Smart, “My Cat Jeoffry” Paper
Jeoffry: An Example for Mankind
Jubilate Agno is Christopher Smart’spoem which illustrates at first glance a testament to his religiousobsession and his deteriorated mental state. The other side ofthis poem shows a man trying to keep his sanity in an insane place. William Stead sees the work as “a spiritual diary of histhoughts, memories, and prayers, during the darkest years of hislife” (Stead 17). Jubilate Agno focuses on God withdaily occurrences weaving their way into the poem. Smart’s work”reflects what was . . . his life work: the praise of Godthrough poetry” (Anderson 54). Smart writes about whathe knows from the Bible to animals to the alphabet; most containGod themes [?]. In his tribute to his cat, Jeoffry, Smart showsthe cat’s particular connection to God, and how Jeoffry is theideal servant of God. Is an insane Smart writing about an imaginarycat’s servitude to God? Or is the intellectual Smart merely parallelinghuman life to cat life to show how each of us can serve God?
Jeoffry became more than a pet to Smartin the years of his confinement. Dr. Sherbo contends that “hehad a cat, a real one, not the product of his distressed imagination”(qtd. in Dearnley 155). Smart, being particularly religious,felt that his companion was a good illustration of serving Godin his ways. Jeoffry is aware of God, “For he knows thatGod is his Saviour” (134) just as we should. Smart refersto Jeoffry working for God, “for when his day’s work is donehis business more properly begins. / For he keeps the Lord’s watchin the night against the adversary” (Smart 133). Jeoffrystrives to serve God so much that after each full day of activitieshe can still be a servant to God. With the detailed descriptionsof Jeoffry’s daily routines, Smart sees the holy connection inthem. “For at the first glance of the glory of God in theEast he worships in his way. / For this is done by wreathing hisbody seven times round with elegant quickness” (131). Amorning stretch for a feline symbolizes a morning prayer for aperson. Jeoffry’s actions are an example of religion [?] notonly by the way Smart connects them to God, but also the arrangementof the text and its wording.
There is a clear religious tone throughoutJubilate Agno. Smart starts to use the “techniquesof Hebrew poetry,” particularly “the responsive principleof Hebrew verse” (Anderson 71). He uses the words Letand For which have a biblical tone and are an example ofthe responsive principle. Even passages not oriented religiouslysound more so with these words: “For M is meet. / For N isnay. / For O is over. / For P is peace” (122); “LetTayler, house of Tayler rejoice with the flying mole” (163). He uses these tones when writing of Jeoffry. For predominantlystarts each passage, and now even the primitive tasks sound likean order from God unquestionably followed: “For whenhe takes his prey he plays with it to give it [a] chance”(133). This gives us our perception that our daily ritual routinescan be holy without directly involving God. There are also biblicalpatterns in Jeoffry’s tribute.
Smart takes passages and stories from theBible throughout Jubilate Agno. From 1 Chronicles1:1-3:16 he gets a family tree (Atwan and Wieder 460) and from Zechariah 1:18-21 he tells the story of the “horns and scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem” (Atwan and Wieder 459). He uses the ten commandment form when describing Jeoffry’s daily routine:
For this he does in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
. . .
For Ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For Tenthly he goes in quest of food. (132-133)
The repeated use of For makes thelines resemble those of the commandments beginning with Thou:”Thou shalt have no other gods before me. . . . Thous shaltnot covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’swife, . . .” (Exodus 20:3-17). Jeoffry does each routinedaily and the ten commandments should be a daily routine. Jeoffry’s characteristics are also virtues to be followed.
The characteristics that Jeoffry displaysare ideal for the cat world. “For God has blessed him inthe variety of his movements” (136). Jeoffry exemplifiesthe best cat in his religiosity and character. “For he isthe quickest to his mark of any creature” (134). The oldsaying that cleanliness is next to godliness makes it way intothe poem: “For he is the cleanest in the use of his fore-pawsof any quadrupede” (134). The translation into human raceis definite: be holy and be the best. Jeoffry becomesa symbol for us.
Smart’s tribute to Jeoffry sends a messagerather than an illustration of insanity. Smart successfullysets Jeoffry up as a symbol for us to follow in our spiritualand daily lives. “For having consider’d God and himselfhe will consider his neighbor. / For if he meets another cat hewill kiss her in kindness” (133). Smart captures the minutedetails of Jeoffry’s activities which add to the tribute’s purposethrough “his powers of observation and description”(qtd. in Dearnley 155). The cat illustrates how the simplestof activities can reach God without being directly linked to Him. The language Smart uses enhances the theme in the selection withthe religious undertones and examples. Such as “Forhe is the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolenceperpetually” (134). The tribute to Jeoffry ends up asinstructions on how to be the ideal person.
Anderson, Frances. Christopher Smart. NY: Twayne Pub., Inc., 1974.
Atwan, Robert, and Laurance Wieder. Chaptersinto Verse, Vol. I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Dearnley, Moira. The Poetry of ChristopherSmart. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969.
Smart, Christopher. Rejoice in the Lamb. Ed. William Force Stead. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1939.