T.S. Eliot

The Song of the Jellicles by T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Song of the Jellicles’ features the characteristics and nature of the Jellicle Cats, made famous by the musical adaptation, Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

‘The Song of the Jellicles’ is a light verse poem with an amusing representation of the feline figures known as “Jellicle Cats.” This poem was first published in Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). Eliot first mentioned the Jellicles in his poem ‘Five Finger Exercises’ (1933), and later developed the character in the Jellicles’ song. The name “Jellicles” originates from the poet’s unpublished piece, ‘Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats,’ where “Jellicle cats” means “dear little cats.” In 1981, English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber further developed the character of Jellicles in his musical adaptation of Eliot’s light verse book, Cats.


Summary

‘The Song of the Jellicles’ by T. S. Eliot is a humorous poem about the Jellicle Cats, who go to the Jellicle Ball when the Jellicle Moon shines bright at night.

This light verse piece is about the fictional feline character named Jellicle Cats. The cats are black and white in color and are moderate in size. They are adept in several dance moves, such as gavotte, jig, caper, etc. Throughout the day, they practice their “airs and graces” in order to prepare for the Jellicle Ball. When the Jellicle Moon shines bright, the Jellicle Ball takes place. Besides, they showcase several peculiarities of the nobility. For instance, they make their toilette and take their repose until the Jellicle Moon appears.

You can read the full poem here or listen to T. S. Eliot reading the poem.

Detailed Analysis

Prologue

             Jellicle Cats come out to-night

             Jellicle Cats come one come all:

             The Jellicle Moon is shining bright—

             Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.

In the prologue to the ‘The Song of the Jellicles,’ the speaker Old Possum, the nickname given to Eliot by Ezra Pound, introduces the funny Jellicle Cats. Like any other feline species, they come out at night, especially when the Jellicle Moon rises in the sky. From the introduction to this musical piece, it seems the Jellicles live in a different world than ours. When the Jellicle Moon shines bright, they come out and go to the Jellicle Ball. Through these lines, readers can assume that the cats are like the people of the noble class. They come out at night and go to balls. In the first half of the 20th-century, the nobility went to such balls and stayed out enjoying the night.

Stanza One

Jellicle Cats are black and white,

Jellicle Cats are rather small;

(…)

They like to practise their airs and graces

And wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise.

The first stanza points out the features of the Jellicles. They are small in size and black and white in color. Regarding their nature, they are always happy and look bright. It is quite interesting to know, unlike any other cats, they don’t sound disturbing when they caterwaul. Besides, they have cheerful faces and bright black eyes. According to the speaker, the Jellicles are good dancers. They invest a great deal of time in practicing their airs and graces in order to prepare for the Jellicle Ball that is held every night when the Jellicle Moon rises.

Stanza Two

Jellicle Cats develop slowly,

Jellicle Cats are not too big;

(…)

Jellicle Cats wash behind their ears,

Jellicle dry between their toes.

In the first four lines, the speaker further elaborates on their features. They showcase a number of characteristics of human beings. According to the speaker, they develop slowly and do not grow too big. They are roly-poly, meaning round and fluffy. Alongside that, they know their art quite well: “They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig.” Gavotte is a medium-paced French dance that was popular in the 18th century. The “jig” is another lively dance form with frequent leaping movements. Though they are “roly-poly,” they can jig well.

Before the Jellicle Moon appears at night, they make their toilette and rest. They need to store their energy for the main event. No cat wants to look tired at the ball. Besides, they wash behind their ears and dry between their toes. In this way, they prepare themselves for the Jellicle Ball.

Stanza Three

Jellicle Cats are white and black,

Jellicle Cats are of moderate size;

(…)

Reserving their terpsichorean powers

To dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.

The first two lines of this stanza are used as a refrain. These lines are repeated with slight modifications in the first and last stanzas. In the following lines, the speaker describes how the Jellicles jump like a jumping-jack. They have moonlit (bright) black eyes. Throughout the morning and afternoon, they stay quiet and repose to save their “terpsichorean powers” to dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon at night.

