Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

by T. S. Eliot

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Has the poet T. S Eliot used repetition in the poem "Macavity: The Mystery Cat" for special effect? Give three reasons, with references from the text in support of your answer.

Two key lines are repeated and effectively enhance the poem's song-like attributes (see lines 5, 17, and 35, as well as 4, 8, 10, 20, 26, 30, and 38). These lines also contribute strongly toward emphasizing certain key qualities of Macavity's persona, such as his infamy, unique criminal ability, and elusive nature. Repeated references to crimes, as well as the law enforcement agencies which fail to capture Macavity, emphasize the magnitude of threat Macavity poses to society.

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Eliot effectively makes use of repetition in his poem "Macavity: The Mystery Cat." This repetition, as well as effective rhyme and rhythm, contribute to the poem's musicality. This is why it could so easily be adapted for performance on stage.

One immediately recognizes two lines which are repeated throughout the poem: "Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity" and "Macavity's not there!" While these two lines contribute to the musicality of the poem by creating a type of refrain/chorus, they also serve an important function in terms of content.

"Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity" is repeated in lines 5, 17 and 35 of the poem. This serves to emphasize Macavity's character as being unique and exceptional—even though it is uniquely criminal and exceptionally evil. His name is made all the more memorable by this repetition, and this serves to enhance the infamy surrounding his character and the terror people feel when hearing the name of this powerful "Napoleon of Crime" (line 42). The repeated "Macavity, Macavity" generates a powerful sense of anticipation to see what the next line reveals about his criminal activities.

"Macavity's not there!" is repeated six times in the poem. The repetition of this line contributes to the tone of excitement of the poem. Note the exclamation mark, which is also used to enhance the tone of this cry. In line 38, the phrase is repeated with a change in tense and in capital letters: "MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!" The repetition of this phrase and its subsequent development in line 38 together emphasize the exasperation the authorities must feel at not being able to apprehend this "fiend in feline shape" (line 18). This line also emphasizes Macavity's elusive character.

Repeated references to law enforcement agencies is also significant. Scotland Yard is referred to twice, while the Flying Squad, Foreign Office, Admiralty, and Secret Service are also mentioned. All of these institutions are advanced law enforcement agencies which focus on major crimes. By repeatedly describing these particular agencies as Macavity's failing opponents, the reader is granted insight into the true skill and power ascribed to this criminal. However, when interpreting the poem in a more humorous manner, one can also note that the speaker may be satirically referring to the ineptitude of these powerful law enforcement agencies if they are stymied by a cat.

Overall, repetition is used to enhance the reader's understanding of the title persona, to emphasize certain aspects of Macavity's activities, and to contribute to the tone of the poem. The lilting, song-like quality of the poem ensures that all these negative attributes are viewed in a playful light. The reader need not feel terror at the thought of this character: one is able to recognize the mystery and cruelty which naturally surrounds cats.

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