The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Cats” is a sonnet, a poem of fourteen lines, in which the octave is divided into two quatrains and the sestet is made up of two tercets. The poem was first published in the journal Le Corsaire in 1847 and was ultimately included in Charles Baudelaire’s collection of 1857 known in English as The Flowers of Evil. The poem is both elegant and magical in its descriptions of cats. The first line (in the translation by Anthony Hecht) introduces “Feverish lovers, scholars in their lofts,” and the second line states that both lovers and scholars will eventually “love the cat.” In the first two lines, the poet has given the reader a glimpse of the hold cats have even on people from diverse walks of life. The third line of the first quatrain describes the cat as being both “gentle” and “powerful” and states that this creature is “king of the parlor mat.” In the last line of the quatrain, Baudelaire notes that the cat is “Lazy,” like the lovers and scholars, and “sensitive to draughts.” One can assume that cats, by their nature, exert a hold over those who let them into their homes.

The second quatrain—the second half of the sonnet’s octave—presents unsettling attributes of the “Gentle but powerful” creature. The first line speaks of the cat as being “linked to learning and to love.” The cat “Exhibits a taste for silences and gloom”; it is more complex than first imagined. It has a dark side,...

(The entire section is 503 words.)