Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats Analysis

T. S. Eliot

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

On the surface, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a surprising change of pace, coming as it does from one of the most serious and, as some regard him, gloomy poets of the twentieth century: T. S. Eliot, the author of such somber works as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), The Waste Land (1922), and “The Hollow Men” (1925). In sharp contrast, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats seems refreshingly lighthearted and devil-may-care in the sheer energy of its play of both language and imagination. Yet, lurking beneath its surface is the potential of a darker intent, just as the potential of a lighter or at least ironic intent peaks continuously out of the corners and from behind the lines of Eliot’s more sober and serious literary endeavors.

The volume is composed of fourteen poems, none longer than two full pages, composed in a variety of rudimentary stanzaic patterns, ranging from quatrains to stanzas whose varying lengths, like those of prose paragraphs, are determined more by content than any preconceived structural principle. One outstanding prosodic feature is the nearly complete use of couplets, although several of the poems—“The Naming of Cats,” “The Song of the Jellicles,” and “Old Deuteronomy”—employ true quatrains, utilizing an abab rhyme scheme throughout, and “Of the Aweful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles” uses three-line rhymes.

The poetry saves its true inventiveness for the clever use of language, which at times approaches the sprightliness of nursery rhymes and nonsense verse largely because of the...

(The entire section is 665 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The poems in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats are not restricted to a specific time and place, but the few references establish the...

(The entire section is 30 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Eliot's Cats have been much admired for their complexity of character. In relatively brief descriptions, the poet manages to capture the...

(The entire section is 234 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Although Eliot obviously prefers Cats to Dogs (whom he characterizes as easygoing louts), generally he admires and satirizes his Cats without...

(The entire section is 55 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Each of the Cats is so thorough a blend of human and feline characteristics that Angela Richards, who played Grizabella in the musical...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is in the same tradition of nonsense verse as the works of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. In...

(The entire section is 273 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In the 1950s Decca records issued a recording of Eliot reading from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. These poems, along with...

(The entire section is 90 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. "Macavity and Moriarty." The Baker Street Journal 28 (1978): 103-104. A discussion of the influence of the...

(The entire section is 350 words.)


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Ackroyd, Peter. T. S. Eliot: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984.

Browne, Elliott Martin. The Making of T. S. Eliot’s Plays. London: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Donoghue, Denis. Words Alone: The Poet, T. S. Eliot. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000.

Eliot, Valerie, ed. The Letters of T. S. Eliot, 1898-1922. Vol. 1. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.

Gordon, Lyndall. Eliot’s Early Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Gordon, Lyndall. Eliot’s New Life. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988.

Gordon, Lyndall. T. S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life. New York: Norton, 1999.

Litz, A. Walton, ed. Eliot in His Time: Essays on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of “The Waste Land.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Schuchard, Ronald. Eliot’s Dark Angel: Intersections of Life and Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.