On the surface, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a surprising change of pace, coming as it does from one of the most serious and, as some regard him, gloomy poets of the twentieth century: T. S. Eliot, the author of such somber works as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), The Waste Land (1922), and “The Hollow Men” (1925). In sharp contrast, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats seems refreshingly lighthearted and devil-may-care in the sheer energy of its play of both language and imagination. Yet, lurking beneath its surface is the potential of a darker intent, just as the potential of a lighter or at least ironic intent peaks continuously out of the corners and from behind the lines of Eliot’s more sober and serious literary endeavors.
The volume is composed of fourteen poems, none longer than two full pages, composed in a variety of rudimentary stanzaic patterns, ranging from quatrains to stanzas whose varying lengths, like those of prose paragraphs, are determined more by content than any preconceived structural principle. One outstanding prosodic feature is the nearly complete use of couplets, although several of the poems—“The Naming of Cats,” “The Song of the Jellicles,” and “Old Deuteronomy”—employ true quatrains, utilizing an abab rhyme scheme throughout, and “Of the Aweful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles” uses three-line rhymes.
The poetry saves its true inventiveness for the clever use of language, which at times approaches the sprightliness of nursery rhymes and nonsense verse largely because of the...
(The entire section is 665 words.)