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Macavity: The Mystery Cat -- T S Eliot

This one's a classic.
(Poem #258) Macavity: The Mystery Cat
 Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw -
 For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
 He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
 For when they reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!

 Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
 He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
 His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
 And when you reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!
 You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air -
 But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there!

 Mcavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
 You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
 His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
 His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
 He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
 And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

 Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
 For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
 You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square -
 But when a crime's discovered, then Macavity's not there!

 He's outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
 And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard's.
 And when the larder's looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
 Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke's been stifled,
 Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair -
 Ay, there's the wonder of the thing! Macavity's not there!

 And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty's gone astray,
 Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
 There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair -
 But it's useless to investigate - Mcavity's not there!
 And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
 `It must have been Macavity!' - but he's a mile away.
 You'll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
 Or engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.

 Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
 There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
 He always has an alibi, and one or two to spaer:
 At whatever time the deed took place - MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!
 And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
 (I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
 Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
 Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!
-- T S Eliot
Sometimes, while reading the Old Possum poems, I find myself wondering why Eliot
ever bothered writing Serious Poetry...



The complete Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats can be found at
[broken link]

The Canon (i.e., all the Holmes stories and novels) can be found at
[broken link]

[Holmes references in the poem]

"You have probably never heard of Professor Moriarty?" said he.
"Ay, there's the genius and the wonder of the thing!" he cried.

"... he is extremely tall and thin, his forehead domes out in a white curve, and
his two eyes are deeply sunken in his head ... "

"...the organizer of every deviltry, the controlling brain of the underworld,
the Napoleon of Crime!"

    -- all three quotations from The Final Problem.

Other hints in the poem include

'And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty's gone astray, '
    -- a reference to The Naval Treaty.

'Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way, '
    -- a reference to The Bruce-Partington Plans.

'Engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.'
    -- a reference to Moriarty's well-known mathematical talent.

I'm sure I've missed a few, though.

36 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Tony Villella said...

It's A great poem. When I read it though, it gave me two different
point of views.
1.Your talking about a cat. When I think about a cat ,I think sly. Cats
are sly. And
2. It sounds like your talking about a person, because sly and
mysterious fit in with a person to. you mention that he plays cards, and
that foot print aren't found in the files of scotland yards. It just
really sound like a person.

fiona murphy said...

You seem to be suffering from a slight problem people often decribe as
'inarticulacy'. The whole point of the poem is that it draws links
between human beings and animals, emphasising the similarities between a
'sly and mysterious' as you chose to phrase it, cat and mankind. In
fact, around the 1930s when it was written, a comical 'nickname' for a
man was to be called 'a cat'. Therefore, I suggest that when analysing a
poem, for whatever purpose, always remember that it is not so black and
white, so either/or...
Sorry to sound arrogant and pompous...

Martin DeMello said...

--- fiona murphy wrote:
> The whole point of the poem is that it draws links between human beings and
> animals, emphasising the similarities between a 'sly and mysterious' as you
> chose to phrase it, cat and mankind.

Actually, there's no 'mankind' involved - Macavity is a straightforward
caricature of Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes's archnemesis, cast into
feline form.


Joseph Thompson said...

'Cheats at cards'
-- a reference to Colonel Moran in “The Empty House”

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Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I've composed a parody: "My Cavity: A Mystery, That!"

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

Anonymous said...

Actually, Macavity's described as tall, thin, and ginger with a domed head and snake like, that description is made to represent the devil. It says that he defies all human laws so therefore he's not human nor is he literally a cat. Basically, Elliot is saying that whenever something misfortunate happens or some sort of crime is committed that can't be explained, people tend to say it's the work of the devil even though there has never been any evidence that the devil was involved at all.

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