They tell me I am beautiful: they praise my silken hair,
My little feet that silently slip on from stair to stair:
They praise my pretty trustful face and innocent grey eye;
Fond hands caress me oftentimes, yet would that I might die!
Why was I born to be abhorr’d of man and bird and beast?
The bulfinch marks me stealing by, and straight his song hath ceased;
The shrewmouse eyes me shudderingly, then flees; and, worse than that,
The housedog he flees after me—why was I born a cat?
Men prize the heartless hound who quits dry-eyed his native land;
Who wags a mercenary tail and licks a tyrant hand.
The leal true cat they prize not, that if e’er compell’d to roam
Still flies, when let out of the bag, precipitately home.
They call me cruel. Do I know if mouse or songbird feels?
I only know they make me light and salutary meals:
And if, as ’tis my nature to, ere I devour I tease ’em,
Why should a low-bred gardener’s boy pursue me with a besom?
Should china fall or chandeliers, or anything but stocks—
Nay stocks, when they’re in flowerpots—the cat expects hard knocks:
Should ever anything be missed—milk, coals, umbrellas, brandy—
The cat’s pitch’d into with a boot or any thing that’s handy.
“I remember, I remember,” how one night I “fleeted by,”
And gain’d the blessed tiles and gazed into the cold clear sky.
“I remember, I remember, how my little lovers came;”
And there, beneath the crescent moon, play’d many a little game.
They fought—by good St. Catharine, ’twas a fearsome sight to see
The coal-black crest, the glowering orbs, of one gigantic He.
Like bow by some tall bowman bent at Hastings or Poictiers,
His huge back curved, till none observed a vestige of his ears:
He stood, an ebon crescent, flouting that ivory moon;
Then raised the pibroch of his race, the Song without a Tune;
Gleam’d his white teeth, his mammoth tail waved darkly to and fro,
As with one complex yell he burst, all claws, upon the foe.
It thrills me now, that final Miaow—that weird unearthly din:
Lone maidens heard it far away, and leap’d out of their skin.
A potboy from his den o’erhead peep’d with a scared wan face;
Then sent a random brickbat down, which knock’d me into space.
Nine days I fell, or thereabouts: and, had we not nine lives,
I wis I ne’er had seen again thy sausage-shop, St. Ives!
Had I, as some cats have, nine tails, how gladly I would lick
The hand, and person generally, of him who heaved that brick!
For me they fill the milkbowl up, and cull the choice sardine:
But ah! I nevermore shall be the cat I once have been!
The memories of that fatal night they haunt me even now:
In dreams I see that rampant He, and tremble at that Miaow.