TS Eliot died fifty-two years ago today, and I could mark the occasion by measuring out the day in coffee spoons, or I could have organized a table reading of Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral. I could brush up on my understanding of what exactly makes a poem modernist, or maybe watch that scene in “Apocalypse Now” where Marlon Brando recites part of “The Hollow Men”: “Our dried voices, when/We whisper together/Are quiet and meaningless.”
All of these would be worthy endeavors, but instead, because we could all probably use it, I recommend something a little lighter: Eliot’s 1939 whimsical masterwork Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
The basis for the musical Cats, Eliot’s Practical Cats has previously sported a cover illustration by Old Possum (Ezra Pound’s nickname for Eliot) himself, and other editions have featured drawings by Nicolas Bentley, Edward Gorey, and Alex Scheffler. Here I take a crack at joining their illustrious company with an illustrated version of my favorite poem of the book, “The Naming of Cats,” in which Eliot gets to the bottom of what exactly cats are always thinking about when they seem so calm and contemplative.