‘The cat’s song‘ by Marge Piercy is a six stanza poem that is made up of sets of four lines or quatrains. These remain consistent throughout the piece until the last stanza, which contains only two lines, it may be referred to as a couplet.
The poem begins with the speaker, a male cat, describing the ownership he has over the body of his owner (and friend). He lays claim to it by moving his paws on her chest as if searching for his mother’s milk. Throughout this poem, the speaker imbues the cat with anthropomorphic thought. He has a reason behind most of the things he does, and those he doesn’t, are completed instinctually.
The poem continues with the cat beginning to list the wide variety of things that he would teach his owner if he could. He wants the two of them to go into the woods together and give him the chance to teach her how to hunt and blend in with the shadows. While this stanza was unifying and friendly, the next is more challenging. He insists that he is better than she is, due to his sheer power in physical activity. He is able to jump higher than she ever will.
The final lines suggest the cat’s purity of emotion. There is no grey area in which one might have to guess what a cat wants. Its actions and moments convey these things clearly.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of The cat’s song
Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.(…)milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.
‘The cat’s song‘ begins with the main character of the piece, the cat, voicing his thoughts regarding his owner and what he considers to be his property. Throughout this poem, the poet has crafted a superbly cat-like narrator who is brazen and blunt in his statements, questions, and interjections.
In the first line, the cast is laying claim to the body of his owner. He is reaching out with “his paw of darkness,” most likely referring either to colour of the cat’s fur, or the fact that it’s obscured by the dark room. He places his paw on the “chest” of his owner and states, “Mine.” The owner’s body is the cat’s to do with as it pleases. It is both his “slave” and “toy.” It is a surface on which to make the,
…gesture of drawing
milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.
Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.(…)Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.
In the second stanza, the cat speaker turns to directly address his owner. He is attempting to pass on the knowledge that only he is in possession of. He sees it as being valuable and notices its lack in his owner.
He wants to “walk in the woods” with his owner and be allowed to “teach” her how to,
read the tabloid of scents,
That covers the forest floor. The owner will develop the skills of a cat and be able to “fade into shadow” as the cat does, and know when to wait and when to hunt for prey. It is interesting to contrast the importance of these skills to the cat versus the value they would hold in normal human life.
For now, since it is impossible for this “walk” and lesson to take place, the cat will deliver the food to his owner. He will “lay” prey on the “mat.” He will present a different kind of gift to his owner.
You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,(…)Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?
In the third stanza, the speaker is trying to make sense of the power dynamic between the two. He sees himself as equal to his owner in their mutual attempts (successes and failures) to feed one another. He knows that the two of them are friends, but, he states, he also knows that he is “more equal than” the owner is. He is worth more due to his knowledge, physical prowess, and skills.
At this point in ‘The cat’s song‘, while considering the lines that have proceeded those in stanza three, it becomes hard not to draw a male/female comparison through this piece. It is quite easy to imagine these words, with slight variations, being spoken to a woman by a man.
The cat speaker expands on why he thinks he is greater than his owner. He knows that he can jump higher, run faster, and complete tasks that no human is capable of. These simple physical differences are what, in the cat’s mind, separate him from his less skillful owner.
Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.(…)walking round and round your bed and into your face.
The fourth stanza perfectly portrays the grace and blunt nature of a cat. These lines describe how the two interact in the morning. While the owner attempts a final few minutes of sleep the cat is ready to move on. He has emotions that are “pure as salt crystals.” They are perfectly defined, with no room for grey areas. There is no misunderstanding what a cat wants, and in this case, as he walks “round and round your bed” he wants his owner to get up.
Come I will teach you to dance as naturally(…)Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word
The last quatrain is filled with offerings from the cat. He tells his owner that if she would only listen to him, he would “teach” her how to,
…dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching…
He will also give to her his clear emotions and show her the way he is able to communicate solely through his paws, tail, and whiskers. His body is not emotionally confused, it clearly conveys what it wants. He can convey “Love…entire” through his body “of fur,” or fear, or greed.
of fur. I will teach you to be still as an eggand to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.
In the last two lines of ‘The cat’s song‘, the speaker concludes his previous thoughts. He offers the owner one last thing, the ability to,
Be still as an egg
And be able to “slip” through the grass like the “ghost of wind.” He is offering her the ability to move through life without making any mark on the surrounding world. No one needs to know she was ever even there.
About Marge Piercy
Marge Piercy was born in March of 1936 in Detroit, Michigan to a working-class family. As a young woman, Piercy studied at the University of Michigan where she was the first member of her close family to attend college. She eventually earned an MA from Northwestern University and throughout the 60s worked as an organizer of political movements. She was inclined with the Students for a Democratic Society and many groups affiliated with feminism, environmental policy, and anti-Vietnam War protests.
Throughout her life, Piercy has published approximately 20 novels, and 20 books of poetry. Much of her work focuses on social issues, written from a feminist position. One of her most popular works, He, She, and It, published in 1991 won the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
In regards to her poetic works, her volume, The Moon is Always Female is considered to be one of the classic texts of feminism. Her most recent collection came out in 2015 and was titled Made in Detroit.
She currently lives and works in Cape Cod, Massachusetts alongside her husband.