Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes

by Thomas Gray

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Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

I think there are two major themes of this poem, and both are summarized nicely by the final group of lines:

From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters, gold.

In other words, then, we must be cautious and not overly bold, because we can never take back a false step or wrong move. Once we have taken such a bold step, we have to live (or die, as the case may be) with the consequences of our choice. Like Selima, the cat, we may find our "feet beguiled" by some "slippery verge" that we could not have foreseen, and then we might find ourselves friendless and without aid in such symbolic unfamiliar terrain. Further, we must remember that many temptations or things we come to desire are not actually supposed to be ours—or, alternately, we may find that they are not as precious and valuable as we first believed. Selima desired those goldfish, and she found that, though beautiful, they were not worth the risk. Not all that seems like "gold" truly is.

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