Apr. 11, 2012

Jubilate Agno, Fragment B [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]

by Christopher Smart

For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in
his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
  For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in
the spirit.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
  For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.

Lines from "Jubilate Agno, Fragment B [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]" by Christopher Smart. Public Domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Christopher Smart (books by this author), born in Shipbourne, England (1722), who experienced a religious awakening that convinced him that he was a prophet. He began praying and preaching in the streets of London, and tried to follow the Biblical injunction to "pray ceaselessly," dropping to his knees whenever the spirit moved him, which embarrassed his family. They put him into an asylum, where he wrote the two poems for which he is best known: A Song to David (1763) and Jubilate Agno (first published in 1938), which includes the section praising his cat, excerpted for today's poem selection.

It was on this day in 1976 that the first Apple computer came on the market. A year later came the "Apple II".

It's the birthday of Marguerite de Navarre (books by this author), born in Angoulême, France, in 1492. The daughter of a count and a mother with high aspirations for her children, Marguerite learned Latin, Spanish, Hebrew, and Italian and read philosophy and the Scriptures.

Her younger brother, Francis, became the King of France. He had always looked up to his big sister, and he asked her to join his court to provide counsel and advice. She did, advising her brother on diplomatic affairs and why he should employ Leonardo da Vinci and Benvenuto Cellini at the royal court, and why he should try to reform the Catholic Church. She tried to mediate the religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants, and to protect reformers like John Calvin — even though she didn't agree with him.

It's the birthday of writer Dorothy Allison (books by this author), born in Greenville, South Carolina (1949) to an unwed 15-year-old who'd dropped out of seventh grade and worked as a waitress. Allison grew up desperately poor, and was sexually abused by her stepfather. But she was inspired by the confidence her teachers and classmates had in her intelligence. "Because they did not see poverty and hopelessness as a foregone conclusion for my life," she wrote, "I could begin to imagine other futures for myself."

She won a National Merit Scholarship and was the first person in her family to attend college. There, in the late '60s, she was introduced to the Feminist movement, which she said "was like opening your eyes under water. It hurt, but suddenly everything that had been dark and mysterious became visible and open to change." She wrote a memoir about her childhood and family history, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (1995), but it is her earlier novel, Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), that she's best known for.

Allison said, "People want biography. People want memoir. They want you to tell them that the story you're telling them is true. The thing I'm telling you is true, but it did not always happen to me."

It's the birthday of poet Mark Strand (books by this author), born on Prince Edward Island, Canada (1934).

He said: "Poems not only demand patience, they demand a kind of surrender. You must give yourself up to them. This is the real food for a poet: other poems, not meat loaf."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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