Richard Vallance.


April 2002 Vallance Review:
"Placid" by Mir




INTRODUCTION

"The Cat's Meow!"

Our featured sonnet slated for review for the month of April, 2002, is by one of my U.K. poet Friends, a sonneteer who assumes the pen name, Mir, and who is active on our Yahoo poetry group, Describe Adonis. And his sonnet is about his cat.



MIR'S BIOGRAPHY

East European by extraction, Mir now lives in Kent, U.K, where he is a chartered secretary. Actually, he claims his family origins go so far back into the mists of time he is not quite sure where he originates from!

Inspired, aided and abetted by his loving muse, who chides him inexhaustibly for his "misuse" of English (as is the prerogative of right thinking poets everywhere), he has produced a range of light and pastiche verse, in addition to a number of short stories over the past few years. These have been published on some half-dozen USENET Groups, and on several Yahoo Groups. Some of his works are also featured on friends' and acquaintances’ sites around the Net.

He also writes "adult" work, which has been published by the E-Zines: Voyeur, Dark Eros and amatory.ink.

And here's Mir's pet quotation:

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."

Anais Nin

Should you wish to have a closer look at some of Mir's oeuvres, please see the Safe Surf rated site:

Romantic, Exotic or simply Vanity




THE SONNET:

Without further ado, here is Mir's feline-inspired sonnet, which I hope you will enjoy as much as I did!


    Placid

    Lying placid on the table in the sun,
    Your body curled up next to a glass bowl,
    Dream stretching dreams so full of feline fun
    They warm the playful kitten in your soul.
    Pristine, velvet fur as black as coal,
    Enjoys the mellow heat of sunny rays,
    Time's passing and will surely take its toll,
    But sleepy puss dreams on of yesterday's
    Varied delights, sensations, smells and tastes:
    The mysteries learnt in nine full lives of fable,
    Ears twitching, here's a feeling you can't place,
    Though by dozing review you may be able
    To find new meanings no one else could trace
    Lying placid in the sun upon the table.

    © November, 2001

    Mir




THE REVIEW:

By the time I had reached the third verse of this remarkable little vignette focussing on one dreamy moment in the languorous life of the poet's own cat, my mind's eye had already turned to another sonnet on the same theme. I speak, of course, of none other than the famous sonnet, "le chat!", Sonnet XXXIII in Charles Baudelaire's, "Les Fleurs du Mal"
(The Flowers of Evil). Baudelaire's sonnet is found at the end of this review, along with a transliteration into an English sonnet by the reviewer, Richard Vallance.

While Baudelaire’s imagery is overwhelmingly sensual and hypnotic, MIR’s sonnet is shaded more towards the feelings and sensations the poet observes in the (or his) cat, as she languorously stretches out her supple, shining coal-black body in the warmth of the sun, apparently in the late afternoon or early evening.

The beauty of MIR’s sonnet lies precisely in its deceptive descriptive simplicity. We ourselves are seeing the poet looking pensively at his cat. The sonnet is impressionistic. Yet, at one and the same time, we are left wondering to ourselves just what is going on in the cat’s mind, as she doubtless always has and still

        "dreams on of yesterday's
    Varied delights, sensations, smells and tastes:
    The mysteries learnt in nine full lives of fable,"

Now, what strikes us even more is the antipodal line, which is also the pivotal verse of this lush sonnet, namely, verse 7;

    Time's passing and will surely take its toll, ...

- equipoised as it is right at the poem’s fulcrum. This verse, which mirrors the poet’s potently human pre-occupation with the passage of time, acts as an intercalated remark at the crux, or turning point of the sonnet. He comments, seemingly in passing, on that age-old Fear all humanity constantly confronts and obsessively reminds itself of, that of the passage, not merely of time, but of life itself, and life’s vital energies, as we recede towards Death.

And yet, and yet ... what of the cat?

What is she thinking of? Is she even thinking, in the sense of being pre-occupied with anything, the way we humans are? Does she remonstrate the slightest concern about her past, her present, pleasant surroundings, or her future? No. How silly! That is quite out of the question! Why? She is a cat, and it is not in the mysterious nature of the feline to concern itself about such un-cat-like petty details in life. Rather, she simply lives and moves (or in this case, doesn’t much move at all) and has her being in the here and now, as though she were dreaming in a perpetuum mobile, without beginning and without perceivable end, at least not as it might ever occur to her!

