Marginalia, no.236

As fair Grimalkin, who, though the youngest of the Feline Family, degenerates not in Ferosity from the elder Branches of her House, and, though inferior in Strength, is equal in Fierceness to the noble Tyger himself…

~ Henry Fielding, Tom Jones

My daughter loves all cats, but three especially: our own irascible grimalkin, age eighteen, whom she dotes on and defends from all insult; the ghostly white long-hair that pads out from the greenbelt at night; the shy little black that hides under bushes and for whose welfare she often weeps. My father used to preach that we should only love dogs and should despise cats. But without intending it he taught a secret doctrine too: his favorite animal was the tiger.

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One response to “Marginalia, no.236

  1. Cats! I confess myself a ねこばか (Japanese: a fool for cats). One of my very few acts of literary tourism was a visit to Max Gate, Thomas Hardy’s house in Dorchester, to see the little memorial he set up there for his cat Snowdove, about whom he wrote “Last Words to a Dumb Friend” (below). I can never read the line “Never another pet for me!” without choking up. Nor the last stanza. Yes, exactly: our cats are “housemates” who make our shared habitat “grow eloquent” of them.

    Pet was never mourned as you,
    Purrer of the spotless hue,
    Plumy tail, and wistful gaze
    While you humoured our queer ways,
    Or outshrilled your morning call
    Up the stairs and through the hall––
    Foot suspended in its fall––
    While, expectant, you would stand
    Arched, to meet the stroking hand;
    Till your way you chose to wend
    Yonder, to your tragic end.

    Never another pet for me!
    Let your place all vacant be;
    Better blankness day by day
    Than companion torn away.
    Better bid his memory fade,
    Better blot each mark he made,
    Selfishly escape distress
    By contrived forgetfulness,
    Than preserve his prints to make
    Every morn and eve an ache.

    From the chair whereon he sat
    Sweep his fur, nor wince thereat;
    Rake his little pathways out
    Mid the bushes roundabout;
    Smooth away his talons’ mark
    From the claw-worn pine-tree bark,
    Where he climbed as dusk embrowned,
    Waiting us who loitered round.

    Strange it is this speechless thing,
    Subject to our mastering,
    Subject for his life and food
    To our gift, and time, and mood;
    Timid pensioner of us Powers,
    His existence ruled by ours,
    Should––by crossing at a breath
    Into safe and shielded death,
    By the merely taking hence
    Of his insignificance––
    Loom as largened to the sense,
    Shape as part, above man’s will,
    Of the Imperturbable.

    As a prisoner, flight debarred,
    Exercising in a yard,
    Still retain I, troubled, shaken,
    Mean estate, by him forsaken;
    And this home, which scarcely took
    Impress from his little look,
    By his faring to the Dim
    Grows all eloquent of him.

    Housemate, I can think you still
    Bounding to the window-sill,
    Over which I vaguely see
    Your small mound beneath the tree,
    Showing in the autumn shade
    That you moulder where you played.

    October 2, 1904.

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