1 September 2021 Susannah

Harold Monro & Milk for the Cat

This newsletter does not come to you from me alone. I have an amazing assistant, Cheryl Hill, without whose technological and editorial skills I could not send out my newsletter in the form it is.

She is not a huge fan of poetry, but she is a cat-tragic, so this month I have chosen a poem that I think she will love because it features her favourite animal – the cat!

Milk for the Cat by Harold Monro

When the tea is brought at five o’clock,
And all the neat curtains are drawn with care,
The little black cat with bright green eyes
Is suddenly purring there.

At first she pretends, having nothing to do,
She has come in merely to blink by the grate,
But, though tea may be late or the milk may be sour,
She is never late.

And presently her agate eyes
Take a soft large milky haze,
And her independent casual glance
Becomes a stiff, hard gaze.

Then she stamps her claws or lifts her ears,
Or twists her tail and begins to stir,
Till suddenly all her lithe body becomes
One breathing, trembling purr.

The children eat and wriggle and laugh;
The two old ladies stroke their silk:
But the cat is grown small and thin with desire,
Transformed to a creeping lust for milk.

The white saucer like some full moon descends
At last from the clouds of the table above;
She sighs and dreams and thrills and glows,
Transfigured with love.

She nestles over the shining rim,
Buries her chin in the creamy sea;
Her tail hangs loose; each drowsy paw
Is doubled under each bending knee.

A long, dim ecstasy holds her life;
Her world is an infinite shapeless white,
Till her tongue has curled the last holy drop,
Then she sinks back into the night,

Draws and dips her body to heap
Her sleepy nerves in the great arm-chair,
Lies defeated and buried deep
Three or four hours unconscious there.

This poem was clearly written by a man who has lived with cats and knows their ways. He depicts the daily wait for the milk, the feeding and then the deeply satisfied sleep afterwards of a black cat with green eyes.

It’s an evocative snapshot, written with a lovely fluidity and empathetic observation. It’s a poem to make any cat-fancier purr with satisfaction.

Harold Monro (1879 – 1932) was an English poet, born in Brussels. He owned the Poetry Bookshop in London and was a helpful friend to many other poets – it is said that few people did as much for the advancement of 20th century poetry as he did.

I hope you like it, Cheryl – it comes with a million thanks!

You can listen to two different versions of the poem here:

Do you find yourself picturing the cat as you read this poem? Can you recommend other poems about pets? Do you agree with Cheryl that cats are the best (if not she’s doesn’t care to know)? Tell me what you think by leaving a comment.

Leave a comment.

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Featured image credit- Portrait of a Family by William Dobson – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22153867
Body image credit- Harold Monro, unknown photographer, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67257468

Comments (28)

  1. Ruth Williamson

    This poem was one of my favourites as a child. On the other hand, I dislike Thomas Gray’s Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes. I know it’s a mock ode, but I hate the idea of a trapped feline. Of course, T S Eliot’s collection of poems about cats, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is on my shelves and Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat in particular has always delighted me. I know Cheryl and I are not the only cat enthusiasts around, so hope other favourite verses with a feline flavour will be mentioned.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I agree about the goldfish / cat poem – it’s too sad. Do you know the poem ‘My Cat Jeoffry’ by Christopher Smart – that’s a nice one. And of course TS Eliot’s book is fabulous.

    • Ruth, I hadn’t come across Monro’s poem until just now, nor Thomas Gray’s. But I do have a copy of TS Eliot’s collection and have enjoyed the Lloyd-Webber musical ‘Cats’ on several occasions. I do love to find new feline literature.

  2. Margi Abraham

    I believe Mark Twain wrote:
    “If a man could be crossed with a cat, it would improve the man but deteriorate the cat”.
    Aldous Huxley write:
    If you want to be a psychological novelist and write about human beings, the best thing you can do is keep a pair of cats “.

    From a little book titled The Literary Cat.
    I love cats…..and dogs

      • Susannah Fullerton

        When Mark Twain stayed in hotels, which he often did on his lecture tours, he sued to rent kittens, so that he always had a cat to play with.

  3. Cheryl Hill

    Hi Margi, yes, Mark Twain was a great lover of cats and I love to see photos of him with a cat.

    I rather like this quote from Emily Brontë: ‘I can say with sincerity that I love cats; furthermore I am going to give very good reasons why those who hate them are wrong.’

    I love this poem, thank you Susannah!

  4. Wendy Taylor

    Susannah, at each of your wonderful monthly book presentations, there is a gorgeous tabby cat sitting contentedly up high (seemingly) above where Cheryl’s name is stated. What is its name? I’m sure it could relate lots of fascinating tales about the avid listeners she/he observes, who have logged onto the program and their reactions to your revelations of each author and book.