Does she even bother herself with ratiocination or pressing thoughts? Not likely.

Instead, she dreams. She dreams, and remains, and here is a key, "Pristine" (send off to verse 5). Pristine? How can one remain pristine, as it were, forever young, even as one ages? How does the cat, the feline mind, manage to entirely circumvent this peculiarly human dilemma. Easily. She dreams.

And how lavish are her dreams!

    But sleepy puss dreams on of yesterday's
    Varied delights, sensations, smells and tastes:
    The mysteries learnt in nine full lives of fable,
    Ears twitching, here's a feeling you can't place,

Indeed, her dreams are so lavish and so mysterious that we humans, for all our reputed intelligence, cannot even fathom what she is dreaming of, or even relate to the elusive feeling(s) she lavishes herself in, as she warms herself, pensively dozing in the sun, her little mind "à la recherche du temps perdu" (In Search of Lost Time [1] - not that time is lost on her!) . Ah, such is life! And what a life hers is; that’s certainly one we can only envy, as we can never experience what is like to be "Cat", or to live and breathe and have our being in her feline universe.

The sonnet’s light touch also amuses. Mir makes various "cute" allusions, some of which are downright puns. For instance, we have -

verse 2 " curled up next to a glass bowl,"

(with her favourite goldfish either in it or already in her contented tummy)

And, verses 3 & 4,

    Dream stretching dreams so full of feline fun
    They warm the playful kitten in your soul.

This seems to imply she has indeed been up to mischief, perhaps having involved said putative goldfish. Here the sonnet, by what it omits, implies our little cat is still quite the active, bouncy, pouncing feline, at least while she is not (as is usual) asleep, ergo, dreaming her own pleasant little dreams, "Measure for Measure" and "As You Like it".

This poetic device, namely, allusion by omission, is highly effective when so used in a sonnet, where the paucity of vocabulary is of critical import in setting the sought after mood. Still, even in a sonnet of the senses, such as this, the lavishness of the vocabulary the poet judiciously selects in actuality merely serves to bolster the mystery of those thoughts, human or feline, he chooses not to express. In a sonnet about a cat, focussing right down on her dreams, this technique is even more efficacious.

Now, I should also like to draw your attention to verse 10:

    The mysteries learnt in nine full lives of fable,

- which so lovingly evokes the poet’s profound admiration for his kitty’s dream world, and for her fabulous fables he cannot ever imagine (being, alas, human). But there's more. We are all familiar with the old wives’ tale of cats having "nine lives". And there's still more! I had to burst out laughing. I don’t know whether grocery stores sell "9 Lives" cat food in the United Kingdom, but they do here in North America (and I strongly suspect they do in your neck of the woods, too!) How can you not laugh at that?

To wrap it all up, this sonnet appeals to our human sympathies on so many fun-loving levels. Why, it is obvious that a seven to ten year old child would find this poem a delight to read, and certainly accessible to his or her native intelligence. Indeed, children perhaps enjoy a definite edge here on us adults, where a poem like this one is concerned. They at least do not attempt to explain or rationalize away a cat's passive behaviour, which some adults might (and often do) categorize as "lazy".

Reflecting on this, the poet himself shines. For we are witnessing, in this remarkable little ditty of a sonnet, not only the cat’s dreams of kittenhood, but the poet's recollections of his childhood perceptions vis-à-vis his kitten(s) then. And this is just precisely why he had appealed directly to us, his readers (at least, to those of us who are cat lovers), as early as verse 4 , to "get the fuzzies", as we contemplate on kitty's dreams. And what do her dreams do for the poet, and for many of his readers?

    They warm the playful kitten in your soul.

From all these little insights, and more, we readily may adduce that our poet has loved cats always, and apparently always will. His admiration is almost, well, almost childlike. This brings us full circle right back to our point of departure in our discussion of our sonnet: its remarkably fluid simplicity.

So our review winds down on the same note as does the sonnet, whose last verse is the first refrained:

    Lying placid in the sun upon the table.

