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The Cat and the Moon -- William Butler Yeats

It's amazing: no less than three people submitted the same poem for
inclusion in our feline theme - Sunil Iyengar , Uma
Raman and Suresh Ramasubramanian .
Herewith, Sunil's commentary:
(Poem #577) The Cat and the Moon
 The cat went here and there
 And the moon spun round like a top,
 And the nearest kin of the moon,
 The creeping cat, looked up.
 Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
 For, wander and wail as he would,
 The pure cold light in the sky
 Troubled his animal blood.
 Minnaloushe runs in the grass
 Lifting his delicate feet.
 Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
 When two close kindred meet,
 What better than call a dance?
 Maybe the moon may learn,
 Tired of that courtly fashion,
 A new dance turn.
 Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
 From moonlit place to place,
 The sacred moon overhead
 Has taken a new phase.
 Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
 Will pass from change to change,
 And that from round to crescent,
 From crescent to round they range?
 Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
 Alone, important and wise,
 And lifts to the changing moon
 His changing eyes.
-- William Butler Yeats
A minor poem from one of the poet's best books, "The Wild Swans at Coole"
(1919), "The Cat and the Moon" requires scant comment. The furry protagonist
belonged to Maude Gonne, who once was to Yeats what Beatrice was to Dante.
This aspect is scarcely relevant to the poem, however, which foretells his
preoccupation with phases of the moon. (Yeats' "The Vision" was published in
1925, the year after he issued a slim volume, "The Cat and the Moon and
Certain Poems").

The poem adds a welcome quality to Yeats' oeuvre: an eagerness to engage
with animals ("Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?"). This tone is an
extension of his profound curiosity for other forms of spiritual life. To
escape my vague account, see Yeats' "To a Squirrel at Kyle-na-no," short
enough to be quoted in entirety:

        Come play with me;
        Why should you run
        Through the shaking tree
        As though I'd a gun
        To strike you dead?
        When all I would do
        Is to scratch your head
        And let you go.

This charming reticence reminds me of an equally uncharacteristic strain in
Yeats' contemporary, Robert Frost. At the head of Frost's "Collected Poems,"
one encounters this quiet proposal:

        I'm going out to fetch the little calf
        That's standing by the mother. It's so young
        It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
        I shan't be gone long. -- You come too.
                        (from "The Pasture")

Finally, no mock-analysis of Yeats' affection for felines can be complete
without this anecdote. Swinburne died on April 10, 1909. When Yeats met his
sister on the street the following day, he declared: "Now I am King of the
Cats." He was, and is.

Sunil Iyengar.


"When I play with my cat, who knows whether she isn't amusing herself with
me more than I am with her?"
        -- Montaigne,  Essays,  bk. II [1580], ch. 12.

36 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

James Leahy said...

What is the origin of the name "Minnaloushe" ?
James Leahy

Lucy Scoular said...

What is the origin of the name Minnaloushe ?Thank you.

Matt Shannon said...

You suck.

Breanna said...

Minnaloushe is the name of a cat owned by a friend of William Yeats. I know
this by reading it in my text book, so it comes from a relyable source.

Anonymous said...

Minnaloushe is the name of a cat owned by Iseult Gonne, Maud Gonn'es daughter and unrequited lover of Yeats'.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE THIS POEM!! I like cats too. this poem a lyric poem?

Anonymous said...

yes, it is a lyric poem. but i'm not sure why though

Bonnie B. said...

Thank you for the commentary on this beautiful poem. I chose to bring "The Cat and the Moon" to an important exam and I needed some critical notes.

Minneloushe said...

I'd like to suggest reading this poem in conjunction with the statement by Blake: "Eternity is in love with the productions of Time."

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Anonymous said...

there's tagalog translation of this poem?

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