Old Possum: TS Eliot

Now, you may have thought ‘Ah ha, this is going to be a poem about a cat’. And you would indeed be right but it is also a poem that continues the train theme that I began yesterday. There are many magnificent cats (I might mention Cat Morgan, I might mention Mr Mistoffelees) in T.S. Eliot’s poems but only one ‘Railway Cat’ and that is the incomparable ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’ Here’s the first part of Eliot’s poem:

text of T.S. Eliot's poem SkimbleshanksOld Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was first published by Faber in 1939 and re-published with additional poems in 1954.  Apparently T.S.Eliot first wrote the cat poems during the 1930s and included them in letters to his God children under the name ‘Old Possum’. Lucky kids! An illustrated edition of the Practical Cats (drawings by Nicholas Bentley) was first published in 1940 and re-titled in 1974 as ‘The Illustrated Old Possum’. More recently Axel Scheffler has illustrated Old Possum (2009) but I have a great fondness for Bentley’s cats in preference.

In this poem, there is again a great rhythm for reading aloud as the sense of the train journey up to Scotland is evoked. Mind you, I think T.S. Eliot was taking a few liberties with the night mail service, since I seem to recall from the GPO film that it carried no passengers. I believe there used to be a sleeper train travelling up and down but whether that carried mail or not, I doubt if it had as dedicated an employee as Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat.

Book jacket of Old Possum's Practical Cats The first Old Possum cat that I recall was ‘Macavity: The Mystery Cat’ which I remember my mum reciting to us when we were young. I’ve had a couple of copies of Old Possum’s over the years and this present book  replaces one that mysteriously went astray during a house move (a case of the ‘hidden paw’ perhaps?).

I’m thinking of squeezing in one more train poem tomorrow on #PoetryinJune before moving onto a new topic so look out for that tomorrow. Meanwhile, any comments about your favourite poems on trains, cats or anything else would be very welcome!

Now, back to T.S. Eliot (AKA Old Possum…)

Skimbleshanks and the stationmaster

Skimble and the stationmaster



Belloc’s Beasts: Cautionary Verse

orange and yellow book jacket and poem characters

A couple of likely lads…

I know that this will be two children’s poems in a row, but I suppose that the excitement of having some sustained sunshine has addled my brain a little. In fact I’m beginning to suspect that this #PoetryinJune challenge may end up featuring rather a lot of light-hearted or comic verse. As summer is finally on the horizon, there may be just cause to steer clear of sad or tragic poetry (though that doesn’t mean I will eschew sadness completely).

Having decided on comic verse, you can’t do much better than to choose one of Hilaire Belloc’s wonderful Cautionary Verses. The problem then, was which Cautionary Verse to choose for my featured poem. After much deliberation I decided on the following. This was solely on the basis that suffering from a sore throat as I was, I rather liked the thought of it being as the result of purple and pink microbes.

The edition I have here is a selected edition (mine is a 1968 reprint) taken from the illustrated album edition published in 1940 by Gerald Duckworth & Co. I dare not even consider how much you would pay for a first edition (381 illustrations and cloth gilt cover) these days. The illustrations of Belloc’s verses are by Nicholas Bentley and B.TB. (Basil Temple Blackwood).

text and illustration of poem The Microbe

A jolly purple microbe…

The above poem comes from More Beasts for Worse Children which was first published in 1910 as a separate book and later included, along with Cautionary Tales for Children (1907) in the album I mentioned. The drawings for ‘The Microbe’ are from B.T.B.

Now, I will see if I can become a little more serious for tomorrow….