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This is an extract from the American edition of T S Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939. A whimsical collection of 14 poems about cats written for children, the book shows a lighter side of Eliot’s poetry. ‘Possum’ was also the nickname that Ezra Pound gave Eliot early in their friendship.
The poems, written in rhyming couplets, are partly inspired by the English tradition of nonsense poetry and the work of Edward Lear, whom Eliot admired. This extract corresponds to one of the best-known poems in the collection: ‘Macavity: The Mystery Cat’.
The cover of the 1939 edition, displayed here, contains a drawing by Eliot himself, and subsequent editions of the book have been illustrated by Nicolas Bentley and Edward Gorey.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was also the inspiration for the well-known musical Cats, with music written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber.
For more T S Eliot content explore works published by Faber & Faber.
T S Eliot (front cover illustration and text): © Estate of T. S. Eliot and reprinted by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.
Robert Josephy (design): © Estate of Robert Josephy. Published under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence.
Professor John Sutherland explores the origins and afterlife of T S Eliot’s Book of Practical Cats, the ‘cat poems’ first written to entertain Eliot’s godchildren that later became his best-selling collection and inspired a famous stage production.