Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

by T. S. Eliot

A discussion about plays and musicals brought us to talking about “Cats”. That led me to taking this off the shelf and re-reading it. You don’t have to like poetry to enjoy these fun, rhyming pieces about cats. You probably don’t even have to like cats to enjoy this, but it would add to your enjoyment.

Old Possum Book of Practical Cats cvr3

These fifteen poems were written by T. S. Eliot during the 1930s and he included them, under his assumed name “Old Possum”, in letters to his godchildren. They were collected and first published in 1939 by Faber and Faber and the collection was re-published a year later, illustrated in full by Nicolas Bentley.

The edition you see here was published in 1982 and features illustrations by famed illustrator Edward Gorey, who has long been a favorite of mine. For more on Gorey, see goreyography and (especially) Edward Gorey House on which there is a photograph of the illustrator with a Very Limited Edition bear, of which I have the like (see photo at bottom of this post). How I got this fellow is a story for another time…

These poems are widely known as the basis – at least the inspiration – for the popular musical Cats.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats begins with the serious business of naming cats, then proceeds to poems are about a variety of cats, their personalities, interactions, fame and infamy. Here are the contents, along with the name of the featured cat when not obvious, are:

  • “The Naming of Cats”
  • “The Old Gumbie Cat” (Jennyanydots)
  • “Growltiger’s Last Stand”
  • “The Rum Tum Tugger”
  • “The Song of the Jellicles”
  • “Mungojerrie and Rumpelteaser”
  • “Old Deuteronomy”
  • “Of The Awefull Battle Of The Pekes And The Pollicles Together With Some Account Of The Participation Of the Pugs and the Poms, And The Intervention Of The Great Rumpuscat”
  • “Mr. Mistoffelees”
  • “Macavity: The Mystery Cat”
  • “Gus: The Theatre Cat”
  • “Bustopher Jones: The Cat about Town”
  • “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat”
  • “The Ad-dressing of Cats”
  • “Cat Morgan Introduces Himself” (added in the 1952 edition)
  • To give you a taste, here’s a link to Gus: The Theatre Cat on the Rice University poetry site. Enjoy.

    …and here as promised is the photo of my bear, which is just like Gorey’s.

    Mr Bear at home 2

    About Richard Robinson

    Enjoying life in Portland, OR
    This entry was posted in Review. Bookmark the permalink.

    3 Responses to Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

    1. Patti Abbott says:

      As someone with an intense allergy to cats, I have never given them much thought. But excellent poetry is always worth reading.

    2. George Kelley says:

      This is Required Reading for a guy with a zine called MACAVITY.

    3. Richard says:

      Patti, these are fun, easy to read poems. Children love them, or in my experience they do. They can be read with a certain amount of theatricality, which is fun for child and adult both, and the names of the cats are cool.

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