Poetry in Poconos #2: "Macavity: The Mystery Cat"
Updated: Jan 23
The first thing that I ever checked out from a public library was a cassette tape of T.S. Eliot reading his own poetry, and it included today’s featured poem, “Macavity: The Mystery Cat.” And finding this poem was a complete accident!
When I was about 15 years old, I would do some baby-sitting for the neighbors to accrue a bit of spending money during the summers. And when I got about $25 saved, I’d take a hike to the Mall 205 to treat myself to a Metallica tape from Musicland and a chili dog and coke from Orange Julius. Mall 205 was about 3 miles from our apartment complex, and the path was familiar, because my school bus would drive up and down 122nd Ave all year round taking us kids back and forth to school. It was on this trek, that I found the Gateway Branch of the Multnomah County Public Library, I didn’t have a library card at this time, so I asked the librarian what I needed, and came back the following weekend to have my stepdad sign for me and get a library card. I was allowed to check out two items, and I didn’t quite know what to get. So I went to the music section, and picked up 2 cassette tapes. To be quite honest, I was a bit disappointed in the selection. There was a lot of classical and jazz, but not much metal or alternative. But they did have a spoken word section, so I chose The Wasteland and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot and a tape of Mozart’s major works from the classical section.
Eliot’s poetry fascinated me. I didn’t understand most of it, but I was intrigued by the tone and what was being said. It was as if Eliot had 20 people inside his head in a life or death struggle to be heard. I made a copy of it on my boombox, and kept it for quite a while. I still have some of my cassettes from the 80s and 90s, and I’ll have to check and see if my copy of The Wasteland and Other Poems is still among them.
“Macavity: The Mystery Cat” is one of the most memorable poems from the collection, and the book in which it was originally published Old Possum’s Book of Impractical Cats is available at our library. I highly recommend it.
Read the poem below, and click on the link to hear me read it: https://youtu.be/boK0sOj_2tQ
“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 thumbs; 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!
Funding has been provided by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the Corona Virus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.