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A Child's Nightmare -- Robert Graves

Guest poem submitted by Suchitra:
(Poem #663) A Child's Nightmare
 Through long nursery nights he stood
 By my bed unwearying,
 Loomed gigantic, formless, queer,
 Purring in my haunted ear
 That same hideous nightmare thing,
 Talking, as he lapped my blood,
 In a voice cruel and flat,
 Saying for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."

 That one word was all he said,
 That one word through all my sleep,
 In monotonous mock despair.
 Nonsense may be light as air,
 But there's Nonsense that can keep
 Horror bristling round the head,
 When a voice cruel and flat
 Says for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."

 He had faded, he was gone
 Years ago with Nursery Land,
 When he leapt on me again
 From the clank of a night train,
 Overpowered me foot and head,
 Lapped my blood, while on and on
 The old voice cruel and flat
 Says for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."

 Morphia drowsed, again I lay
 In a crater by High Wood:
 He was there with straddling legs,
 Staring eyes as big as eggs,
 Purring as he lapped my blood,
 His black bulk darkening the day,
 With a voice cruel and flat,
 "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..." he said, "Cat! ... Cat!..."

 When I'm shot through heart and head,
 And there's no choice but to die,
 The last word I'll hear, no doubt,
 Won't be "Charge!" or "Bomb them out!"
 Nor the stretcher-bearer's cry,
 "Let that body be, he's dead!"
 But a voice cruel and flat
 Saying for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!"
-- Robert Graves
 From "Fairies and Fusiliers", published 1918.

 Let me begin with a confession - I don't like cats. I don't even like
feline poetry that much, except for a few poems like this one.

 This poem has a distinctive eerie feel; it reminds me, somehow, of
"Frankenstein" since the cat (or the unnamed thing that says "Cat!...Cat!")
is destined to haunt the poet forever. The repitition of the word "Cat"
seems to turn the word into a symbol of terror. I also think the "..."
between the words "Cat!" gives it a good rhythm (not "monotonous" as to the
poet!) and adds to the haunting effect.

 These lines are particularly insightful: "Nonsense may be light as air /
But there's Nonsense that can keep / Horror bristling round the head". Aptly
describes the kind of fear one associates with "ghoulies and ghosties and
long-leggedy beasties" [1].

 On a personal note, this is also a poem I can empathise with, because I
have had some vivid nightmares about tigers. Still do, actually (there, I
admitted it!). One of them was about a huge tiger that lay on the roof of my
house, its paws hanging over the windows - quite like "He was there with
straddling legs / Staring eyes as big as eggs / ... / His black bulk
darkening the day". Of course in my dream, there were also life-size tigers
prowling around the house...

Suchitra.

[1] A traditional Scottish prayer goes:

 From ghoulies and ghosties
 And long-leggedy beasties
 And things that go bump in the night,
 Good Lord, deliver us!

[Minstrels Links]

Other poems by Robert Graves:
poem #55
poem #564
poem #467
poem #298
poem #515

[thomas adds]

Other poems about cats:
All over the place. Sometimes it feels like we've never done anything else
<grin>. Go to poem #661 , and
follow the links. Once we have the "sort by theme" feature ready (coming
your way Real Soon Now) it should be a lot easier to do this sort of thing.

Random associations:
"Ghost V", by Robert Sheckley.
"Lords and Ladies", by Terry Pratchett.
(Both highly recommended, if you haven't read them before).

15 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Bruce Alan Wilson said...

This poem, being on Cats, was in the same list as J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Cat." I
have often thought that RG and JRRT had very similar experiences as young
men--both were junior officers in the ugliest part of WWI; both saw horrors;
both were wounded and severely traumatized. However, their resolution of the
trauma was so different. Graves lost his faith; Tolkein had his confirmed.

viagra online said...

She loves me-loves me not.
My hands I pick
and having broken my fingers
fling away.
So the first daisy-heads
one happens to flick
are plucked,
and guessing,
scattered into May.
Let a cut and shave
reveal my grey hairs.
Let the silver of the years
ring out endlessly !
Shameful common sense -
I hope, I swear -
Will never come
to me.

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