Poet's Pick April 16
Christopher Smart: "Of Jeoffry, His Cat"
Selected by Michael Chitwood
National Poetry Month 2017

Letter from the Editors

Dear Readers,

Our thanks to Michael Chitwood for today's Poet's Pick!

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Thank you so much for your support! Enjoy today's special poem and commentary from 2002!

Warmest regards,

Don Selby & Diane Boller
Editors


Michael Chitwood's Poetry Month Pick, April 16, 2017

"Of Jeoffry, His Cat"
by Christopher Smart (1722–1771)

 
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore-paws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbor
    …
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroaking of him I have found out electricity.
For I preceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain
   the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho’ he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrepede.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the musick.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

        

* Michael Chitwood Comments:
I discovered Christopher Smart through Robert Bly’s 1980 anthology News of the Universe. I had been reading a lot of Whitman then and came upon this poem from 1763, written by a man in a London insane asylum, and was, as we said at the time, blown away.  Here was Whitman’s yap and blab before the yap and blab was cool. When I hit the line “For he rolls upon prank to work it in” I was thoroughly hooked.  I did even know what rolling upon prank meant but I knew it was deadly accurate. Then the cat “camels his back” and I knew this poem was going to mean a lot to me for a long time.

Michael Chitwood:
Michael Chitwood's newest collection, Search & Rescue, is due out next spring from LSU Press. He is the author of six previous poetry collections, including The Weave Room, Salt Works, Whet, and From Whence; and the essay collections Hitting Below the Bible Belt and Finishing Touches. He is a visiting lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a regular commentator for WUNC-FM.


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