The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

September 2, 2013

September 2, 1973

That J. R. R. Tolkien, (January 3, 1892 to  September 2, 1973),  was an Oxford professor is well-known; that his tenure there lasted from 1925 to 1959, is for some a big part of his story. He was such an expert in languages, especially Anglo-Saxon, that he invented his own languages. The fact people like Tolkien existed is more interesting to some, than the stories that made him famous. Tolkien himself , rescued, not a ring, but the medieval story of Beowulf, that story which is older than the dates it was written down, (sometime between 600 AD to 1000 AD.) Prior to Tolkien's publication of "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" (1936) people treated that story as the product of a savage, an irrational,  mind. Tolkien insisted that the author was concerned to understand the world and society in which he lived. After his assessment scholarship focused on the shared human element.

Tolkien wrote poetry from his youth. In 1962, after the fame consequent to his fantasy books, he published another book, Tales from the Perilous. This book was composed of older writings of Tolkien's pulled out of dusty drawers. The book included the contents of a poetry collection, titled first, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.  The poem below, published in Tales from the Perilous, was probably written for his granddaughter Joanna, possibly as late as 1956.

Here is the text of the poem "Cat," written by J. R. R. Tolkien:

The fat cat on the mat

may seem to dream

of nice mice that suffice

for him, or cream;

But he, free, maybe,

walks in thought

unbowed, proud, where loud

roared and fought

his kin, lean and slim,

or deep in den

in the East feasted on beasts

and tender men.

The giant lion with iron

claw in paw

and huge ruthless tooth

in gory jaw;

the pard dark-starred

fleet upon feet

that oft soft from aloft

leaps on his meat

where woods loom in gloom-

far now they be.
fierce and free,

and tamed is he;

but fat cat on a mat

kept as a pet,
he does not forget.

Scholars have not focused on this text. Yet it is more than a nursery rhyme. It is written according to the conventions of Anglo-Saxon poetry.  And we see the same hunger for reality as the theme -- the same drive that motivated the author of  Beowulf,  and an Oxford author of fantasy tales. 

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