Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

According to Smart, Jubilate Agno is (and he was aware of the pun) a magnificat, a song of praise by all of creation to glorify God. Smart’s interest in plants and animals—including unusual or little-valued ones—combines with a theology that finds spiritual significance in everything. This is not pantheism, since creation is decidedly secondary to God, but a vision of all creation as one whole united in God down to its smallest component. The view that nature reveals God in its design spurred Smart’s interest in natural history, just as it informed his careful observation of Jeoffry.

Unlike the theory, popular at the time, that human minds are tabula rasa—blank pages at birth and written on by experience—Smart’s theology adopts the Platonic or Neoplatonic idea that all selves contain knowledge of God, which must be remembered and lived out. In the Jeoffry section, his cat becomes an example of this, not a lesser creature but almost a role model. Jeoffry’s natural religion is also reciprocated: As Jeoffry adores God, he is supported by and brought closer to God. Other sections of Jubilate Agno explore numerology, semikabbalistic interpretations of the English and Hebrew alphabets, and other hidden sources of understanding. Smart’s insight is clearer and stronger when the message is wrought from Jeoffry’s life and interpreted through Smart’s own. Jubilate Agno differs from Smart’s other religious poetry (some, such as “The Song of David,” is much better as poetry) in its intensely personal nature. Smart interweaves biblical names with those from the newspaper of his day, and conveys—sometimes cryptically and sometimes more clearly—his own adversities and small triumphs. At times, the style approaches that of a modern confessional poem. “I have neither money nor human friends,” Smart writes, ever mindful of his feline friend. On another level, the entire poem is an act of Smart’s coming to terms with his situation and identity, examining himself in relation to God and those around him. Ultimately, perhaps Smart does not distinguish the personal from the public any more than he divides animals or even plants from people because it is all the same in God’s creation.