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THE RETIRED CAT.
A Poet's cat, sedate and grave
As poet well could wish to have,
Was much addicted to inquire
For nooks to which she might retire,
And where, secure as mouse in chink,
She might repose, or sit and think.
I know not where she caught the trick,—
Nature perhaps herself had cast her
In such a mould Philosophique,
Or else she learned it of her master.
Sometimes ascending, debonnair,
An apple-tree, or lofty pear,
Lodged with convenience in the fork,
She watched the gardener at his work;
Sometimes her ease and solace sought
In an old empty watering-pot,
There wanting nothing, save a fan,
To seem some nymph in her sedan
Apparelled in exactest sort,
And ready to be borne to court.
But love of change it seems has place Not only in our wiser race, Cats also fee' ns well as we, That passion's, force, and so did she. Her climbing, she began to find, Exposed her too much to the wind, And the old utensil of tin Was cold and comfortless within: She therefore wished instead of those Some place of more serene repose, Where neither cold might come, nor air Too rudely wanton with her hair, And sought it in the likeliest mode Within her master's snug abode.
A drawer, it chanced, at bottom lined With linen of the softest kind, With such as merchants introduce From India, for the ladies' use, A drawer impending o'er the rest, Half-open in the topmost chest, Of depth enough, and none to spare, Invited her to slumber there; Puss with delight beyond expression Surveyed the scene and took possessionRecumbent at her ease ere long, And lulled by her own humdrum song, She left the cares of life behind, And slept as she would sleep her last,
When in came, housewifely inclined,
The chambermaid, and shut it fast,
By no malignity impelled,
But all unconscious whom it held.
Awakened by the shock, cried Puss,
"Was ever cat attended thus!
The open drawer was left, I see,
Merely to prove a nest for me,
For soon as I was well composed
Then came the maid, and it was closed.
How smooth these 'kerchiefs and how sweet!
Oh what a delicate retreat!
I will resign myself to rest
Till Sol declining in the west
Shall call to supper, when, no doubt,
Susan will come and let me out."
The evening came, the sun descended, And puss remained still unattended. The night rolled tardily away, (With her indeed 'twas never day;) The sprightly morn her course renewed, The evening gray again ensued, And puss came into mind no more Than if entombed the day before. With hunger pinched, and pinched for room, She now presaged approaching doom, Nor slept a single wink or purred, Conscious of jeopardy incurred.
That night, by chance, the poet watching, Heard an inexplicable scratching; His noble heart went pit-a-pat, And to himself he said—"What's that?" He drew the curtain at his side, And forth he peeped, but nothing spied; Yet, by his ear directed, guessed Something imprisoned in the chest, And, doubtful what, with prudent care Resolved it should continue there. At length, a voice which well he knew, A long and melancholy mew, Saluting his poetic ears, Consoled him, and dispelled his fears; He left his bed, he trod the floor, He 'gan in haste the drawers explore, The lowest first, and without stop The rest in order to the top; For 'tis a truth well known to most That whatsoever thing is lost, We seek it, ere it come to light, In every cranny but the right. Forth skipped the cat, not now replete As erst with airy self-conceit,
Nor in her own fond apprehension
A theme for all the world's attention,
liut modest, sober, cured of all
Her notions hyperbolical,
And wishing for a place of rest
Anything rather than a chest.
Then stepped the poet into bed
With this reflection in his head:
Beware of too sublime a sense
Of your own worth and consequence.
The man who dreams himself so great,
And his importance of such weight,
That all around in all that's done
Must move and act for Him alone,
Will learn in school of tribulation
The folly of his expectation.
Survivor sole, and hardly such, of all
That once lived here, thy brethren, at my birth,
(Since which I number threescore winters past,)
A shattered veteran, hollow-trunked perhaps,
As now, and with excoriate forks deform,
Relics of ages! Could a mind, imbued
With truth from heaven, created thing adore,
I might with reverence kneel, and worship thee.
It seems idolatry, with some excuse,
When our forefather Druids in their oaks
Imagined sanctity. The conscience, yet
Unpurified by an authentic act
Of amnesty, the meed of blood divine,
Loved not the light, but, gloomy, into gloom
Of thickest shades, like Adam after taste
Of fruit proscribed, as to a refuge, fled.
Thou wast a bauble once ; a cup and ball,
Which babes might play with ; and the thievish jay,
Seeking her food, with ease might have purloined
The auburn nut that held thee, swallowing down
Thy yet close-folded latitude of boughs
And all thine embryo vastness at a gulp.
