A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Cat Classics in Print: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939)

Cat Classics in Print

Today’s Cat Classic in Print is T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which we think should be in every cat person’s library. This Book of Practical Cats, first published in 1939, is a slim collection of 15 bits of whimsical verse, each of which begs to be read aloud. These poems are also the basis for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats.
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, 1982 ed.

Eliot (1888–1965) began writing the cat poems in 1934–35 as gifts for children, including his godchildren. He had many cats during his lifetime, and it’s obvious from the names he gave them that he was a cat person. Only a true cat lover would give a cat such a memorable name as George Pushdragon or Jellylorum. Speaking of names, the “Old Possum” of the book’s title is Eliot himself. He was given this nickname by fellow poet Ezra Pound, and he signed many drafts of his cat poems with some variation of it.

Speaking of names again, this book begins with the poem that happens to be our favorite, “The Naming of Cats.” In this rhyme. Eliot posits that cats have, in fact, three names: a “sensible, everyday” name (Victor or Augustus, for example), a “more dignified” name (Munkustrap, Bombalurina), and the name that “the cat himself knows, and will never confess” (obviously I can’t give you an example!). This poem also answers that question all cat people ask: What do cats think about when they just sit there and stare? Eliot says,

T. S. Eliot in 1934.
T. S. Eliot, 1934.
Photo by Thomas Stearns Eliot.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
   The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
    Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name.

Other favorites are “The Rum Tum Tugger” (“When you let him in, then he wants to be out; / He’s always on the wrong side of every door”), “Macavity: The Mystery Cat” (“he’s called the Hidden Paw—For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law”), and “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat” (“You are bound to admit that it’s very nice / To know that you won’t be bothered by mice”).

Besides cats, of course, the main thing these poems have in common is the sheer fun they have with the English language. This is always one of our favorite things; after all, what’s the good of language if you can’t play around with it? These verses are the sort of thing we can return to on a dreary day when there doesn’t seem to be any fun to be had. Just read about a practical cat or two, and the day instantly looks brighter.

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, original cover illustrated by T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot's illustrated cover for the
1939 edition.
Via Wikimedia Commons.
And now let’s talk about illustrations. We have a copy of the 1982 edition with illustrations by Edward Gorey. There is also a newer edition (most recently published in 2012 by Faber) with illustrations by Axel Scheffler. We enjoy Gorey’s work, so we admit to being partial, but we recommend that edition for the delight to be had by simply browsing through the illustrations (unless you don’t like Gorey illustrations, in which case, what’s wrong with you?).

Talking a little further about illustrations, Eliot himself illustrated the cover of the first edition, which depicts a man helping cats get up a ladder.

Our verdict

I think I already said that Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats belongs in every cat person’s library, but I thought it was worth repeating. This is a delightful book that is not about cats that mostly take naps. These cats have occupations (which is what makes them “practical”), and while it’s nice to read about the cat who is a steady, quiet companion, sometimes it’s more fun to read about cats doing things, living active lives. We also enjoy seeing a writer of serious, Nobel Prize–winning verse doing something lighter, something purely joyful.

So, if you have never read this book, read it!

Two Paws Up! A Great Read!

A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good read; two paws is for a great read. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!

The link below is an Amazon Associates link. If you purchase the book through this link, old SoLT and I could get some coin for our kibble account. Thank you!


Sutherland, John. (2016). “An Introduction to Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Discovering Literature: 20th Century. British Library. https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature/articles/an-introduction-to-old-possums-book-of-practical-cats

“Cats.” AndrewLloydWebber.com. https://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/show/cats/


  1. I have had this book for many years and still love it. I also went to London to see the musical. When we first sat down we were grumbling to each other because we had paid for good tickets and were looking at the back of the stage. We didn't realise that it turned around and we did in fact have 2 of the very best seats!

  2. I'll have to pick a few copies up for myself and my kids/grandkids.

  3. We bought an older copy of this about a year ago and were thrilled by it. The illustrations are just great, as is the text. A book to re-read for sure.

  4. *head hanging*
    I've never read it! Guess I'd better do DO IT!

    1. I just put a copy on hold for me at the public library!

  5. I have that book. And I saw Cats on Broadway before it closed. :)

  6. guyz...de food servizz gurlz mom haz de book, de videe oh, N haz seen de mewsical
    we knead ta tell de food servizz gurl ta get de book frum her ! ☺☺♥♥

  7. This sounds like such a fun book! I love the thing about the cat's having their own secret names. Now that would be fun to ponder what your cat's might be!

  8. I loved this book! I've been fortunate to see Cats twice, once in Montreal and again right here in Burlington. Memory is one of my all-time favorite songs.

  9. I've never seen the musical or heard of this book! I must check it out! One can't go wrong with a clowder of cat stories!