In the fifth and sixth lines, Eliot uses anaphora. In the seventh line, “terpsichorean” means something related to dancing. After reading these lines, readers can understand that the Jellicles are calm by nature. They have no business in other affairs except dancing at the ball. Jellicles are much concerned about the event. Thus, they sleep throughout the morning and afternoon to store their energy.

Stanza Four

Jellicle Cats are black and white,

Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;

(…)

They are resting and saving themselves to be right

For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.

The last stanza of ‘The Song of the Jellicles’ begins similarly to the previous one. In the second line, the speaker uses an aside, “I said,” in order to emphasize his point. Furthermore, he describes what the cats do if there happens to be a stormy night and the Jellicle Moon does not appear. During such nights, they don’t feel sad. Rather, they keep practicing. They practice a caper or two in the hall. Caper means to skip and dance in a playful and lively manner.

During the daytime, if the sun shines bright, Jellicles have nothing to do. If they practice, they would be tired for the night. That’s why they rest in the day to save themselves to be right for the Jellicle Ball. In this way, Old Possum concludes the song after featuring the important attributes of the Jellicles.

Structure and Form

‘The Song of the Jellicles’ begins with a four-line prologue. The song comprises four stanzas having eight lines each. Each stanza comprises two quatrains or four-line stanzas, grouped together into a single one. There is a fixed rhyming pattern in the poem. The first and third lines, the second and fourth lines, the fifth and seventh lines, and the sixth and eighth lines of a stanza end with a similar rhyme respectively. It makes up the ABABCDCD rhyme scheme. There is only one exception in the rhyming pattern. It occurs in the last stanza. This stanza is written in the ABABABAB rhyme scheme.

Literary Devices

In Eliot’s ‘The Song of the Jellicles,’ readers coke across the following literary devices:

  • Anaphora: It is one of the important poetic devices that is used in the poem. It occurs in the first three lines and lines fifth and sixth of the first stanza. These lines begin with the phrase, “Jellicle Cats.”
  • Personification: This poem is about an anthropomorphic cat, Jellicles. The cats showcase the attributes of the noble class, as well as, their classy peculiarities, such as going to the ball, dancing, etc.
  • Repetition: In light verse poetry, one of the important poetic techniques is repetition. Eliot uses this device in several instances. For example, the name of the cat is repeated throughout the poem.
  • Simile: It occurs in the line “Jellicle Cats jump like a jumping jack.”
  • Alliteration: This device is used in the following phrases: “Cats come out,” “bright black eyes,” “toilette and take,” “jump like a jumping-jack,” etc.


FAQs

What is the poem ‘The Song of the Jellicles’ about?

T. S. Eliot’s light verse poem ‘The Song of the Jellicles,’ first published in his children’s book of poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), is about the Jellicle Cats. They are nocturnal, black and white, small, and fluffy anthropomorphic cats, who go to the Jellicle Ball when the Jellicle Moon shines bright at night.

What is the meaning of “Jellicle” in ‘The Song of the Jellicles’?

The term “Jellicle” was coined by T. S. Eliot in his unpublished piece of poetry, ‘Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats.’ “Jellicle” is used to refer to “dear little cats.” Eliot developed the character of Jellicle Cats in the poems ‘Five-Finger Exercises’ and ‘The Song of the Jellicles’ from his light poetry book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

What is a Jellicle cat from the musical Cats?

In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical adaptation of Eliot’s light verse book of poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a Jellicle cat is a small anthropomorphic feline with different sets of personal traits. They wear different types of coats and possess individual talents.

Is “Jellicle” a real word?

“Jellicle” is not a real word. It was first coined by T. S. Eliot. He used the term to describe a fictional feline species in his poem ‘Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats.’ He adorably named the small, human-like cats “Jellicles.”

What are some important features of Jellicle Cats mentioned in ‘The Song of the Jellicles’?

In this poem, Eliot describes a number of features of the Jellicles. According to him, the Jellicle Cats are small in size, black and white in color, and cheerful in nature. They are nocturnal cats and only come out when the Jellicle Moon shines bright at night in order to go to the Jellicle Ball.


Similar Poetry

Readers who liked Eliot’s light verse piece ‘The Song of the Jellicles,’ may also find the following poems amusing. You can also read other T. S. Eliot poems.

You can also explore these short and funny poems for kids or the best poems of T. S. Eliot.

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A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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