What are three poems from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats in which responsibility is a theme?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is a collection of poems about the ways and personalities of cats. Some cats in this collection are far more responsible than others. For example, Jennyanydots, the cat described in "The Old Gumbie Cat" is a responsible mouser. The second stanza of this poem reads:

"But when the day's hustle and bustle is done,/Then the Gumbie Cat's work is but hardly begun./ And when all the family's in bed and asleep,/ She tucks up her skirts to the basement to creep. /She is deeply concerned with the ways of the mice--/ Their behaviour's not good and their manners not nice;/ So when she has got them lined up on the matting, /She teachs them music, crocheting and tatting" (lines 5-12).

During the day, Jennyanydots sleeps like any other house cat, but at night, she is hard at work, teaching the mice to behave. In fact, as Eliot says in the poem's last line, the cat is responsible for the entire running of the house. She is "On whom well-ordered households depend, it appears."

The cat in another poem called "Gus: The Theatre Cat" is also a responsible, hard-working feline. While he is now past his prime, in years gone by, he was a famous actor. The second stanza begins, "'I have played,'" so he says, "'every possible part, And I used to know seventy speeches by heart. I'd extemporize back-chat, I knew how to gag, And I knew how to let the cat out of the bag'" (lines 21-24). He was a responsible actor in his youth, able to perform every kind of show and trick to amuse an audience, though he now stands by the theatre door looking shabby.

Many of the cats in Eliot's poems, however, are irresponsible. An example is the Jellicles in "The Song of the Jellicles." They don't do much except dance about and then take baths: "They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig./ Until the Jellicle Moon appears /They make their toilette and take their repose:/ Jellicles wash behind their ears,/ Jellicles dry between their toes" (lines 16-20). In other words, they are dancing all day, and then when the moon comes out, they devote themselves to bathing. In the last stanza, Eliot writes about the cats' lives: "You would say they had nothing to do at all." They are essentially living the life of irresponsible cats. 

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Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

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