Saturday, June 13, 2009

Growltiger’s Last Stand

Of all the arts its poetry that interests me the least. The BBC's Radio 3 is currently having a poetry season which to be honest has left me cold.

However there are exceptions to this rule, of which T.S. Eliot's cat poems are good examples. And as Carol Anne pointed out, one of them even has Thames and nautical themes, namely Growltiger's last stand.

So here it is:

Growltiger was a Bravo Cat, who travelled on a barge:
In fact he was the roughest cat that ever roamed at large.
From Gravesend up to Oxford he pursued his evil aims,
Rejoicing in his title of ‘The Terror of the Thames’.

His manner and appearance did not calculate to please;
His coat was torn and seedy, he was baggy at the knees;
One ear was somewhat missing, no need to tell you why,
And he scowled upon a hostile world from one forbidding eye.

The cottagers of Rotherhithe knew something of his fame;
At Hammersmith and Putney people shuddered at his name.
They would fortify the hen-house, lock up the silly goose,
When the rumour ran along the shore: Growltiger’s on the loose!

Woe to the weak canary, that fluttered from its cage;
Woe to the pampered Pekinese, that faced Growltiger’s rage;
Woe to the bristly Bandicoot, that lurks on foreign ships,
And woe to any Cat with whom Growltiger came to grips!

But most to Cats of foreign race his hatred had been vowed;
To Cats of foreign name and race no quarter was allowed.
The Persian and the Siamese regarded him with fear —
Because it was a Siamese that had mauled his missing ear.

Now on a peaceful summer night, all nature seemed at play,
The tender moon was shining bright, the barge at Molesey lay.
All in the balmy moonlight it lay rocking on the tide —
And Growltiger was disposed to show his sentimental side.

His bucko mate, Grumbuskin, long since had disappeared,
For to the Bell at Hampton he had gone to wet his beard;
And his bosun, Tumblebrutus, he too had stol’n away —
In the yard behind the Lion he was prowling for his prey.

In the forepeak of the vessel Growltiger stood alone,
Concentrating his attention on the Lady Griddlebone.
And his raffish crew was sleeping in their barrels and their bunks —
As the Siamese came creeping in their sampans and their junks.

Growltiger had no eye or ear for aught but Griddlebone,
And the Lady seemed enraptured by his manly baritone,
Disposed to relaxation, and awaiting no surprise —
But the moonlight shone reflected from a hundred bright blue eyes.

And closer still and closer the sampans circled round,
And yet from all the enemy there was not heard a sound.
The lovers sang their last duet, in danger of their lives —
For the foe was armed with toasting forks and cruel carving knives.

Then Gilbert gave the signal to his fierce Mongolian horde;
With a frightful burst of fireworks the Chinks they swarmed aboard.
Abandoning their sampans, their pullaways and junks,
They battened down the hatches on the crew within their bunks.

Then Griddlebone she gave a screech, for she was badly skeered;
I am sorry to admit it, but she quickly disappeared.
She probably escaped with ease, I’m sure she was not drowned —
But a serried ring of flashing steel Growltiger did surround.

The ruthless foe pressed forward, in stubborn rank on rank;
Growltiger to his vast surprise was forced to walk the plank.
He who a hundred victims had driven to that drop,
At the end of all his crimes was forced to go ker-flip, ker-flop.

Oh there was joy in Wapping when the news flew through the land;
At Maidenhead and Henley there was dancing on the strand.
Rats were roasted whole in Brentford, and at Victoria Dock,
And a day of celebration was commanded in Bangkok.


Carol Anne said...

T.S. Eliot is probably my favorite poet. I once wrote a term paper analising "Rhapsody on a Windy Night", which Andrew Lloyd Weber adapted very well into the song "Memory".

I found all of the place names in "Growltiger's Last Stand" fun, because the year I lived in England, I was in Didcot and went to school in Wallingford (on the Thames), and the school always had a crew in the Henley regatta, and my dad's boss (whose name was, appropriately, Rowe) had, in his spare time, invented a new-and-improved way of rigging oars on racing sculls, and on weekends and holidays, my boyfriend and I would go on drives all over that part of the country seeing things. He had just gotten his driving licence, and he liked having an excuse to go places -- must show the American all of the sights!

I remember being caught in a downpour in Fairford and being unable to decipher the accent of an old farmer who took shelter in the same doorway we did; seeing lots of extremely grand old houses (sometimes we were with his parents, and his Mum was especially fond of extremely grand old houses); lunch at a pub in Greenwich where the venison sausages were especially great; Stonehenge, three times (the best of which was a chilly, rainy day when the tourists mostly remained huddled in their motor-coaches); and probably my favorite, although I can't figure out why, Winchester Cathedral. Maybe the Magna Carta was putting out vibes.

I wonder, if the barge races come back, will they have Rowe rigging? Or will the class rules forbid anything invented after the 18th century?

JP said...

Cool, a year in merry old England :)

Lots of lovely posh National Trust like houses up the Thames valley

I love Stonehenge and remember a long time ago how you could walk around the stones.

Now adays tourists are kept well away, though there are plans to improve the site my moving one of the roads.

Carol Anne said...

Yes, back when I was there, visitors could walk among the stones. It was awesome, especially on that very rainy day when only a very few people chose to get out of their cars and motor coaches.

I suppose Stonehenge is one of those places that is being loved to death -- the sheer numbers of visitors mean that people have to be fenced out, and therefore nobody can get the full experience anymore.

Yes, the boyfriend's Mum was a heavy-duty member and supporter of the National Trust. One thing I admire about the British is the value placed on preserving the past; whether it's a 10-year-old car, or a 100-year-old railroad locomotive, or a 400-year-old castle, if it's still got life in it, it should not be thrown out. Americans don't seem to have that sort of thrift, except for a very few people who tend to be regarded as eccentrics.