Sir, say no more.
Within me ’tis as if
The green and climbing eyesight of a cat
Crawled near my mind’s poor birds.
– Trumbull Stickney
(1874 – 1904)
I love good metaphor poems. I remember reading this many years ago, and a garbled version of it has stuck in my head ever since without being attached to an actual poet. So it was quite pleasing to come across it again in my trusty Oxford Book of Short Poems, and attach it properly.
Trumbull Stickney was an odd figure, apparently one of the ”Harvard Pessimists”, all of whom died young. (What is it about poets and early death? Why does it seem almost normal to end a poet’s biography with some variation of the phrase and died tragically young?)
What I love most about this poem is how unexpected the image is, and how exactly right. Green and climbing eyesight is spot on – can’t you just see the cat slinking up the tree, along the branch? Can’t you see its shoulder blades way up above its back, the way the movement slows and gets even quieter with the sounds of that last line – the shift from ee and ie and t in the third line to the lower, softer aw and er and m and d in the last? And couching it in someone else’s voice is clever too – those first two lines suggest someone not at all literary (but why? hmm …), which makes the accuracy of the image all the more surprising and pleasing. A good reminder that poetry is all around us, on the lips of anyone. We just have to wait, and listen.