This simple refrain, placed as it is at the tail end of our sonnet (Pardon the pun, I couldn't resist it!), allows us to venture back to the beginning, and read it all over, if we like, and if we so choose, as many times we like, inasmuch as this act of playful reading affords us pleasure. The sonnet thereby assumes the air almost, as it were, of a rondeau, like a children’s song, yet meant for adults, and, let’s not forget, for cats as well.

REFERENCE: [1] The reference above is to the title of Marcel Proust's multi-volume novel, À la Recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927)



STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS:

What we wind up with here is a sonnet, not of an octave and a sestet, in any traditional sense, but a sonnet, whose introductory sestet is set off by line seven ("Time’s passing" etc.), followed by a septet. We might therefore classify this particular sonnet structurally as being an equipoised septet-septet. Such a paradigm is suitable for expressing the balance of mind normally reserved to the feline species, including cats. Whether the poet consciously sought this layout for this sonnet is altogether a moot point. The fact remains that the poem is a well-coordinated and balanced literary piece.



IMPLICIT VERSUS EXPLICIT SENSUALITY:

Now, let's contrast MIR's fetching coup de grâce with Charles Baudelaire's, "le Chat". As we do, we gain the sense that we find ourselves face to face with poetic license of quite a different cloth. Baudelaire’s relationship with his cat verges on the fuzzy frontier between the sensual and the outright sexual. While there is assuredly a subtle, yet underlying, hint of such sensuality everywhere implicit in Mir's sonnet, the sexual connotations rising out of Baudelaire’s exquisitely passionate sonnet are not only explicit, but the dominant tone on which he bases his poem, and in which it is played out to its climax.

Both approaches, Mir’s implicit evocation of the psycho-sensual dream world of the feline, and Baudelaire’s explicit foreplay in the all-too ravishing beauty of his equally mysterious cat, who reflects the strongly perfumed odour of his own lover, enchant and entrance us alike in their poised attractiveness.

And here, to round out our observations on the ever-beguiling Cat, is Baudelaire’s masterpiece, "le chat":

    le chat - Les Fleurs du mal (sonnet XXXIII)

    Viens, mon beau chat, sur mon coeur amoureux ;
    Retiens les griffes de ta patte,
    Et laisse-moi plonger dans tes beaux yeux,
    Mêlés de métal et d'agate.
    Lorsque mes doigts caressent à loisir
    Ta tête et ton dos élastique,
    Et que ma main s'enivre du plaisir
    De palper ton corps électrique,
    Je vois ma femme en esprit. Son regard,
    Comme le tien, aimable bête,
    Profond et froid, coupe et fend comme un dard,
    Et, des pieds jusques à la tête,
    Un air subtil, un dangereux parfum,
    Nagent autour de son corps brun.

    Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)


    The Cat - The Flowers of Evil (Sonnet XXXIII)

    Come, my cat, love, onto my loving breast;
    Withdraw those claws on your calico paws,
    Or let my eyes plunge in the orange zest
    Of yours, whose squint, metallic, overawes
    Me, as my languorous fingers caress
    Your frizzy ears and seas of supplest fur,
    Or as my hands, giddy with your largesse,
    Get soused, because they pet you as you stir,
    Electric. See. I see in you my wife,
    Her glance, like yours, my remollient pet,
    Her glance, as deep and cold, keen as a knife.
    From feet to supple crown, who can forget
    your subtle air, those dangerous perfumes
    You exhale, where beauty, yours, feline, looms.

    English Sonnet,

    Transliterated from the French by

    Richard Vallance, © 2002,

    March 26th., 2002



CHARLES BAUDELAIRE - LINKS:

Should you wish to learn more about the mid-Nineteenth Century great French poet, Charles Baudelaire, you may wish to visit the following links:

1. Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867): a Biography (in English) -

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

2. The Life of Charles Baudelaire: The Poet, The Critic. Chronology

The Life of Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

3. The Lirics of the Lord: "Les Fleurs du Mal" (poems, in English) - The Lirics of the Lord

4. Poésie française : liste des oeuvres de Charles Baudelaire
(y inclus le texte intégral de ses poèmes - including the texts of his poems)
- en français uniquement (in French only) - Poésie française




My Carousel Home Page is: Poesie’s laissez-faire Faire Foire

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