Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats Critical Context - Essay

T. S. Eliot

Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Taken together, the foregoing suggests that Eliot was as serious about the poetry comprising Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats as he was about any of his other poetry. The fact that hints of the volume’s mood and tone appear in earlier work identified as minor poetry in The Complete Poems and Plays (1969), specifically “Lines to a Persian Cat” and “Lines to a Yorkshire Terrier,” further suggests that the work went through a gestational period during which Eliot was also composing some of his most serious and philosophical poetry that would later comprise Four Quartets (1943), which explores the complex interrelatedness among God, person, and nature in Christian terms.

It cannot be mere happenstance that one of the twentieth century’s most notably Christian poets also focused on an animal as self-absorbed and likely to do as it pleases as the domesticated cat, or that the poet who virtually first gave voice, in The Waste Land, to what critic Hugh Kenner termed the “urban apocalypse” created a cast of primarily city cats. Like all good literature, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats first should delight readers by giving them the pleasure of enjoying words beautifully used. Nevertheless, the amorality and the outright violence and criminal chicanery of these “practical cats” can be viewed as a way of also delightfully instructing readers in the deleterious moral consequences of action centered only and wholly on self and self-aggrandizement.