Liberty, equality, and that other thing

shapiroEveryone is a little French on Bastille Day. Which is ironic, as during the French Revolution, French was one of the last things you wanted to be.

You know who could not give a care about revolutionary politics? Cats. But you knew that. Cats don’t care about any of the issues that divide and inflame their humans. In the lauded new UIP collection Fe-lines, editor and translator Norman Shapiro offers up centuries of French cat poetry inspired by an animal that remains above it all even in that most passionate of nations.

By the time Tristan Klingsor wrote his Song of the Sleeping Cat, revolutionary ardor had cooled. The bourgeois could safely lie in bed, snoring away without fear of the guillotine. Cats, meanwhile, did their thing. Which is nothing, if they so choose. Truly a creature that knows the meaning of the word liberty.

Cat on the floor,
O cat, cat, cat.
What? Don’t you hear the mice at play
Clicking their heels in mouse-ballet?
Behind, before?

Bourgeois in bed, snoring away—
Wearing a cotton nightcap too—
Moon at the window, peeking through<…>
Dance mice, my pretties, come what may,

Dance, dance,
Wiggling your long, thin fairy-tails.

Music-less, dance awry, askance
In tiny-step exuberance<…>
The daylight pales
And moon soon rises high up there,
Hurry! The cops walk up and down
And all the cats in Paris-town
Sleep in their chair
Sleep through the night
Cats black, gray, white<…>