Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Poetry, Inspiration, Cats and Death

When one has a daily blog and a peaceful life one sometimes feels that there's nothing to say for the day. Like the well has run dry.

That's part of what I like about the treasury, interview and project posts. Those are recurring things. They're in flux and ever fresh without a huge amount of emotional effort involved in writing about them. That is most of the effort involved has been expended before they're posted here. Not so my other posts.

When the well of inspiration runs dry I try to think of things that have inspired me that I could share. Poetry is one of those things. But not everyone is a fan of poetry. I prefer to think that it's because of a lack of proper exposure.

I've found that without fail, when someone says 'I don't like cats' and I say 'Have you ever had one?' they say 'No.' Well, then how do they know? Cats are all different. If you don't like one cat, you may adore another. And most cats aren't easy to know. They tend to be private animals choosing their objects of affection with care. So then I assume that you don't like cats because you've never known the right cat or the right cat has never know you.

Poetry is similar. When someone tells me they don't like poetry I assume that they've never known or been known by the right poem.

And I get the feeling that many of you who kindly come here to read my blog have little to say about poetry. Those posts get the fewest comments. Part of me wants to write about something else. The rest of me wants to find the right poem.

I started out with an exerpt of Smart's 'Jubilate Agno' called 'My Cat Jeoffry' but when I discovered just how well known that is I decided to do something else. If you've never read 'My Cat Jeoffry' never fear, I'll share it later.

Today I want to share another cat poem that I discovered a few years ago. I printed it out and tucked it away and just thought of it again today. It's called 'Cat in an Empty Apartment' by Wislawa Szymborska and this is translated from the Polish by Joanna Maria Trzeciak.

Die—you can't do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here,
but nothing is the same.
Nothing has been moved,
but there's more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,
but they're new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.

Something doesn't start
at its usual time.
Something doesn't happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet has been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken,
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,
just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do to a cat.
Sidle toward him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.

There are so many things I love about that poem. I love the precision of the language, and it's simplicity, the way it never rises to an emotional pitch or overplays its hand but how you can sense what lies beneath.

I love how obvious it is that Szymborska knows cats.

I love the sense of disbelief that permeates it. The 'this can't be happening to me, I know this isn't happening to me' when of course all the evidence says it is happening to me.

I love that the poet acknowledges that grief can lead to acting out, breaking rules we normally wouldn't-- whether its because the rules seem less important now or whether we just need someone to see that we don't care anymore, especially since we do.

I love the bits of anger that are tossed in and the 'sleep and wait', because that's often how it is. I love the plaintiveness of 'nothing seems different here, but nothing is the same.' Like sticking your finger in water and pulling it out. No hole is left and the only disturbance is in the ripples in the surrounding water.

I love how I've had this poem for years, and just today, I find that this isn't about cats at all.
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  1. I adore Szymborska. Probably my very favorite of hers is There but for the grace which is also not about cats.

    Cats, I think, are a good subject to throw poems at because they, being so self-contained, throw the poems back transformed.

  2. i had never read this poem before, and it was just wonderful! thank you for sharing, and i am going to share with a friend who adores poetry.

  3. Marilyn-- glad you enjoyed.

    Melody-- I love that you shared a favorite of your is return! Thank you so much! I've never read that one.
    And I think you're right about cats.

    Amber-- great! Hope she loves it too!

  4. i enjoyed this poem about cats. and i love cats, and dogs, too! but when it comes to poetry, i love pablo neruda`s works esp the 100 love sonnets. i just love how he writes about love - bittersweet, melancholic, passionate! here`s one of my favorites:

    Sonnet XVII (100 Love Sonnets, 1960)

    I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
    or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
    I love you as certain dark things are loved,
    secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

    I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom and carries
    hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
    and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
    lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

    I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
    I love you simply, without problems or pride:
    I love you in this way because I don't know any other way of loving

    but this, in which there is no I or you,
    so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
    so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.

  5. I'm a Neruda fan too kikamz, and that one's fabulous, especially lines 2-8.

  6. The poem was beautiful..Funny when you said about having a cat..Never had one, till one was left in our barn..We dearly loved him..and so lucky to have had him..

  7. I can really relate to the cat issues in this article. I know a lot of people don't give cats a chance. I have 2 they are brother and sister. Most people don't understand them.

  8. The cats or the people who won't give them a chance?:P