1 July 2018 Susannah

Poem of the Month, July 2018 – ‘Macavity: The Mystery Cat’

Macavity The Mystery Cat

Macavity: The Mystery Cat by T.S. Eliot

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

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.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square—
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair—
But it’s useless to investigate—Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
It must have been Macavity!’—but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumb;
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE !
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!


T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot in 1934

My poem this month is slightly longer than usual, but I can’t resist sharing this favourite. T.S. Eliot only wrote one book for younger readers, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939 (Eliot’s second wife nicknamed him Old Possum), and this poem remains the most famous from the collection. Eliot clearly had fun choosing the name of his villainous cat – it comes from the highwayman Macheath in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, and also from Arthur Conan Doyle’s villain Moriarty, described in the Sherlock Holmes canon as “a Napoleon of Crime”. And of course, the word ‘cavity’ implies a void – that place into which Macavity disappears.

The poem taps into a child’s love for a ‘baddie’, and of course those of us who love crime fiction also love a good literary villain. Macavity is the arch villain – he commits crimes that can be associated with a cat (stealing the milk, breaking a trellis, etc), but also manages other amazing feats – jewel thefts, and taking top secret admiralty plans. T.S. Eliot adored cats and knew their ways, and this knowledge comes through in the poem – the cat’s ability to rest and ignore what goes on around him, the movements and habits. We know Macavity must be a real villain of a cat if his whiskers are uncombed.

I love the catchy rhythms of this poem, which was made for reading aloud. I love the sheer fun he has with names like Mungojerrie, and the image of a cat doing long-division sums! Listen to T.S. Eliot himself read you this fabulous poem:

Macavity has had an interesting afterlife: he appears as the villain in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats; Macavity Awards are presented for mystery stories and novels; a Polish author, Maciej Wojtyszko, has written a series of books for children about a criminal mastermind called ‘Macavity the Cat’; and in the UK a cat who regularly took bus trips on his own was nicknamed Macavity by all the drivers whose buses he rode on for free.

Share your thoughts on this poem by leaving a comment.


  Poetry Foundation: T.S. Eliot

  Macavity the Mystery Cat Part 1 | Cats the Musical and Macavity the Mystery Cat Part 2 | Cats the Musical

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

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Featured image credit- Macavity The Mystery Cat, by Taymaz Valley, Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/taymazvalley/
Body image credit- Thomas Stearns Eliot, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7748785

Comments (10)

  1. Dave

    I first read this when I was 22 years old and have loved it ever since. I’m now in my 60’s and still mention it to cat lovers regularly. Surprisingly I have not met many who have ever heard of this or even T S Eliot but most have heard of the musical.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It is a fabulous poem, isn’t it. It’s sad that so few people read poetry today – my mission is to get them reading more!

  2. Gaby Meares

    On listening to this poem read aloud, you can easily understand why Lloyd Webber saw it’s musical potential.

  3. Lynne Bancroft

    I remember learning Macavity at primary school and just ‘loved it’ and delighted to have stumbled upon it again. Thank you regards Lynne Bancroft

    • Susannah Fullerton

      So glad that I took you on a nice trip down memory lane!

  4. Jami

    As an avid musical lover, I was first introduced to this poem via Cats the musical. It remains one of my favourite numbers! After reading this newsletter on Sunday I haven’t been able to get the musical rendition out of my head!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      So glad you enjoyed Macavity, even if the tune keeps going round in your head.

  5. Diana Paulin

    What a wonderful poem! I think a cat could do long division sums, especially one like Macavity. Have always loved T.S. Eliot’s work, and that is the first time I have seen a photo of him – undoubtedly the face of a poet.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, he always looks just the way a poet should look! I am sure my cat does long division sums as he lies curls up on the couch. I am a huge cat lover.

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