Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

Saturday Civilisation

Julie near Chicago made a comment which had me thinking on one of my all time favourite versifications – Gray’s Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes.

That in turn had me considering posting it, and giving you all a commentary on both its beauty and wit, and that in its turn had me thinking further, and digging up a faint memory from the distant past of this blog:-

So, here is the commentary, and here is the ode:

Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes

‘Twas on a lofty vase’s side,
Where China’s gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw: and purred applause.

Still had she gazed; but ‘midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The Genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour’s Tyrian hue
Thro’ richest purple to the view
Betrayed a golden gleam.

The hapless nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat’s averse to fish?

Presumptuous maid! with looks intent
Again she stretched, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled,
She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A favorite has no friend!

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.

Thomas Gray


  1. Julie near Chicago says:

    Well, of course **I** meant the **other,** rather more ***recent*** Professor’s immortal lines, but let it pass.

    However, Mr. Cats got something purring in the back of my mind. A cautionary tale of which I can almost but not quite pull up the last stanza. However, that reminded me of an entire LP full of tales, some Cautionary, some rather more Celebratory, in my collection. It would appear that Professor Hardy was quite concerned for the well-being of the maidens of his time, although I must say his (implied) advice seemed to vary upon occasion. Here is another example, although it’s a rather different sort of advice, which boils down to “Some of us simply have to accept our lot in life.”

    (You may care to hear it rendered in audio by Miss Lanchester, at )

    The Ruined Maid

    By Thomas Hardy

    “O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
    Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
    And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?” —
    “O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

    — “You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
    Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
    And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!” —
    “Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

    — “At home in the barton you said thee’ and thou,’
    And thik oon,’ and theäs oon,’ and t’other’; but now
    Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!” —
    “Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

    — “Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
    But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
    And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!” —
    “We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

    — “You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
    And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
    To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!” —
    “True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

    — “I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
    And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” —
    “My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,
    Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

  2. Julie near Chicago says:

    By the way, thanks to Cats for posting the sad tale of the kitty overcome by her desire for gold, or fish, or by gravity–whichever. The poet Hood goes on to say,

    “Take her up tenderly,
    Lift her with care….
    Fashioned so slenderly–
    Young, and so fair!”

    (Or perhaps he had a different young miss in mind.)

    –By the way–people might not realize I was just kidding around snootily in the remark with all those ***’s. ;>)

    Thanks for the Ode, Cats. Very good!

  3. [...] put up a post a short time back, telling you all my love for Thomas Grays Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat Drowned in a Tub of [...]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: