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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.

To a Kitten

Joanna Baillie (1762–1851)

WANTON droll, whose harmless play

Beguiles the rustics’ closing day,

When, drawn the evening fire about,

Sit aged crone and thoughtless lout,

And child upon his three-foot stool,

Waiting till his supper cool;

And maid, whose cheek outblooms the rose

As bright the blazing faggot glows,

Who, bending to the friendly light,

Plies her task with busy sleight;

Come, show thy tricks and sportive graces,

Thus circled round with merry faces.

Backward coil’d and crouching low,

With glaring eyeballs watch thy foe,—

The housewife’s spindle whirling round,

Or thread or straw, that on the ground

Its shadow throws, by urchin sly

Held out to lure thy roving eye;

Then onward stealing, fiercely spring

Upon the futile faithless thing.

Now, wheeling round with bootless skill,

Thy bo-peep tail provokes thee still,

As oft beyond thy curving side

Its jetty tip is seen to glide;

And see!—the start, the jet, the bound,

The giddy scamper round and round,

With leap and toss and high curvet,

And many a whirling somerset.

The featest tumbler, stage bedight,

To thee is but a clumsy wight,

Who every limb and sinew strains

To do what costs thee little pains;

For which, I trow, the gaping crowd

Requite him oft with praises loud.

But, stopp’d awhile thy wanton play,

Applauses too thy pains repay;

For now, beneath some urchin’s hand

With modest pride thou tak’st thy stand,

While many a stroke of kindness glides

Along thy back and tabby sides.

Dilated swells thy glossy fur

And loudly sings thy busy purr

As, timing well the equal sound,

Thy clutching feet bepat the ground,

And all their harmless claws disclose,

Like prickles of an early rose;

While softly from thy whiskered cheek

Thy half-closed eyes peer mild and meek.

But not alone by cottage fire

Do rustics rude thy feats admire.

Even he, whose mood of gloomy bent

In lonely tower or prison pent,

Reviews the coil of former days,

And loathes the world and all its ways,

What time the lamp’s unsteady gleam

Hath roused him from his moody dream,

Feels, as thou gambol’st round his seat,

His heart of pride less fiercely beat,

And smiles, a link in thee to find,

That joins it still to living kind.

Whence hast thou, then, thou witless puss!

The magic power to charm us thus?

Is it that in thy glaring eye

And rapid movements, we descry—

Whilst we at ease, secure from ill,

The chimney corner snugly fill,—

A lion darting on its prey,

A tiger at his ruthless play?

Or is it that in thee we trace

With all thy varied wanton grace,

An emblem, view’d with kindred eye,

Of tricksy, restless infancy?

Ah! many a lightly sportive child,

Who hath like thee our wits beguiled,

To dull and sober manhood grown,

With strange recoil our hearts disown.

And so, poor kit! must thou endure,

When thou becom’st a cat demure,

Full many a cuff and angry word,

Chas’d roughly from the tempting board.

But yet, for that thou hast, I ween,

So oft our favour’d playmate been,

Soft be the change which thou shalt prove,

When time hath spoil’d thee of our love.

Still be thou deem’d by housewife fat

A comely, careful, mousing cat,

Whose dish is, for the public good,

Replenished oft with savoury food.

Nor, when thy span of life is past,

Be thou to pond or dung-hill cast,

But gently borne on good man’s spade,

Beneath the decent sod be laid;

And children show with glistening eyes

The place where poor old pussy lies.