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Personal Choice 50

Gus - The Theatre Cat

Gus is the Cat at the Theatre Door.

His name, as I ought to have told you before,

Is really Asparagus. That's such a fuss

To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus.

His coat's very shabby, he's thin as a rake,

And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake.

Yet he was, in his youth, quite the smartest of Cats--

But no longer a terror to mice and to rats.

For he isn't the Cat that he was in his prime;

Though his name was quite famous, he says, in its time.

And whenever he joins his friends at their club

(Which takes place at the back of the neighbouring pub)

He loves to regale them, if someone else pays,

With anecdotes drawn from his palmiest days.

For he once was a Star of the highest degree--

He has acted with Irving, he's acted with Tree.

And he likes to relate his success on the Halls,

Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls.

But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell,

Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.

"I have played," so he says, "every possible part,

And I used to know seventy speeches by heart.

I'd extemporize back-chat, I knew how to gag,

And I knew how to let the cat out of the bag.

I knew how to act with my back and my tail;

With an hour of rehearsal, I never could fail.

I'd a voice that would soften the hardest of hearts,

Whether I took the lead, or in character parts.

I have sat by the bedside of poor Little Nell;

When the Curfew was rung, then I swung on the bell.

In the Pantomime season I never fell flat,

And I once understudied Dick Whittington's Cat.

But my grandest creation, as history will tell,

Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell."

Then, if someone will give him a toothful of gin,

He will tell how he once played a part in East Lynne.

At a Shakespeare performance he once walked on pat,

When some actor suggested the need for a cat.

He once played a Tiger--could do it again--

Which an Indian Colonel purused down a drain.

And he thinks that he still can, much better than most,

Produce blood-curdling noises to bring on the Ghost.

And he once crossed the stage on a telegraph wire,

To rescue a child when a house was on fire.

And he says: "Now then kittens, they do not get trained

As we did in the days when Victoria reigned.

They never get drilled in a regular troupe,

And they think they are smart, just to jump through a hoop."

And he'll say, as he scratches himself with his claws,

"Well, the Theatre's certainly not what it was.

These modern productions are all very well,

But there's nothing to equal, from what I hear tell,

That moment of mystery

When I made history

As Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell."

T. S. Eliot

Arguably the most famous poet of the Modernist movement, Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 -1965) revolutionized the art first with The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in 1915 and then with the 1922 publication of his long, difficult poem The Waste Land. He also became famous for his criticism and later for the poems adapted into the Broadway musical Cats. Although born in St. Louis, he spent most of his adult life in England, working first in banking, then in publishing.

In December 1922 Eliot published The Waste Land undeniably the greatest poem of the 20th Century and that pivotal moment that changed the course of poetry forever. His influence on every poet since has been seminal. Perhaps the real evidence of his utter genius with verse was the collection of poems he published as Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939) a collection of whimsical light poems about feline psychology and sociology. Gus has always been my favourite and I think it is superb.

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

From: The Little Gidding - the last of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets.


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