Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

by T. S. Eliot
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"The Naming of Cats" is a famous poem in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Please help analyze it.

"The Naming of Cats" personifies cats, assigning them a human level interiority. By doing this, it argues that both cats and humans have a three-level psyche: first, the social self, second, the intimate self known only to close friends, and finally, the private self, known only to oneself. Each is associated with a different name. The poem uses a light-hearted, whimsical tone to celebrate the concept of interiority.

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In this poem, T.S. Eliot personifies the cat, then uses that personification to assert that humans have a three-level psyche.

To personify is to give an animal or inanimate object human traits. Eliot does so by giving cats a level of introspection or self-awareness that is usually reserved for humans....

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In this poem, T.S. Eliot personifies the cat, then uses that personification to assert that humans have a three-level psyche.

To personify is to give an animal or inanimate object human traits. Eliot does so by giving cats a level of introspection or self-awareness that is usually reserved for humans. He asserts that cats have three identities, each one associated with a different name they possess. The first is the public, social identity communicated by the cat's official name. Cats, like humans, have a name assigned at birth, and many cats, like many humans, share the same name. Eliot identifies some common cat names as exactly the same as human names: "Peter, Alonzo, Augustus, or James." Some are "fancier," like "Plato" or "Electra," but they are nevertheless part of a shared heritage of common names.

Beneath that, cats have names that are unique to themselves. This name speaks to the particular cat and is never shared by another cat. It is the name by which the cat is known in his or her intimate, smaller circle.

Finally, cats have a name known only to themselves that expresses each cat's particular individuality. We might call it a "soul" name. Eliot says it is secret and "singular."

By personifying the idea of three levels of psyche in a cat, Eliot makes the idea of human interiority accessible and light-hearted. He also plays on the inscrutable, self-contained qualities that cats possess to gently assert that they are more like humans than we might want to think. This is a poem that uses whimsy to celebrate interiority.

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"The Naming of Cats," at its most basic level, talks about how cats have three different names.  However, at a deeper level, the poem talks about identity and how people present themselves in different ways to the general public, to their family and friends, and to their most private self when they are alone.

In the poem, the first name a cat possesses is an "everyday" name that any observer can use:

First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.

While some of these everyday names might be "fancier ... some for the gentlemen, some for the dames," they are, nevertheless, "all of them sensible everyday names."  This is the "self" we let everyone see - our most public self.

However, the poem's speaker says one name is not enough.  Cats also need a name that is ... 

... particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

This is a more individual name, a name that "never belong(s) to more than one cat."  It recognizes the uniqueness that is that cat.  This is the self we let our friends and family see - one that reveals some of our own uniqueness - our personal traits, talents, desires, likes, and dislikes.

However, even that name does not represent the cat at its deepest essence.  That name is known only by the cat: 

The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.

This is the self we only let ourselves see, our truest self, with our hidden desires, fears, dreams, beliefs, doubts, and concerns.

As for style, the poem is written in anapest tetrameter, with the accent (primarily) on every THIRD syllable (as marked in bold below):

You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James ...

The poem follows an every-other-line rhyme scheme of  ABABCDCDEFEF, and so on.  It makes an allusion to the Mad hatter from Alice in Wonderland, and also uses a lot of personification as it talks about cats.  This is especially seen in the following passage:

But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

Here, we see the cat from a very human perspective; it desires to be seen with dignity so it can maintain its pride.

Eliot also uses repetition and a made-up word, "effanineffable," at the end:

His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

This repetition of the phrase "of the thought" leaves the reader, as well as the cat, in "a rapt contemplation/Of the thought ... of his name" and of the multiple levels of his identity.

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