Book Review: Poetry for Cats: The Definitive Anthology of Distinguished Feline Verse by Henry Beard

by KathleenDuffy

A light-hearted review of "Poetry for Cats" by Henry Beard, a laugh-out-loud compendium of spoof verse by the cats of famous poets through the ages. Cats will love it.

It is a well known fact that behind every great man there is usually a strong woman. Less well known, however, is that behind every great poet there is a strong cat.

Henry Beard knows this and has compiled a book, "Poetry for Cats: The definitive Anthology of Distinguished Feline Verse", which sets out to provide cats with the intellectual recognition they crave.

Those who really understand cats will appreciate that Mr Beard has discovered a veritable treasure-trove of poetry written by cats who shared the literary lives of the great poets.

Hidden Poetic Talents of Cats Revealed by Henry Beard

Feline poetry a great improvement on the originals...


Through keen observation of their masters’ writing habits,Picking up writing ideas... listening carefully when the works were read aloud to unappreciative humans, and pawing through waste-paper bins for abandoned first attempts, these cats have taken on the muse of their masters and adapted it to reveal their own inner, secret lives. 

This kind of intellectual absorption has been common in cats since humankind first began expressing poetic thoughts through the written word. 

Some unkind people might say that cats are sneaky and secretive, adapting their masters' original works and pretending it's all their own. 


But I say that Mr Beard has shown that the quiet feline companion has actually improved on the originals.

 Well, don't just take my word for it. Judge for yourselves!

The Development of Feline Verse

Cat reading a book...The poetry of cats begins at the dawn of time with a verse translation of "Grendel’s Dog", from Beocat by the Unknown Author’s Cat. (This modern English version was translated by the Editor’s cat from the original Old English.)

We soon progress to The Cat’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer’s Cat, written of course in the Middle English of the period.

But it is only when we come to "Hamlet’s Cat’s Soliloquy", from the play, Hamlet’s Cat by William Shakespeare’s Cat that we experience the inner monologue of the emerging modernist cat’s eternal dilemma:

To go outside, and there perchance to stay/Or to remain within; that is the question:/Whether ‘tis better for a cat to suffer the cuffs and buffets of inclement weather/That Nature rains on those who roam abroad…”

Heady stuff…

Read One of the Originals - Beowulf

Very inferior, of course!
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (Bil...

'Poetry for Cats' Reveals Romantic Longing in Feline Poetry


She Walks in Booties by Lord Byron’s feline companion is a hymn to a love that can never be, for as the great poet’s cat tragically reveals:


She walks in booties...



I feel at once a dark despair;/My feline heart is sore dismay’d;/For not content to make her fair,/her doting owners had her spay’d!”


Byron's Cat Had a Lot to Put Up With...

He was the moody type...
Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)

Moods of Cats Expressed in Feline Poetry

Cats do sulk a lot...


Of course, cats can be difficult.

In the poem To a Vase, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cat admits to breaking precious objects when in a sulky mood:

Getting some ideas...

Ha ha!!

How do I break thee? Let me count the ways./I break thee if thou art at any height/my paw can reach, when, smarting from some slight/I sulk, or have one of my crazy days.”



Yet, in a sudden change of mood, becoming reflective and philosophical, Rudyard Kipling’s cat ponders on how to live a truly cat-like life of integrity in the poem, If.


If you can disappear when all about you/Are madly searching for you everywhere,/And then just when they start to leave without you/Turn up as if you always were right there…”


Just Chill...

Human's always panic!
The Dalai Lama's Cat

The Cat as Commentator on Modern Life


Cats are true barometers of the alienation and angst of modern living.  And Henry Beard shows how they have expressed their disgust with claws of steel.

Dylan Thomas's cat rails against the dying of the light by urging his fellow cats:

Scared to die? Moi?


"Do not go peaceable to that damn vet,/A cat can always tell a trip is due,/Hide, hide, when your appointment time is set."





But finally, it is Allen Ginsberg’s cat who, in the poem Meowl expresses the true angst and despair of living in modern America.



I'm angry, man, at modern life!



I saw the best kittens of my litter abandoned by humans, feral delirious rabid,/ propelling themselves through the calico weeds in overgrown railyards, searching for a catnip hit…”

A Book by The Poet who Inspired the Feline 'Beat' Generation

and generations of cool cats...
Howl and Other Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets, No. 4)

Signs of Depression in Cats – and the Remedy


Quite often cats irritate their owners by meowing and pacing the floor for no known reason. Very bored catNothing seems to placate them. At other times they tend to retreat into themselves, spending hours sleeping or watching old Bette Davis movies on daytime TV.

The answer is simple. Cats get depressed. Give a cat this book and satisfy his or her craving for feline intellectual sustenance.

Secondary Benefits of 'Poetry for Cats' for Cat Owners


One of the beneficial side effects of this book is that cat-owners themselves can often be heard laughing uproariously as they insist on reading the verses out loud to their feline companions.


Humans are pathetic...


Whilst this may be amusing for humans, most cats will find it extremely patronising.






Of course, the easiest answer to this dilemma is for the cat owner to buy his or her own copy.

The poetic muse (or should that be ‘mews’) will never be the same again!


 Copyright: Kathleen Duffy

Updated: 03/29/2013, KathleenDuffy
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