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Jubilate Agno -- Christopher Smart

Back in action with a cat poem of my own...
(Poem #661) Jubilate Agno
 For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
 For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
 For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his
 For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant
 For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon
his prayer.
 For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
 For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
 For this he performs in ten degrees.
 For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
 For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
 For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
 For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
 For fifthly he washes himself.
 For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
 For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the
 For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
 For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
 For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
 For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
 For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
 For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
 For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
 For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
 For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
 For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and
glaring eyes.
 For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
 For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
 For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
 For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
 For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he
 For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit
without provocation.
 For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.
 For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
 For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the
 For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the
Children of Israel from Egypt.
 For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
 For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
 For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
 For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him
 For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
 For he is tenacious of his point.
 For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
 For he knows that God is his Saviour.
 For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
 For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
 For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence
perpetually -- Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
 For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
 For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
 For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in
 For he is docile and can learn certain things.
 For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
 For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
 For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
 For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
 For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
 For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
 For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
 For the former is afraid of detection.
 For the latter refuses the charge.
 For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
 For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
 For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
 For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
 For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
 For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
 For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
 For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
 For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from
heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
 For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
 For, tho' he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
 For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other
 For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
 For he can swim for life.
 For he can creep.
-- Christopher Smart
The line dividing genius and madness is an exceedingly fine one, and more
than a few poets have straddled it. Christopher Smart is one such: today's
extraordinary poem was written while he was confined to an insane asylum in
Bethnal Green, yet it shows none of the effects one might expect from such a
conception. On the contrary - the poem reeks of sanity: the organisation is
superb, the diction is utterly assured and confident, the verses ring
perfectly true. It makes you wonder, doesn't it?


[About the Madness of Christopher Smart]

... In 1756 Smart was dangerously ill, and a year later he was admitted to a
hospital for the insane; he spent the years 1759-63 in a private home for
the insane in Bethnal Green. His derangement took the form of a compulsion
to public prayer, which occasioned the famous comment of Dr. Johnson: "I'd
as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else". After leaving the asylum he
published his best-known poem, _A Song to David_... [in later years] he
declined into poverty and debt, and died within the 'Rules' of the King's
Bench Prison.

     -- Margaret Drabble, The Oxford Companion to English Literature

[About the Poem Itself]

First published in 1939, under the title Rejoice in the Lamb: A Song from
Bedlam, edited by W. F. Stead from Smart's manuscript, which Stead had
discovered in a private library. Smart wrote the poem during the long period
of restraint and confinement to a madhouse (there is no evidence that he was
in Bedlam) which extended from 1756 to 1763. The poem consists of two types
of verses: one a series beginning with the word "Let," associating names of
human beings, mainly biblical, with various natural objects, and the other a
series of aphoristic verses beginning with the word "For." A later edition
of the poem, by W. H. Bond (1954), indicates that Smart's plan was to
arrange the "Let" and "For" passages opposite one another antiphonally,
following a practice of biblical Hebrew poetry, and that the present MS.
represents less than half of Smart's original plan for the poem, It is
unlikely that Smart thought of publishing the poem in his lifetime.


[More About Madness and Genius]

Christopher Smart, who was tossed in the madhouse for his incessant praying
(in the street, for the most part), constantly asks what creativity is, what
rationality and irrationality are. His poems let loose a portion of the
imagination which the age of reason makes a point of keeping fettered with
social norms and conventional religion; in this way his raptures are related
to the scenes of redemptive or escapest madness we see in the literature of
Sensibility: Clarissa's mad letters after the rape and the lunatic picking
flowers in Werther. These issues of madness animate the debate we see
throughout the literature of Sensibility that revolves around the tension
between an imagination founded on the senses, on one hand, and governing
reason and judgement, on the other. Foucault in Madness and Civilization
examines the relationship between passion and enthusiasm and madness.
Smart's "madness" is actually grounded in his acute sensibilious response to
the physical world: the "mad" Smart is very much a part of this world, even
as he authorizes himself as a prophetic interpretor of the universe.
Interested in this world -- the material, the everyday, his cat -- his own
senses lead him on a journey of spiritual discovery. We also see here, as we
see in Sentimental Journey and elsewhere, the non-human or animal which
sparks benevolence, pity, or joy in the human.

        -- [broken link]

[Tangentially Related Stuff]

Rejoice in the Lamb, Britten's 1943 setting of Jubilate Agno by Christopher
Smart, is based upon one of poetry's more weird offerings. The writer was
incarcerated in a lunatic asylum in 1756 for a form of religious mania and
his poem reflects this in an innocent, childlike faith which strikes us as
strange even today. Included in the eight sections is a poem For I will
consider my cat Jeoffrey and the feline's daily devotions which involve
twisting his body around seven times each morning. Britten chooses to set
this part for a rather plaintive treble voice. He uses an alto to tell the
tale of a male mouse that prepares to challenge a cat to protect his mate.
The Te Deum in C, from 1934, contrasts a solo treble voice with the rest of
the choir, while the short Jubilate Deo of 1961 has some sprightly organ



A poem as distinctive as Smart's simply cries out for parody, and Gavin
Ewart more than rises to the occasion:

'Jubilate Matteo'

For I rejoice in my cat Matty.
For his coat is variegated in black and brown, with white undersides.
For in every way his whiskers are marvellous.
For he resists the Devil and is completely neuter.
For he sleeps and washes himself and walks warily in the ways of Putney.
For he is at home in the whole district of SW15.
For in this district the great Yorkshire Murderer ate his last meal before
he entered into captivity.
For in the Book of Crime there is no name like John Reginald Halliday
For Yorkshire indeed excels in all things, as Geoffrey Boycott is the best
For the Yorkshire Ripper and the Hull Arsonist have their horns exalted in
For Yorkshire is therefore acknowledged the greatest County.
For Hull was once of the company, that is now of Humberside.
For Sir Leonard Hutton once scored 364 runs in a Test Match.
For Fred Trueman too is a flagrant glory to Yorkshire.
For my cat wanders in the ways of the angels of Yorkshire.
For in his soul God has shown him a remarkable vision of Putney.
For he has also trodden in the paths of the newly fashionable.
For those who live in Gwendolen Avenue cry 'Drop dead, darling!'
For in Cambalt road and Dealtry Road where the Vet lives there are
professional people.
For Erpingham Road and Danemere Street and Dryburgh Road include the
For in Clarendon Drive the Britist Broadcasting Corporation is rampant.
For the glory of God has deserted the simple.
For the old who gossiped in Bangalore Road are unknown to the dayspring.
For there is a shortage of the old people who adorned the novels of William
For in the knowledge of this I cling to the old folkways of Gwalior Road and
Olivette Street.
For I rejoice in my cat, who has the true spirit of Putney.

        -- Gavin Ewart

[Minstrels Links]

Madness has its place; check out
William Blake: Poems 26, 66, 97, 368, 546,
Ezra Pound: Poems 70, 123, 191, 319, 524, 583,
and Sylvia Plath: Poems 53, 129, 366, 404, 612.

The previous cat theme Martin mentioned: Poems 572, 574, 575, 577 (I'm sure
there are many more cat poems available on the website).

Other works by Gavin Ewart: Poems 263, 283, 546.

All this, and much much more, in the Minstrels archive,

[And Finally]

I've just returned to Tokyo (and email!) after a most excellent holiday; my
thanks go to all those who submitted guest poems to cover for me, and to
Martin for manning the conn over the last few weeks.

48 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ursus said...

Looking for complete texts on the 'Jubilate Agno'. Do you perhaps have any info on this? Thanks

Hou je goed, Erik

Ron Bauman said...

I sang "Rejoice in the Lamb" With Margaret Hawkins and The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra some 30 years ago and always loved Smart's use of the language. I woke this morning thinking about him. "wreathing seven times round with elegant quickness," is a lovely madness. And a mouse who will engage a cat for his love ain't so bad either.

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