Tuesday, April 28, 2009

For I Will Consider My Cat

Though I suspect that the eighteenth century poet Christopher Smart might quite possibly have been a little off his rocker, I find something compelling in his poem about his cat, which Benjamin Britten set to music. "For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry" is worth a read, and not only for amusement's sake. I detect some rich theology embedded in the fascinating images of God and godliness which the poet has linked to his cat:

"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 way . . .

"For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger. . . .

"For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things. . . .

"For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom. . . .

"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. . . ."

The poem in its entirety can be accessed here.

I was brought back to thinking about this poem because last Saturday we put our fourteen-year old cat in her grave, feeling a little odd about the whole enterprise, particularly because we euthanized her. Her kidneys were failing, she was losing weight, and we can't handle cat pee all over the house. So according to a long-standing and sensible rule, we determined that family pets must not be recipient of heroic measures. She was, after all, just a cat.

Nevertheless going through the motions of having her put to sleep is, well, a morbid enterprise, even if it was only for a cat. I'm not sure, was that a quirky and irrational kind of guilt I felt? Maybe. I'm actually not sure.

Her eyes wouldn't close. She just peacefully gazed at me, as if to say, Huh?

Are cats like God? Mr. Smart thought so, and he may have a point. They certainly are from God. On the other hand beasts of the earth die every day, some even for our nourishment. I have no qualms about eating hamburgers, and I am fully aware that any qualms I have about the Chinese practice of eating catburgers are really nothing more than a cultural thing.

Maybe it's just me. Once, years ago I shot a blackbird, just for the sport of it. I felt awful afterwards.

But I have no qualms about someone shooting the enemy on a battlefield.

Maybe it's an embedded respect for life that I'm sensing. Maybe that's why there are Hindus who won't even kill bugs. Such senses must be kept from becoming unfettered, of course, and there are Hindus with none of the fetters they need.

Ah, well. I know: she was just a cat, the garden variety. Big deal.

And yet I will consider my cat. Tina Babe. 1995-2009. R.I.P. (can we say that for a cat? Maybe not. Oh well . . .)


Daniel Skillman said...

Losing a pet to death is no small thing. It is part of the pain associated with the fall. I'm sorry for your loss.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Honestly, it isn't really that big of a deal to me. Just has me feeling a bit weird. I think I'd feel worse if it had been the dog.

Anonymous said...

I second that - if you will, part of the grammar of the word "pet" is that these animals are no longer to us like the other beasts of the field. The tameable ones are meant for us, and us for them.
Yes - they don't have souls, and they aren't helpers comparable to us - but they often have great spirits and are companions. Not to be dismissed lightly, that.
And - in the realm of pious opinion only - Dr. Luther of blessed memory hoped to see his dog come the last day, with "golden hide & silver fur."
So peace to you & yours in the death of your cat. And don't rule out the possibility that you will hear that purr again when the full light of glory dawns.
(The Longs are always wrecks when they have to bid pets farewell.)

Pastor D said...

If you have a dog he thinks of you as a "god"...if you have a cat she thinks of you as the help staff.

William Weedon said...

My condolences - and yes, it's a great poem. I've loved it since I first read it at Concordia Bronxville.