Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

November 11, 2007

A Selection of Kitten Verse by Oliver Herford

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Oliver Herford was born in Sheffield, England in 1863 and moved with his family to Chicago, Illinois when he was twelve, then onto Boston seven years later. After schooling back in England and then in Ohio, he moved to New York City with his wife Margaret Regan, where he became the writer, illustrator, and poet, known as the American Oscar Wilde.

Below is a selection of his kitten poems, accompanied by his illustrations for them. They are selected from The Kitten’s Garden of Verses (1911) and The Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten (1904). Each light “Rubayait” kitten verse is accompanied by Edward Fitzgerald‘s English translation of Omar Khayyám‘s Rubayait.

 
 

 
 

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Foreign Kittens
 
 
Kittens large and Kittens small,
Prowling on the Back Yard Wall,
Though your fur be rough and few,
I should like to play with you.
Though you roam the dangerous street,
And have curious things to eat,
Though you sleep in barn or loft,
With no cushions warm and soft,
Though you have to stay out-doors
When it’s cold or when it pours,
Though your fur is all askew–
How I’d like to play with you!

 
 

 
 

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In Darkest Africa
 
 
At evening when the lamp is lit,
        The tired Human People sit
And doze, or turn with solemn looks
        The speckled pages of their books.

Then I, the Dangerous Kitten, prowl
        And in the Shadows softly growl,
And roam about the farthest floor
        Where Kitten never trod before.

And, crouching in the jungle damp,
        I watch the Human Hunter’s camp,
Ready to spring with fearful roar
        As soon as I shall hear them snore.

And then with stealthy tread I crawl
        Into the dark and trackless hall,
Where ‘neath the Hat-tree’s shadows deep
        Umbrellas fold their wings and sleep.

A cuckoo calls—and to their dens
        The People climb like frightened hens,
And I’m alone—and no one cares
        In Darkest Africa—down stairs.

 
 

 
 

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I sometimes think the Pussy-Willows grey
Are Angel Kittens who have lost their way,
And every Bulrush on the river bank
A Cat-Tail from some lovely Cat astray.

 
Quatrain from original Rubaiyat

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head.

 
 

 
 

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Strange—is it not?—that of the numbers who
Before me passed this Door of Darkness thro’,
Not one returns thro’ it again, altho’
Ofttimes I’ve waited for an hour or two.

 
Quatrain from original Rubaiyat

Strange, is it not? That of the myriads who
Before us pass’d the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover me must travel too.

 
 

 
 

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‘Tis but a Tent where takes his one Night’s Rest
A Rodent to the Realms of Death address’d
When Cook, arising, looks for him and then—
Baits, and prepares it for another Guest.

 
Quatrain from original Rubaiyat

‘Tis but a Tent where takes his one day’s rest
A Sultan to the realm of Death addrest;
The Sultan rises, and the dark Ferrash
Strikes, and prepares it for another Guest.

 
 

 
 

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A moment’s Halt, a momentary Taste
Of Bitter, and amid the Trickling Waste
I wrought strange shapes from Mah to Mahi, yet
I know not what I wrote, nor why they chased.

 
Quatrain from original Rubaiyat

A Moment’s Halt—a momentary taste
Of Being from the Well amid the Waste—
And Lo!—the phantom Caravan has reach’d
The NOTHING it set out from—Oh, make haste!

 
 

 
 

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And fear not lest Existence shut the Door
On You and Me, to open it no more.
The Cream of Life from out your Bowl shall pour
Nine times—ere it lie broken on the floor.

 
Quatrain from original Rubaiyat

And fear not lest Existence closing your
Account, and mine, should know the like no more;
The Eternal Saki from that Bowl has pour’d
Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour.

 
 

 
 

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8 Comments »

  1. i am in love with the pussywillow illustration! And the verse is perfect!

    I sometimes think the Pussy-Willows grey
    Are Angel Kittens who have lost their way,
    And every Bulrush on the river bank
    A Cat-Tail from some lovely Cat astray.

    Comment by catnapping — November 14, 2007 @ 11:37 pm

  2. what adorable pictures! The poems are great fun!

    Comment by Crafty Green Poet — January 15, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

  3. I love the poem IN THR DARKEST OF AFRICA…….it reminds me so of what must really being going through a cat’s head!!! LOL the best poem 4 every cat lover!

    Comment by KatLover — January 19, 2008 @ 2:53 am

  4. not good poems

    Comment by megan — June 27, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

  5. […] Rysunek: Oliver Herford […]

    Pingback by Wierzbowe gałązki « Flowers & Ladies — March 30, 2010 @ 7:19 pm

  6. i love u ………. u are toooooo god i love my cats i have 16 cats and i love them alll they does the same activities

    Comment by mariumhammad — April 13, 2010 @ 2:26 pm


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