Purfect Prose: An Appreciation of Kitty Litterature


From the Archive

From the cover of issue no. 136 (Fall 1995) of The Paris Review.


It has been said, erroneously, that poets are cat people, novelists dog people. In fact, lots of novelists are into cats. Hilary Mantel included a photo of her cat in her Art of Fiction interview. So did Ali SmithHemingway’s home is famous for its clowder of six-toed cats; Capote, Chandler, and Kerouac all kept the five-toed variety.

We’re not going to deny the special connection between felines and poets. That would be ridiculous. Think of poor crazy Christopher Smart celebrating his cat Geoffrey; or cat-obsessed Charles Baudelaire (who loathed dogs); or the creator of Magical Mister Mistoffelees, T. S. Eliot, who treated the superiority of cats as a given, at least in his Art of Poetry interview: “of course dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.”

But, in honor of International Cat Day, we bring you one of the first essays we ever published: “Cats,” by Pati Hill:

A cat lying on a stone is not thinking of another cat lying on a radiator and a cat licking himself in a patch of sun on a winter’s day is inclined to feel cheerful about it. If he finds an old piece of fat fallen into a crack in the pavement he thinks it is all to the good and it tastes better to him than liver twice a day. A cat does not look forward or backward or worry about his sins the way we do. I would not like to be a cat I don’t suppose because I’m used to my miseries and I would feel lost without them, but to a cat the best of our lives would probably be an utter tragedy.