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Ode on the death of a favorite cat by Thomas Gray | Poets.org

Ode on the death of a favorite cat
by Thomas Gray

Twas on a lofty vase's side,

Where China's gayest art had dyed

The azure flowers that blow;

Demurest of the tabby kind,

The pensive Selima, reclined,

Gazed on the lake below.

 

Her conscious tail her joy declared;

The fair round face, the snowy beard,

The velvet of her paws,

Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,

Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,

She saw; and purred applause.

 

Still had she gazed; but 'midst the tide

Two angel forms were seen to glide,

The genii of the stream:

Their scaly armor's Tyrian hue

Through richest purple to the view

Betrayed a golden gleam.

 

The hapless nymph with wonder saw:

A whisker first and then a claw,

With many an ardent wish,

She stretched in vain to reach the prize.

What female heart can gold despise?

What cat's averse to fish?

 

Presumptuous maid! with looks intent

Again she stretched, again she bent,

Nor knew the gulf between.

(Malignant Fate sat by and smiled)

The slippery verge her feet beguiled,

She tumbled headlong in.

 

Eight times emerging from the flood

She mewed to every watery god,

Some speedy aid to send.

No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;

Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard;

A favorite has no friend!

 

From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,

Know, one false step is ne'er retrieved,

And be with caution bold.

Not all that tempts your wandering eyes

And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;

Nor all that glisters, gold.

 

About This Poem

Thomas Gray wrote this poem to commemorate a beloved cat, owned by friend and fellow writer Horace Walpole. This cat, Selima, drowned while trying to catch goldfish. Walpole was so pleased with this elegy that he had the first stanza engraved on a Chinese vase.

 

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