Sunday, December 12, 2010

Poetry for Your Reading Pleasure

To Mrs. Reynolds' Cat - by John Keats

Cat! who hast pass’d thy grand climacteric,
How many mice and rats hast in thy days
Destroy’d? How many tit bits stolen? Gaze
With those bright languid segments green, and prick
Those velvet ears—but pr’ythee do not stick
Thy latent talons in me—and upraise
Thy gentle mew—and tell me all thy frays,
Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick.
Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists—
For all thy wheezy asthma—and for all
Thy tail’s tip is nick’d off—and though the fists
Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
Still is that fur as soft, as when the lists
In youth thou enter’dest on glass bottled wall.

Keats was inspired to write this beautiful sonnet by an old cat owned by a friend's mother. The poet inhabits the world of the aged  feline as if he were a curious young cat eager for tales from the alley of life. His humane tenderness cannot help but shine through, though, and his praise of the cat's fur, soft despite the hardness of life, brims with compassion. The aged feline may have entered life on a wall designed to hurt and discourage passage with its broken glass, but the cat has made it over the wall—of time, of age, of maids doling out a mauling—and triumphed with its fur no less lovely for the wear.

John Keats lived a brief life, from 1795 to 1821, but his status as one of the great English Romantic poets has long outlived him. Schooled to be a surgeon, and on course to success in the field of medicine, Keats abandoned his studies for poetry when in his early twenties. His struggle with ill health began shortly thereafter, traceable to the young poet tending to his brother Tom, who had tuberculosis and would die of it (as eventually would John). Keats also suffered from the weight of family responsibility and financial problems, and his early poetic efforts were not well received. Despite these troubles, the young man managed to write some of the best-known and most beloved poems in the English language. He is also renowned for his letters, which include correspondence with the woman of his dreams, Fanny Brawne, and offer insights into his poetry as well as a philosophy of poetry itself.

The world's loss of Keats at such a young age was tragic, and his knowledge of impending death heartbreaking. Nonetheless, there is a beauty to many of his poems that transcends sadness, and his belief in "the truth of the Imagination" has never lost its vital significance.

I hope you have found this week's poem to your liking! I wish you all a holiday season full of beauty and imagination. Cheers from Pretty Gonzo! 

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