Thursday 5 April 2018

The Comfort of Jeoffy - Joan Lennon

Lots of us remember where we were when the moon landing happened. Or 9/11. Or some other event of historical impact. But there are moments of personal history that are also pins in the map. One of those, for me, was the first time I discovered For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry, part of Jubilate Agno by Kit Smart (1722-1771). It was late at night, in a student bedsit in Toronto, and I was in the throes of one of the many sadnesses youth is prey to (most likely brought on by falling in love, hopelessly, yet again). And this poem was sweetly, superbly, warmly comforting. Even when I found out it was partly written in St Luke's Hospital for Lunatics where Smart was incarcerated, that it wasn't even published until 1939, and that the poet died in debtors' prison, it didn't matter.  It made me smile the way that unattainable boyfriend, whichever one he was, never would have.  And it still does.
Give yourself a moment to read it, especially if it's been a while -
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 is this 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 considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
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 defense 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 sit 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 Icneumon 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, though 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.
I've since discovered Benjamin Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb (1943) which includes part of the Jeoffry fragment.  Here is Miranda Colchester's performance -
I love what the Australian youth choir Gondwana Singers make of the work - well worth a listen -
Below is a page from the manuscript -
(wiki commons)
Do you remember where you were when a voice from the past first spoke comfortingly to you? Was it maybe even this poem?
Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.


Susan Price said...

That poem is glorious. So glad it gave you comfort.
I can't remember where I was exactly, but this gave comfort to my teenage years:-

'Welund, entramelled, understood wrack.
He, stubborn eorl, suffered privation, had,
As companions, sorrow and longing,
In wintry cold exile, experienced woes often,
Once Nith had laid upon him,
Lithe sinew-bonds on the better man.

That passed away, so may this.

Beadohild didn't for her brothers’ deaths
Feel as sore stricken as she did herself,
When all too plainly she'd perceived
That she was pregnant, nor ever could she
Consider boldly the outcome of that.

That passed away, so may this.'

It's 'Wayland.'

Karen Maitland said...

Thank for the wonderful cat poem. I didn't know it and I especially love the line - 'For every house is incomplete without him.'

The Wayland poem is amazing too, Susan, especially the refrain 'That passed away, so may this.' That is strangely comforting at any age.

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for your comments - I haven't read Wayland before - such gorgeous, rich language!

Michelle Ann said...

Both lovely poems. I thought Weland sounded familiar, and found that I know it in another (longer) translation. I thought you might like the wider context, where the sad poet, Deor, is trying to console himself for his redundancy.

Anglo Saxon, translation Michael R Burch

Weland knew the agony of exile.
That indomitable smith was wracked by grief.
He endured countless troubles:
sorrows were his only companions
in his frozen island dungeon
after Nithad had fettered him,
many strong-but-supple sinew-bonds
binding the better man.
That passed away; this also may.

Beadohild mourned her brothers' deaths
but even more, her own sad state
once she discovered herself with child.
She predicted nothing good could come of it.
That passed away; this also may.

We have heard that the Geat's moans for Matilda,
his lady, were limitless,
that his sorrowful love for her
robbed him of regretless sleep.
That passed away; this also may.

For thirty winters Theodric ruled
the Mæring stronghold with an iron hand;
many knew this and moaned.
That passed away; this also may.

We have also heard of Ermanaric's wolfish ways,
of how he held wide sway in the realm of the Goths.
He was a grim king! Many a warrior sat,
full of cares and maladies of the mind,
wishing constantly that his kingdom might be overthrown.
That passed away; this also may.

If a man sits long enough, sorrowful and anxious,
bereft of joy, his mind constantly darkening,
soon it seems to him that his troubles are endless.
Then he must consider that the wise Lord
often moves through the earth
granting some men honour, glory and fame,
but others only shame and hardship.

This I will say for myself:
that for a while I was the Heodeninga's bard,
dear to my lord. My name was Deor.
For many winters I held a fine office,
faithfully serving a just lord. But now Heorrenda
a man skilful in songs, has received the estate
the protector of warriors gave me.
That passed away; this also may.

Penny Dolan said...

Beautiful poems, all! And that photograph of the handwritten written poem!