(Poem #955) Gus: The Theatre Cat
Gus is the Cat at the Theatre Door. His name, as I ought to have told you before, Is really Asparagus. That's such a fuss To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus. His coat's very shabby, he's thin as a rake, And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake. Yet he was, in his youth, quite the smartest of Cats - But no longer a terror to mice and to rats. For he isn't the Cat that he was in his prime; Though his name was quite famous, he says, in its time. And whenever he joins his friends at their club (Which takes place at the back of the neighbouring pub) He loves to regale them, if someone else pays, With anecdotes drawn from his palmiest days. For he once was a Star of the highest degree - He has acted with Irving, he's acted with Tree. And he likes to relate his success on the Halls, Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls. But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell, Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell. `I have played', so he says, `every possible part, And I used to know seventy speeches by heart. I'd extemporize back-chat, I knew how to gag, And I know how to let the cat out of the bag. I knew how to act with my back and my tail; With an hour of rehearsal, I never could fail. I'd a voice that would soften the hardest of hearts, Whether I took the lead, or in character parts. I have sat by the bedside of poor Little Nell; When the Curfew was rung, then I swung on the bell. In the Pantomime season I never fell flat And I once understudied Dick Whittington's Cat. But my grandest creation, as history will tell, Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.' Then, if someone will give him a toothful of gin, He will tell how he once played a part in East Lynne. At a Shakespeare performance he once walked on pat, When some actor suggested the need for a cat. He once played a Tiger - could do it again - Which an Indian Colonel pursued down a drain. And he thinks that he still can, much better than most, Produce blood-curdling noises to bring on the Ghost. And he once crossed the stage on a telegraph wire, To rescue a child when a house was on fire. And he says: `Now, these kittens, they do not get trained As we did in the days when Victoria reigned. They never get drilled in a regular troupe, And they think they are smart, just to jump through a hoop.' And he'll say, as he scratches himself with his claws, `Well, the Theatre's certainly not what it was. These modern productions are all very well, But there's nothing to equal, from what I hear tell, That moment of mystery When I made history As Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.'
One of the charms of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is the effortlessness with which Eliot merges the feline and human worlds. Such is the felicity of his rhymes that we do not think twice of the incongruity of Bustopher Jones sauntering down Pall Mall in spats, nor of Skimbleshanks directing operations on the Highland Express, nor yet of Macavity tormenting Scotland Yard with his criminal exploits (from stealing naval plans to absconding with the milk). Gus, the Theatre Cat, is one more player in this wonderful parade; his roles may be four-footed (Dick Whittington's cat, sundry tigers and ghosts, and of course, "Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell"), but his nostalgia is entirely (and convincingly) human. thomas. [Notes] Little Nell is a character who dies (in a scene of great pathos) (some would say maudlin sentimentality) in Dickens' "The Old Curiosity Shop". "East Lynne, or, The Earl's Daughter", was one of the most popular plays of the 19th century. A full text of the book on which it is based (written by one Mrs Henry Wood) can be found here: http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/woodhen/menu.html The tiger "which an Indian Colonel pursued down a drain" is almost certainly a reference to the infamous Colonel Sebastian Moran, the "second most dangerous man in London", who once "crawled down a drain after a wounded man-eating tiger" [Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Empty House]. Many more Sherlock Holmes references can be found in "Macavity: the Mystery Cat" (see link below). [Minstrels Links] Thomas Stearns Eliot: Poem #9, La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl) Poem #107, Preludes Poem #193, The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock Poem #248, Sweeney Among the Nightingales Poem #258, Macavity: The Mystery Cat Poem #291, The Journey of the Magi Poem #354, The Waste Land (Part IV) Poem #466, Rhapsody on a Windy Night Poem #532, Little Gidding Poem #574, Growltiger's Last Stand Poem #630, To Walter de la Mare Poem #846, The Hippopotamus Poem #858, The Waste Land (Part V) Cats, practical and otherwise: Poem #165, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat -- Edward Lear Poem #167, Pangur Ban -- Anon. (Irish, 8th century) Poem #258, Macavity: The Mystery Cat -- T. S. Eliot Poem #273, How a Cat Was Annoyed and a Poet Was Booted -- Guy Wetmore Carryl Poem #282, Fog -- Carl Sandburg Poem #401, To a Cat -- Jorge Luis Borges Poem #572, Mort aux Chats -- Peter Porter Poem #574, Growltiger's Last Stand -- T. S. Eliot Poem #575, To Mrs Reynolds' Cat -- John Keats Poem #577, The Cat and the Moon -- William Butler Yeats Poem #659, Poem -- William Carlos Williams Poem #660, On a Night of Snow -- Elizabeth Coatsworth Poem #661, Jubilate Agno -- Christopher Smart Poem #662, Cat -- Jibanananda Das Poem #663, A Child's Nightmare -- Robert Graves Poem #674, Aunt Jennifer's Tigers -- Adrienne Rich Poem #727, Milk for the Cat -- Harold Monro