On tiptoeing into poem interpretation and reading Cat and the Moon by WB Yeats

In the quest to become a more regular blogger, I find myself thinking more. This sounds like a silly thing to say, but it’s true. For the past two months I’ve been making more time for just that sort of staring-off-into-space zone. I would just say it’s another word for procrastination; if only it didn’t feel OH SO good.

lovely in essence, not in skill

Anyway, this lovely picture of the moon from my window prompted me to hunt down a poem by Yeats that I absolutely used to love. Disclaimer – I am totally obtuse in poetry matters, but there’s something about this that gets me every time!

Cat and the Moon

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.

There is something voyeuristic about reading this poem because it you see him referencing the cat ‘Minnaloushe’ which was the name of Maud Gonne’s cat, the same Maud Gonne whom Yeats loved and who did not love him back. It is as if the poem is for her to read and understand; not for your prying eyes. Yeats may be the cat, he belongs to her but not quite and Maud the moon; for the moon is so often feminine… And they chase each other, though hesitant; both so similar, yet so apart.

And then there are these constant contradictions. He yearns to dance with the moon, teach the moon a new dance, but they’re both changing. And at the end of it, he is still alone and aware of it. But even without that little spiced factual/historical tidbit, the imagery is so compelling. These playful, almost innocent visuals of a cat dancing in the moonlight, make it impossible not to dive into the poem! The poem might just be the story of any unrequited love, or the struggle between the base animal and the divine, between mind and heart…

A poem that lends itself to interpretation, to meaning-making, is a win, in my world. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as “reading too much meaning into something.” Words exist to mean, right? To engage with the reader. A good poem surrenders itself to its reader. Isn’t that the point? Cat and the Moon is beautifully written too, linguistically and structurally. Consider Minnaloushe. What an adorable word, three sonorant sounds ending in a little kiss. I’m obsessed.

[P.S. British linguist David Crystal has written a fair bit – linked here – on why certain words sound more beautiful than others, structurally, culturally (and arguably), based on the kind of syllables, sounds, sound combinations they have. Look up sound symbolism too if this piques your curiosity!]

2 thoughts on “On tiptoeing into poem interpretation and reading Cat and the Moon by WB Yeats

  1. Time spent staring into space is a thing I enjoy 🙂 not at all procrastination but a time of letting go -or maybe becoming more open…

    I’m not a poetry person, but I see why the moon photo could inspire you to look this one up.

    Like

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