“For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry” by Christopher Smart (1722-1771)

“For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry” is an excerpted poem from Smart’s much longer (though now sadly existing in only fragments) poem cycle, Jubilate Agno. It is a wonderful poem, at first glance a naive consideration of the poet’s cat, but upon deeper inspection, a joyous reveling in his cat’s creatureliness and a meditation on how a creature lives out its vocation before God. Jeoffry is a cat, made by God to be a cat, and so he lives out his calling by being the best cat he can be, by doing all that cats do, and thus, God tells him he is a “good cat.” There are echoes of Psalm 148 in this poem, and considering that yesterday was Earth Day, it serves as a good occasion to contemplate the various creatures God has given us as neighbors upon this earth, those “other nations,” as Henry Beston called them in The Outermost House, “caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.


For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
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 this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
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 the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually—Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.


Benjamin Britten set Jubliate Agno to music in 1943, and included “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry” in the settings, albeit vastly truncated.

“To a Waterfowl” (1818), by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

http://www.baronfineart.co.uk/Gallery/peter_scott.htm
“Pinkfeet, the Wild Geese of England” (1949) by Sir Peter Scott (1909-1989), Baron Fine Art Gallery.

William Cullen Bryant, ca. 1876

This poem is a favorite, and came to my mind after seeing that Psalm 91 is the appointed Psalm to be read this coming Sunday. I’ve included the text of Psalm 91 after Bryant’s poem – note the similarities and shared themes!

Bryant’s biography is an interesting one, as he is known as the poet who really brought American poetry to the world scene in the early 19th Century with his poem, “Thanatopsis.” You can read more about Bryant here.


Whither, ‘midst falling dew, 
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day, 
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue 
Thy solitary way? 

Vainly the fowler’s eye 
Might mark thy distant flight, to do thee wrong, 
As, darkly seen against the crimson sky, 
Thy figure floats along. 

Seek’st thou the plashy brink 
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide, 
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink 
On the chaféd ocean side? 

There is a Power, whose care 
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,— 
The desert and illimitable air 
Lone wandering, but not lost. 

All day thy wings have fanned, 
At that far height, the cold thin atmosphere; 
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land, 
Though the dark night is near. 

And soon that toil shall end, 
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest, 
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend, 
Soon, o’er thy sheltered nest. 

Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven 
Hath swallowed up thy form, yet, on my heart 
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given, 
And shall not soon depart. 

He, who, from zone to zone, 
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, 
In the long way that I must trace alone, 
Will lead my steps aright. 


Psalm 91

    He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

    I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress:
My God; in him will I trust.

    Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler,
And from the noisome pestilence.

    He shall cover thee with his feathers,
And under his iwings shalt thou trust:
His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

    Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;
Nor for the arrow that flieth by day;

    Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

    A thousand shall fall at thy side,
And ten thousand at thy right hand;
But it shall not come nigh thee.

    Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold
And see the reward of the wicked.

    Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge,
Even the most High, thy habitation;

10    There shall no evil befall thee,
Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.

11    For he shall give his angels charge over thee,
To keep thee in all thy ways.

12    They shall bear thee up in their hands,
Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

13    Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
The young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

14    Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him:
I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.

15    He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:
I will be with him in trouble;

I will deliver him, and ghonour him.
16    With long life will I satisfy him,
And shew him my salvation.[1]


[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ps 91.