My feline baby girl died yesterday. Suddenly. While I was en route to the airport. She had been sick the night before, with what appeared to be a stomach bug, and as such, not a cause for alarm. When we called the Vet's office yesterday morning, they were likewise not alarmed, and told us to bring her in Tuesday morning, if she was not feeling better. Nothing could have prepared us for the outcome of her simply passing away a few hours later. The Vet indicated the cause was most likely a rapidly moving infection of the kidneys or liver, or an undetectable heart disease.
Lucina was named after a cat of Wystan Hugh Auden's and Chester Kallmann's, memorialized in a pithy elegy modeled on an ancient Icelandic form, according to the poet. I learned the poem as one of three Auden songs set by Hans Werner Henze. They were written for Britten's and Pears' Aldeburgh Festival, and as part of Britten's "sphere of influence" were integrated into my dissertation.
In Memoriam, L.K.A; 1950-1952
At peace under this mandarin, sleep, Lucina
Blue-eyed queen of white cats
For you the Ischian wave
When we who now miss you
Are American dust
And steep Epomeo in peace and war
Augustly a grave-watch keep.
I wrote a series of travel essays the other month chronicling our Mediterranean Opera cruise. One of the most beautiful legs of the cruise was the trip from Naples up to Elba. Along the way we passed the Island of Ischia, a refuge for artists in the middle of the 20th century, where in addition to Auden and Kallmann, the poet Ingeborg Bachmann and the composer William Walton lived. I wasn't sure which peak was Epomeo, nor could I have imagined I'd be revisiting this favorite poem as an elegy for my Luci just a couple of months later.
My first attempt at honoring her memory uses Auden's elegy as a model, while referencing the Christopher Smart poem mentioned below:
Sleep, heather-brown tabby queen,
We will keep watch with our
Servant of the living God,
And writhe our bodies Seven
Times round in your memory.
The Bay-side Sun shall not set
Without such elegant & eccentric ceremony,
Luci's older brother, Jeoffrey, is named after the poet Christopher Smart's cat, featured in an oft-excerpted section of his visionary and epic poem, Jubilate Agno. Smart is a "mad-poet" cousin of his fellow romantics John Clare (see "Crazy, crack'd brain fellow" from earlier this year, below) and Friedrich Holderlin. In another connective thread, Britten's most famous choral work, Rejoice in the Lamb, is a setting of excerpts from Smart's poem, and includes a delightful soprano solo about Jeoffry. The following must surely rank as one of the most extravagant (and lengthy) "list" poems while also being one of the most original works written in honor of an animal.
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
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 this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
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 set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
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.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.
from Jubilate Agno
Christopher Smart (1722-1771)