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Cats -- A S J Tessimond

Guest poem submitted twice in quick succession, by Gerry Roweand Leoni Burke :
(Poem #1010) Cats
 Cats no less liquid than their shadows
 Offer no angles to the wind.
 They slip, diminished, neat through loopholes
 Less than themselves; will not be pinned

 To rules or routes for journeys; counter
 Attack with non-resistance; twist
 Enticing through the curving fingers
 And leave an angered empty fist.

 They wait obsequious as darkness
 Quick to retire, quick to return;
 Admit no aim or ethics; flatter
 With reservations; will not learn

 To answer to their names; are seldom
 Truly owned till shot or skinned.
 Cats no less liquid than their shadows
 Offer no angles to the wind.
-- A S J Tessimond
[Leoni's comments]

I learnt this poem when I was a child for my elocution class.  You should
really read it aloud as the words slither and twist just like a cat in
motion. It's one of the best descriptive poems about cats that I've ever
read.

[Gerry's comments]

The couplet with which this poem opens and closes contains a pair of images
beautifully contrived to convey the morally, emotionally and physically
elusive feline nature. The lines that fall between the opening and closing
are slightly more down-to-earth but have two great virtues: firstly they
scan and rhyme very pleasingly; secondly they consist of a list of terse
descriptive statements of such evident or near-as-dammit truth that you read
each one off with growing admiration for the poet's powers of observation
and expression.

This is my favourite cat poem because, apart from being beautifully written,
it is unsentimental and relatively free of the anthropomorphic tendency,
just full of shrewd respect for an animal that appears incapable of losing
its dignity and right to self determination in any relationship with a human
even, perhaps especially, with a person claiming to be its 'owner'.

I'm afraid I know nothing of A.S.J. Tessimond. I came across another of his
or her cat poems that wasn't as good but for me this one stands alone above
all others on the theme.

37 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Harold Adler said...

The BBC gives biographical information about the poet at

[broken link] http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/poetry/a_s_j_tessimond.shtml

accessed ý30ý ýMarchý ý2002

A S J Tessimond (1902 - 1962)

POEMS

Cats No Less Liquid Than Their Shadows

BIOGRAPHY

Arthur Seymour John Tessimond was born in Birkenhead. He was an only child. He was educated at Charterhouse but ran away to London at the age of 16, only to return home two weeks later. He went to Liverpool University and then moved to London where he worked in bookshops and then as an advertising copywriter. He went into hiding during World War II, as he considered he would not be much good as a soldier. As it happened, he later discovered he was unfit to fight anyway. He was an eccentric with depressive tendencies whose inheritance went either on night-life or on psychoanalysts. He was given electric shock treatment and this may have contributed to the brain haemorrhage that later killed him. His work shows great clarity and often humour. He wrote about the ordinary and about city stereotypes. Some of his poems are conversation-poems and these often capture his tendency towards melancholy. Three volumes of his poems were published during his lifetime.

Pamela Spence said...

At last I have come across the poem I had to learn for a poetry competition
when I was about nine years old. The first two lines have haunted me for
years as I couldn't remember the rest. Having cats of my own now, I re-read
with entirely different emphasis on words!

Pamela

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