Verse > Anthologies > J. C. Squire, ed. > A Book of Women’s Verse
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J. C. Squire, ed.  A Book of Women’s Verse.  1921.
 
The Kitten
By Joanna Baillie (1762–1851)
 
WANTON drole, whose harmless play
Beguiles the rustic’s closing day,
When drawn the evening fire about,
Sit aged crone and thoughtless lout,
And child upon his three-foot stool,        5
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;        10
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,        15
Or thread, or straw, that on the ground
Its shadows throws, by urchin sly
Held out to lure thy roving eye;
Then, onward stealing, fiercely spring
Upon the futile, faithless thing.        20
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;
Till, from thy centre starting far,        25
Thou sidelong rear’st, with rump in air,
Erected stiff, and gait awry,
Like madam in her tantrums high:
Tho’ ne’er a madam of them all
Whose silken kirtle sweeps the hall,        30
More varied trick and whim displays,
To catch the admiring stranger’s gaze.
 
  Doth power in varied measures dwell,
All thy vagaries wild to tell?
Ah no! the start, the jet, the bound,        35
The giddy scamper round and round,
With leap, and jerk, and high curvet,
And many a whirling somerset,
(Permitted be the modern muse
Expression technical to use,)        40
These mock the deftest rhymer’s skill,
But poor in art, tho’ rich in will.
 
  The featest tumbler, stage-bedight,
To thee is but a clumsy wight,
Who every limb and sinew strains,        45
To do what costs thee little pains,
For which, I trow, the gaping crowd
Requites him oft with plaudits loud.
But, stopp’d the while thy wanton play,
Applauses too thy feats repay:        50
For then, beneath some urchin’s hand,
With modest pride thou tak’st thy stand,
While many a stroke of fondness glides
Along thy back and tabby sides.
Dilated swells thy glossy fur,        55
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;        60
While softly from thy whisker’d cheek,
Thy half-clos’d eyes peer mild and meek.
 
  But not alone by cottage fire
Do rustics rude thy feats admire;
The learned sage, whose thoughts explore        65
The widest range of human lore,
Or, with unfetter’d fancy, fly
Thro’ airy heights of poesy,
Pausing, smiles with alter’d air,
To see thee climb his elbow-chair,        70
Or, struggling on the mat below,
Hold warfare with his slipper’d toe.
The widow’d dame, or lonely maid,
Who in the still but cheerless shade
Of home unsocial, spends her age,        75
And rarely turns a letter’d page,
Upon her hearth for thee lets fall
The rounded cork, or paper ball,
Nor chides thee on thy wicked watch
The ends of ravell’d skein to catch,        80
But lets thee have thy wayward will,
Perplexing oft her sober skill.
Even he, whose mind of gloomy bent,
In lonely tower or prison pent,
Reviews the coil of former days,        85
And loathes the world and all its ways;
What time the lamp’s unsteady gleam
Doth rouse him from his moody dream,
Feels, as thou gambol’st round his seat,
His heart with pride less fiercely beat,        90
And smiles, a link in thee to find
That joins him 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,        95
And rapid movements, we descry,
While we at ease, secure from ill,
The chimney-corner snugly fill,
A lion darting on the prey,
A tiger at his ruthless play?        100
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,        105
Who hath, like thee, our wits beguil’d,
To dull and sober manhood grown,
With strange recoil our hearts disown.
Even so, poor Kit! must thou endure,
When thou becom’st a cat demure,        110
Full many a cuff and angry word,
Chid roughly from the tempting board.
And yet, for that thou hast, I ween,
So oft our favour’d playmate been,
Soft be the change which thou shalt prove        115
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,
Replenish’d oft with savoury food.        120
 
  Nor when thy span of life is past,
Be thou to pond or dunghill cast;
But gently borne on goodman’s spade,
Beneath the decent sod be laid,
And children show, with glistening eyes,        125
The place where poor old Pussy lies.
 
 
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