Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot



“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.”

~ from “The Naming of Cats”


T.S. Eliot was a British American essayist, poet, playwright and author. He is most famous for his social and political essays and literary critic, but we love him for a different reason! He is the brilliant poet who brought to life many of the reasons we think the way we do about cats!

Did you know that cats have three names?

His famous collection of poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, is one of our favourite anthologies to use with students as it tells stories of the many curious traits that cats have.

“Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.”

~ from “Macavity the Mystery Cat”

Combining a witty sense of humour, whimsical verse and a love of feline companions, Eliot’s poetry collection is a beautiful work that allows students to delve into poetic themes and tropes such as rhyme and personification.

“With Cats, some say, one rule is true:
Don’t speak till you are spoken to.
Myself, I do not hold with that –
I say, you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
Resents familiarity.”

~ from “The Ad-dressing of Cats”

Original published in 1939, this book of light verse was named after T.S. Eliot himself. The nickname “Old Possum” was given to him another poet, Ezra Pound. Eliot (or Old Possum!) first wrote the poems as letters to his godchildren for a bit of fun, and later had them published as the children loved them so much! And, in 1981 Andrew Lloyd Weber and Cameron Mackintosh produced the first performance of “Cats” the musical, an adaptation of this hilarious collection of verse. Cats is currently the fourth longest running show on Broadway and the sixth longest running show on West End!

What’s your favourite poem about cats?

“So this is this, and that is that:
And there’s how you AD-DRESS A CAT.”


 Words by Maddie Pesu

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