August 7, 2011

Medieval cat poem

Abū ‘Āmir al-Faḍl ibn Ismā‘īl al-Tamīmī al-Jurjānī (floruit
mid-5th century A.H./11th c. CE) described his cat (meter: khafīf):

    I have a cat whose foot-pads I dye with henna
        before I put henna on my own newborns.
    Then I tie cowrie shells to her collar
        to repel the harm of evil eyes.
    Each day, before I feed my family, I see that she gets
        our choicest meats and purest waters.
    The playful thing. When she sees
        my face contorted in a frown,
    sometimes she sings, sometimes she dances,
        sparing no exertion for my diversion’s sake.
    I care nothing for the fire’s warmth when she lies with me
        in the chill of winter's longest nights.
    When I give her scratches, she gives me licks
        with a tongue toothed like the surface of a file.
    If I avoid her, she fawns on me,
        wheedling with her little high-pitched moans.
    If I give her trouble she will show me her claws,
        a sight that gives the eyes no pleasure.

    When she plays with a mouse, she is at her saltiest
        for she puts him through "humiliating punishment." *
    When he faints from terror, she busies herself
        in batting him awake with a left and a right.
    She teases him with feigned inattention, then
        swoops like a falcon when he tries to creep away.
    Just when he dares hope for peace from her,
        those hopes are dashed with a serpent’s liveliness.

    In this way do the decrees of fate ruin a man
        and finish him with a cut to the aorta,
    just when, amid the lively gathering,
        he takes the cup of destiny from a server.

*Qur'an 2:90, 3:178, 4:14 et passim.

From The Merits of the Housecat by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī