18 November, 2009
Paul Douglass on “Eliot's Cats: Serious Play behind the Playful Seriousness"
Douglass turns his attention to one of Eliot's works that has been almost wholly ignored in the critical world. The Book of Practical Cats is not mere fluff to be dispensed with entirely, Douglass argues, but is, despite being intended for children, a work which reflects many aspects of Eliot's corpus and which, by its very simplicity, sheds light on some of these. The rhythm of the poems in this collection not only displays Eliot's metric virtuosity, but unveils many of the techniques he uses elsewhere, such as his affinity for four-stress rhythm and his tendency to have anapestic and dactylic rhythms slip in and out of one another to heighten the lilting feeling of a passage. In terms of content, the Book of Practical Cats, with its character sketches of uncannily human felines, aims to explore the “battle between the ego and social self” (115), which Eliot reads as a preoccupation of the Quartets as well. The book “accepts its own fascination with human imperfection” (115) and through its rollicking tone, its rhythm, and its clever but benevolent satire, choreographs a jubilant dance that shows the reader the possibility of rejoicing in the foible-ridden but wonderfully variegated ranks of humanity.