    • Hi Wendy, that is my gorgeous boy, Jake, when he was a kitten. If you have a close look at the box you’ll see what inspired his name. He and his sister, Layla, came to live with us about 8 years ago when we adopted from CatRescue 901 and they are just the tiniest bit spoilt. They both love books, often assisting me when I read, and they know how to spot a great literary lecture. Jake graciously allows me to use his picture as an avatar.

  5. Kay McGrath

    Cats are just great. They provide really nice daily companionship for us.
    During Zoom it is good to watch the photograph of Cheryl’s cat. A cute baby.
    TS Eliot also liked cats.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, TS Eliot loved cats. So did Mark Twain and many other fabulous authors. They provide great companionship, don’t they, especially during lockdown times.

    • Thank you, Kay. I’ll see if I can find a more recent photo of Jake to update it. He is 8 years old now and a very large cat with a magnificent tail, and a complete sweetheart.

  6. Heather Grant

    I’m with Cheryl…I too am a cat tragic. I have never read this poem and loved it. I also have T.S. Elliot’s book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats on my bookshelves along with Paul Gallicoe’s book The Silent Meow. I do find I gravitate more towards people who love cats. All our pussycats were rescued one way or another. Some just arrived at our home looking lost or dejected….obviously dumped. Or were rescued from the RSPCA.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am glad I have introduced you to a lovely new cat poem. I have two cats and adore them, and we’ve had some rescue cats in the past. Cheryl works with Cat Rescue and has done much for cats over the years.

    • Heather, also look for Paul Gallico’s book, Jennie. It’s a poignant beautiful book and one of my all-time favourite cat books. (I have a shelf of them!)

      • Heather Grant

        Oh, yes I read Jennie years ago and thought of it when I mentioned The Silent Meow. I must see if I can get a copy.

        I also have a book entitled Parisian Cats which I purchased at the Museum of Modern Art, Sydney, Bookshop Cats which I bought from the National Library, and Quake Cats by Craig Bullock who took photos and wrote small articles on the pussycats of Christchurch after the earthquake of 2013. He had to make a few trips to homes to photograph puss as many of them were traumatised by the earthquake. and refused to come out from under the bed – or wherever they were hiding. Some of the stories have happy endings, some not so happy. And a few years ago a very good friend of mine gave me a book entitled Why Cats Paint!!!

        Cheryl are there any other cat books you can recommend?

        • Hi Heather, I have a diverse collection of cat books. I’ve enjoyed the story of Dewey The Library Cat by Vicki Myron. I also treasure my fan-fiction, Chris Kelly’s Downton Tabby, and gorgeous picture books such as Pre-Rephaelite Cats by Susan Herbert and photography & quotes in Cattitude, The Feline Guide to being Fabulous by Kim Levin & Christine Montaguila. There’s craft books such as Tiny Hats on Cats by Adam Ellis, and not forgetting the supreme ruler of online cats – Simon’s Cat. I’ve had hours of enjoyment watching these videos.
          Oh, you’ve got me started now, I could go on and on …

  7. Valerie Weldrick

    A favourite cat poem of mine is War Cat, by Dorothy Sayers, written during WW2. It’s quite funny, and touching, about the problem of keeping the cat fed in such a difficult time. The text can be found online.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I never knew that Dorothy L. Sayers had written a poem about cats – thanks so much for letting me know. Did you know that she had a pig she named Francis Bacon, and two hens named for Jane Austen heroines, Elinor and Marianne. She mis-named them as Elinor was the flighty one and Marianne the staid and sensible one.

    • That’s another poem I hadn’t come across, Valerie. It is very touching and caused me to remember how the hardships of war don’t only affect people.

  8. I often have an argument with my friend that cats and dogs are very different pets. What do you think? this is what I say.

    A dog will jump all over you eagerly when you come home. A cat is glad to see you but more low key.

    A cat likes attention and stroking, bt if you stop he is just as contented to groom himself, or if someone else wants to stroke him, he is happy for that attention.

    A dog loves you every minute and doesn’t want to be any from you.

    Am I right? or Not?

    In Weber’s version of T.S. Eliot’s Cats, I love magical Mister Mistofeles. That melody goes round and round obsessively when you hear it.

    And someone made an observation that surprised me and I think it is right.

    If you listen closely to the song, Memory, it is Bolero.

    Ad why did the movie Cats gets such terrible reviews? I liked it.

    The poem chosen this time is lovely. I wish I could have heard you reading it, Susannah.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am glad you enjoyed the poem. I am probably more of a cat person than a dog person, but have had both in my life. I enjoyed your summary of the differences.
      I didn’t see the movie Cats.

  9. Teresa Savage

    Our family has a cat (Wallace – we did have Gromit as well, but he got run over) and a dog (Ronnie) and I adore them both. I love having my cat on my lap, while the dog isn’t allowed on the furniture. So he has a bed in almost every room – which the cat often steals!

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