Monday, December 19, 2005

Putting the cat back in Magnificat

The 18th century English poet Christopher Smart, who lived only 49 years and spent four of those in an asylum, poor chap, is most famous for the epic poem he called his 'Magnificat': a series of verses, based on the antiphonal structure of Hebrew verses, that works as a sort of large-scale call-and-response and celebrates the creation of the world. The poem is called Jubilate Agno, 'Rejoice in the Lamb' (the Lamb being, of course, he who needs to be put back into Christmas, which is one reason for this post: I'm just doing my bit).

The other reason is that my stars yesterday said that I should express my appreciation and affection for my nearest and dearest, 'whether family, friends or little fur people with tails and whiskers'. And since the little fur people have been working overtime this week, draping themselves fetchingly about the furniture in artist's-model poses, cuddling up when I took to my bed with a virulent Christmas cold, standing guard on the night of the prowler, and, perhaps most astonishingly, not wrecking the Christmas tree, I thought I would post a tribute to them from the great Kit Smart, barking though he be. For the most famous part of Jubilate Agno is the passage about Smart's 'Cat Jeoffry':


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 there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.

3 comments:

elsewhere said...

I always really enjoyed singing that at school...shame Kit Smart seems to have been a little potty!

Pavlov's Cat said...

More than a little, I fear. There's a lovely bit in Margaret Drabble's Oxford Companion: 'His derangement took the form of a compulsion to public prayer, which occasioned the famous comment of Dr Johnson: "I'd as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else."'

Mind you, Johnson wasn't exactly normal either. And if that's the criterion for craziness then an awful lot of Pentecostals are in strife.

What a classy school you must have gone to!

elsewhere said...

I think it says more about the tastes of the music teacher (and maybe his orientation?) We did a lot of Benjamin Britten...

(I am starting to feel sorry for tortoiseshell and extent to which it's being prostituted as a catavar!)