In the world of The Lord of the Rings, ‘Cat’ was composed by the character Samwise Gamgee, best friend and travelling companion to Frodo Baggins. It was recorded in the Red Book of Westmarch, also known as the Red Book of Periannath one of a series of books that tells the stories of the great wars and journeys in Middle Earth.
Summary of Cat
The poem uses rhyme throughout the short lines that make up its stanzas in order to express a cat’s dreams. He does not dream as one might first think. There aren’t little mice and bowls of milk on his mind, rather the larger prey of another life. He thinks about living freely, like a lion. In his mind, he’s able to feast on all creatures, including people. He will, contrary to how it seems, never forget what it means to live freely.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Cat
‘Cat’ by J.R.R. Tolkien is a two stanza poem that is made up of one set of twelve lines and one of fifteen. They alternate, with the odd-numbered lines almost always slightly longer than the even-numbered lines. The stanzas also follow a rhyme scheme of ABCBDEFE, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza and line to line. There are also examples of internal rhyme in this poem. For instance, “nice mice” in line three of the first stanza and “proud” and “loud” in line seven of the first stanza.
This poem is often depicted as a concrete poem. Meaning, the lines are arranged in a way that benefits the meaning or emphasizes the content of the poem. In this case, they are arranged around a drawing of a cat’s back as it sleeps.
Poetic Techniques in Cat
Tolkien makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Cat’. These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, enjambment, and imagery. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “fleet” and “feet” in line six of the second stanza and “deep” and “den” in line ten of the first stanza.
Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but the imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. For example, the beginning of the second stanza where the speaker describes the cat and its dreams. It is like a “giant lion with iron / claw in paw, / and huge ruthless tooth / in gory jaw”.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines one, two, and three of the first stanza.
Analysis of Cat
The fat cat on the mat
may seem to dream
of nice mice that suffice
or deep in den
in the East feasted on beasts
and tender men.
In the first lines of ‘Cat’, the speaker begins by describing the cat in simple terms. He dreams as all cats do. But, the cat’s dreams are not what one might expect. It doesn’t dream of happily feasting on mice or cream. Instead, its thoughts are elsewhere. In another life, the cat is “free” to walk where he wants. He is “loud” and “proud” like the largest cats in the world.
Tolkien uses internal rhyme throughout these lines and those which follow to increase the rhythm and rhyme of the poem as a whole. Words like “slim” and “kin” rhyme, weaving together a very poetic collection of images. The dream-like nature of these images is also improved by the rhyme. They are only dreams, the cat is not really all that it imagines itself to be.
The giant lion with iron
claw in paw,
and huge ruthless tooth
but fat cat on the mat
kept as a pet,
he does not forget.
In the next stanza, which is a few lines longer than the first, there are more internal rhymes and an emphasis on the lion-like nature of the cat. This version of the cat is sleeping side him. He hunts, in his mind, just like a lion. He is as ruthless and powerful.
Despite the life this cat is actually living, he continues to remember where he comes from and that seems to give him some solace as he is kept as a pet. These lines are meant to illuminate the true nature of cats and encourage the reader to rethink how they consider all the creatures around them, especially those they take for granted and believe they understand.