Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE KITTEN, by JOANNA BAILLIE



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THE KITTEN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Wanton droll, whose harmless play
Last Line: The place where poor old pussy lies.
Subject(s): Animals; Cats


WANTON droll, whose harmless play
Beguiles the rustics' closing day,
When, drawn the evening fire about,
Sit aged crone and thoughtless lout,
And child upon his three-foot stool,
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;
Come, show thy tricks and sportive graces,
Thus circled round with many faces.

Backward coiled and crouching low,
With glaring eye-balls watch thy foe,--
The housewife's spindle whirling round,
Or thread or straw, that on the ground
Its shadow throws, by urchin sly
Held out to lure thy roving eye;
Then onward stealing, fiercely spring
Upon the futile faithless thing.
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;
And see!--the start, the jet, the bound,
The giddy scamper round and round
With leap and toss and high curvet,
And many a whirling somerset.

The featest tumbler, stage bedight,
To thee is but a clumsy wight,
Who every limb and sinew strains
To do what costs thee little pains;
For which, I trow, the gaping crowd
Requite him oft with praises loud.
But, stopped a while thy wanton play,
Applauses too thy pains repay,
For now, beneath some urchin's hand
With modest pride thou tak'st thy stand,
While many a stroke of kindness glides
Along thy back and tabby sides.
Dilated swells thy glossy fur
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;
While softly from thy whiskered cheek
Thy half-closed eyes peer mild and meek.

But not alone by cottage fire
Do rustics rude thy feats admire.
Even he, whose mood of gloomy bent,
In lonely tower or prison pent,
Reviews the coil of former days,
And loathes the world and all its ways,
What time the lamp's unsteady gleam
Hath roused him from his moody dream,
Feels, as thou gambol'st round his seat,
His heart of pride less fiercely beat,
And smiles, a link in thee to find,
That joins it 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
And rapid movements, we descry--
Whilst we at ease, secure from ill,
The chimney corner sougly fill,--
A lion darting on its prey,
A tiger at his ruthless play?
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,
Who hath like thee our wits beguiled,
To dull and sober manhood grown,
With strange recoil our hearts disown.

And so, poor kit! must thou endure,
When thou becom'st a cat demure,
Full many a cull and angry word,
Chased roughly from the tempting board,
But yet, for that thou hast, I ween,
So oft our favoured playmate been,
Soft be the change which thou shalt prove,
When time hath spoiled thee of our love.
Still be thou deemed by housewife fat
A comely, careful, mousing cat,
Whose dish is, for the public good,
Replenished oft with savoury food.
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
The place where poor old pussy lies.





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