Wild Gratitude

Edward Hirsch

 
Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey,
And put my fingers into her clean cat's mouth,
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens,
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air,
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight,
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart,
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing
In every one of the splintered London streets,
And was locked away in the madhouse at St. Luke's
With his sad religious mania, and his wild gratitude,
And his grave prayers for the other lunatics,
And his great love for his speckled cat, Jeoffry.
All day today—August 13, 1983—I remembered how
Christopher Smart blessed this same day in August, 1759,
For its calm bravery and ordinary good conscience.
This was the day that he blessed the Postmaster General
"And all conveyancers of letters" for their warm humanity,
And the gardeners for their private benevolence
And intricate knowledge of the language of flowers,
And the milkmen for their universal human kindness.
This morning I understood that he loved to hear—
As I have heard—the soft clink of milk bottles
On the rickety stairs in the early morning,
And how terrible it must have seemed
When even this small pleasure was denied him.
But it wasn't until tonight when I knelt down
And slipped my hand into Zooey's waggling mouth
That I remembered how he'd called Jeoffry "the servant
Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him,"
And for the first time understood what it meant.
Because it wasn't until I saw my own cat
Whine and roll over on her fluffy back
That I realized how gratefully he had watched
Jeoffry fetch and carry his wooden cork
Across the grass in the wet garden, patiently
Jumping over a high stick, calmly sharpening
His claws on the woodpile, rubbing his nose
Against the nose of another cat, stretching, or
Slowly stalking his traditional enemy, the mouse,
A rodent, "a creature of great personal valour,"
And then dallying so much that his enemy escaped.
And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him—
Who can teach us how to praise—purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.
 
From Wild Gratittude by Edward Hirsch Copyright © 1986 by Edward Hirsch. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Poems by This Author

A Greek Island by Edward Hirsch
Traveling over your body I found
Amour Honestus by Edward Hirsch
The nights were long and cold and bittersweet,
Fall by Edward Hirsch
Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season
Fast Break by Edward Hirsch
I'm Going to Start Living Like a Mystic by Edward Hirsch
Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
In Memoriam Paul Celan by Edward Hirsch
Lay these words into the dead man's grave
Lay Back the Darkness by Edward Hirsch
My father in the night shuffling from room to room
The Widening Sky by Edward Hirsch
I am so small walking on the beach
Veterans of Foreign Wars by Edward Hirsch
Let's not forget the General
What the Last Evening Will Be Like by Edward Hirsch
You're sitting at a small bay window


Further Reading

Related Poems
Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]
by Christopher Smart
Poems About Animals and Pets
27,000 Miles
by Albert Goldbarth
from The Kitten and Falling Leaves
by William Wordsworth
I Am! Said the Lamb [excerpt]
by Theodore Roethke
Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]
by Christopher Smart
A Crocodile
by Thomas Lovell Beddoes
A List of Praises
by Anne Porter
A Noiseless Patient Spider
by Walt Whitman
Animals and Art
by Ron Padgett
At Bay
by Carl Phillips
At the Zoo
by William Makepeace Thackeray
Bats
by Paisley Rekdal
Darwin's Finches
by Deborah Digges
Eletelephony
by Laura Elizabeth Richards
Epitaph to a Dog
by George Gordon Byron
Flamingo Dreams
by William Saphier
Freedom in Ohio
by Jennifer Chang
From the Canal
by Michael Dickman
Gila
by Rigoberto González
Goldfish Are Ordinary
by Stacie Cassarino
Grasshopper
by Ron Padgett
Hawk
by Daniel Waters
Ho Ho Ho Caribou
by Joseph Ceravolo
horse vision
by Julian T. Brolaski
How Doth the Little Busy Bee
by Isaac Watts
Journey aka OR7
by Gerard Malanga
Leda and the Swan
by W. B. Yeats
Maine Seafood Company
by Matthew Dickman
Me and the Otters
by Dorothea Lasky
Mole
by Wyatt Prunty
Nonsense Alphabet
by Edward Lear
On Viewing the Skull and Bones of a Wolf
by Alexander Posey
Orkney Interior
by Ian Hamilton Finlay
Prayer from a Mouse
by Sarah Messer
Psalm
by George Oppen
Quiet the Dog, Tether the Pony
by Marilyn Chin
Skunk Hour
by Robert Lowell
Testy Pony
by Zachary Schomburg
The Armadillo
by Elizabeth Bishop
The Barnacle and the Gray Whale
by Cecilia Llompart
The Bear
by Galway Kinnell
The Caterpillar
by Robert Graves
The Crocodile
by Lewis Carroll
The Dusk of Horses
by James Dickey
The Eagle
by Lord Alfred Tennyson
The Fly
by William Blake
The Future is an Animal
by Tina Chang
The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me
by Delmore Schwartz
The Lorca Variations (XXVIII)
"For Turtles"

by Jerome Rothenberg
The Moose
by Elizabeth Bishop
The Paper Nautilus
by Marianne Moore
The Parakeets
by Alberto Blanco
The Purple Cow
by Gelett Burgess
The Return
by Frances Richey
The Snail
by William Cowper
The Tyger
by William Blake
The Windhover
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Thing
by Rae Armantrout
To a Mouse,
by Robert Burns
Toad
by Diane Seuss
Turn of a Year
by Joan Houlihan
Wilderness
by Carl Sandburg
Woodchucks
by Maxine Kumin
Poems about Cats
A Story About Dying
by Kevin Prufer
Moonlight Monologue for the New Kitten
by Péter Kántor
My Grandmother's White Cat
by Maurice Kilwein Guevara
Ode on the death of a favorite cat
by Thomas Gray
Opus 181
by Arthur Davison Ficke
Seven Years
by Daisy Fried
Spleen
by Charles Baudelaire
The Backyard Mermaid
by Matthea Harvey
Related Authors
Christopher Smart