But Fate thy growth decreed; autumnal rains
Beneath thy parent tree mellowed the soil,
Designed thy cradle; and a skipping deer,
With pointed hoof dibbling the glebe, prepared
The soft receptacle, in which, secure,
Thy rudiments should sleep the winter through.
So Fancy dreams. Disprove it, if ye can,
Ye reasoners broad awake, whose busy search
Of argument, employed too oft amiss,
Sifts half the pleasures of short life away!
Thou fell'st mature; and in the loamy clod
Swelling with vegetative force instinct
Did burst thine egg, as theirs the fabled Twins,
Now stars; two lobes, protruding, paired exact;
A leaf succeeded, and another leaf,
And, all the elements thy puny growth
Fostering propitious, thou becamest a twig.
Who lived when thou wast such? Oh, couldst thou speak
As in Dodona once thy kindred trees
Oracular, I would not curious ask
The future, best unknown, but at thy mouth
Inquisitive, the less ambiguous past.
By thee I might correct, erroneous oft,
The clock of history, facts and events
Timing more punctual, unrecorded facts
Recovering, and misstated setting right —
Desperate attempt, till trees shall speak again!
Time made thee what thou wast, king of the woods;
And Time hath made thee what thou art—a cave
For owls to roost in. Once thy spreading boughs
O'erhung the champaign; and the numerous flocks,
That grazed it, stood beneath that ample cope
Uncrowded, yet safe-sheltered from the storm.
No flock frequents thee now. Thou hast outlived
Thy popularity, and art become
(Unless verse rescue thee awhile) a thing
Forgotten, as the foliage of thy youth.
While thus through all the stages thou hast pushed
Of treeship—first a seedling, hid in grass;
Then twig; then sapling; and, as century rolled
Slow after century, a giant-bulk
Of girth enormous, with moss-cushioned root
Upheaved above the soil, and sides embossed
With prominent wens globose,—till at the last
The rottenness, which time is charged to inflict
On other mighty ones, found also thee.
What exhibitions various hath the world
Witnessed of mutability in all
That we account most durable below!
Change is the diet on which all subsist,
Created changeable, and change at last
Destroys them. Skies uncertain now the heat
Transmitting cloudless, and the solar beam
Now quenching in a boundless sea of clouds,—
Calm and alternate storm, moisture and drought,
Invigorate by turns the springs of life
In all that live, plant, animal, and man,
And in conclusion mar them. Nature's threads,
Fine passing thought, e'en in her coarsest works,
Delight in agitation, yet sustain, •
The force, that agitates, not unimpaired;
But, worn by frequent impulse, to the cause
Of their best tone their dissolution owe.
Thought cannot spend itself, comparing still
The great and little of thy lot, thy growth
From almost nullity into a state
Of matchless grandeur, and declension thence,
Slow, into such magnificent decay.
Time was, when, settling on thy leaf, a fly
Could shake thee to the root—and time has been
When tempests could not. At thy firmest age
Thou hadst within thy bole solid contents,
That might have ribbed the sides and planked the de-:k
Of some flagged admiral; and tortuous arms,
The shipwright's darling treasure, didst present
To the four-quartered winds, robust and bold,
Warped into tough knee-timber,1 many a load!
But the axe spared thee. In those thriftier days
Oaks fell not, hewn by thousands, to supply
The bottomless demands of contest, waged
For senatorial honours. Thus to Time
The task was left to whittle thee away
With his sly scythe, whose ever-nibbling edge,
Noiseless, an atom and an atom more
Disjoining from the rest, has, unobserved,
Achieved a labour, which had far and wide,
By man performed, made all the forest ring.
Embowelled now, and of thy ancient self
Possessing nought but the scooped rind, that seem
An huge throat, calling to the clouds for drink,
Which it would give in rivulets to thy root,
Thou temptest none, but rather much forbidd'st
The feller's toil, which thou couldst ill requite.
Yet is thy root sincere, sound as the rock,
A quarry of stout spurs, and knotted fangs,
Which, crooked into a thousand whimsies, clasp
The stubborn soil, and hold thee still erect.
So stands a kingdom, whose foundation yet
Fails not, in virtue and in wisdom laid,
Though all the superstructure, by the tooth
Pulverised of venality, a shell
Stands now, and semblance only of itself!
Thine arms have left thee. Winds have rent them off
Long since, and rovers of the forest wild
With bow and shaft, have burnt them. Some have left
A splintered stump, bleached to a snowy white;
And some, memorial none, where once they grew.
1 Knee-timber is found in the crooked arms of oak, which, by reason of theii distortion, are easily adjusted to the angle formed where the deck and the ship's sides meet.