is in Yeats' poem "The Cat and the Moon" that I find the most magical cat of all.  While Yeats' poem is about a male cat named Minnaloushe and contains the cold light of the moon, rather than the friendly warmth of Stella's green eyes, it gives me hope that Stella, too, contains the magic of the universe in her soul, and that somewhere, she, too, dances.

THE CAT AND THE MOON

by: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.

"The Cat and the Moon" is reprinted from The Wild Swans at Coole. New York: Macmillan, 1919.

1 comment:

  1. The animals were imperfect,
    long-tailed,
    unfortunate in their heads.
    Little by little they
    put themselves together,
    making themselves a landscape,
    acquiring spots, grace, flight.
    The cat,
    only the cat
    appeared complete and proud:
    he was born completely finished,
    walking alone and knowing what he wanted.
    Man wants to be fish or fowl,
    the snake would like to have wings
    the dog is a disoriented lion,
    the engineer would like to be a poet,
    the fly studies to be a swift,
    the poet tries to imitate the fly,
    but the cat
    only wants to be a cat
    and any cat is a cat
    from his whiskers to his tail,
    from his hopeful vision of a rat
    to the real thing,
    from the night to his golden eyes.

    There is no unity
    like him,
    the moon and the flower
    do not have such context:
    he is just one thing
    like the sun or the topaz,
    and the elastic line of his contours
    is firm and subtle like
    the line of a ship's prow.
    His yellow eyes
    have just one
    groove
    to coin the gold of night time.

    Oh little
    emperor without a sphere of influence
    conqueror without a country,
    smallest living-room tiger, nuptial
    sultan of the sky,
    of the erotic roof-tiles,
    the wind of love
    in the storm
    you claim
    when you pass
    and place
    four delicate feet
    on the ground,
    smelling,
    distrusting
    all that is terrestrial,
    because everything
    is too unclean
    for the immaculate foot of the cat.

    Oh independent wild beast
    of the house
    arrogant
    vestige of the night,
    lazy, gymnastic
    and alien,
    very deep cat,
    secret policeman
    of bedrooms,
    insignia
    of a
    disappeared velvet,
    surely there is no
    enigma
    in your manner,
    perhaps you are not a mystery,
    everyone knows of you
    and you belong
    to the least mysterious inhabitant,
    perhaps everyone believes it,
    everyone believes himself the owner,
    proprietor,
    uncle
    of a cat,
    companion,
    colleague,
    disciple
    or friend
    of his cat.

    Not me.
    I do not subscribe.
    I do not know the cat.
    I know it all, life and its archipelago,
    the sea and the incalculable city,
    botany,
    the gyneceum and its frenzies,
    the plus and the minus of mathematics,
    the volcanic frauds of the world,
    the unreal shell of the crocodile,
    the unknown kindness of the fireman,
    the blue atavism of the priest,
    but I cannot decipher a cat.
    My reason slips on his indifference,
    his eyes have golden numbers.

    Pablo Neruda, "Ode to the cat"

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