KoolKill

In 1183, a Chinese Poet Describes Being Domesticated by His Own Cats

In 1183, a Chinese Poet Describes Being Domesticated by His Own Cats

in History, Poetry | September 9th, 2020 1 Comment

Advertisement

Here in Korea, where I live, cat owners aren’t called cat owners: they’re called goyangi jibsa, literally “cat butlers.” Clearly the idea that felines have flipped the domestic-animal script, not serving humans but being served by humans, transcends cultures. It also goes far back in history: witness the 12th-century verses recently tweeted out in translation by writer Xiran Jay Zhao, in which “Song dynasty poet Lu You” — one of the most prolific literary artists of his time and place — “poem-liveblogged his descent from cat owner to cat slave.”

The story begins in 1138, writes Zhao, when “Down On His Luck scholar-official Lu You gets a cat because rats keep munching on his books.” The eight poems in this series begin with praise for the animal — “It’s so soft to touch and warm to hold in bed / So brave and capable that it has ousted the rat nest” — and goes on to describe the cats he subsequently acquires, who selflessly vanquish the household rats while indulging in nothing more than the occasional catnip binge.

Or at least they do at first. “Night after night you used to massacre rats / Guarding the grain store so ferociously,” Lu asks one in “Poem for Pink-Nose.” “So why do you now act as if you live within palace walls / Eating fish every day and sleeping in my bed?”

As time goes on, Lu finds himself “serving fish on time” to his cats only to find them “sleeping without worry.” As the rats rampage, he poetically moans, “my books are getting ruined and the birds wake me before dawn.” Has it all been nothing more than “a ruse to get food from me?”

Yet it seems that Lu has no regrets about cat ownership, if ownership be the word. “Wind sweeps the world and rain darkens the village / Rumbles roll off the mountains like ocean waves churning,” he writes in 1192’s “A Rainstorm on the Fourth Day of the Eleventh Month.” Yet “the furnace is soothing and the rug is warm / Me and my cat are not leaving the house.” This is relatable content for the cat butlers of Korea (a culture thoroughly influenced by China in Lu’s day), or indeed anywhere else in the world. The patriotic poet would surely be pleased by the modern-day ascent of China — and perhaps just as much by the high and ever-rising status of the domestic cat.

via Xiran

Related Content:

An Animated History of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Predator to Sofa Sidekick

Two Cats Keep Trying to Get Into a Japanese Art Museum … and Keep Getting Turned Away: Meet the Thwarted Felines, Ken-chan and Go-chan

Medieval Cats Behaving Badly: Kitties That Left Paw Prints … and Peed … on 15th Century Manuscripts

T.S. Eliot Reads Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats & Other Classic Poems (75 Minutes, 1955)

What Ancient Chinese Philosophy Can Teach Us About Living the Good Life Today: Lessons from Harvard’s Popular Professor, Michael Puett

Free Chinese Lessons

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

William Blake’s Paintings Come to Life in Two Animations

William Blake’s Paintings Come to Life in Two Animations

The poet and painter William Blake toiled in obscurity, for the most part, and died in poverty.

Twenty some years after his death, his rebellious spirit gained traction with the Pre-Raphaelites.

By the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Blake was ripe to be venerated as a counter-cultural hero, for having flown in the face of convention, while championing gender and racial equality, nature, and free love.

Reclining half-naked on a “a fabulous couch in Harlem,” poet Allen Ginsburg had a hallucinatory encounter wherein Blake recited to him “in earthen measure.”

Blake’s work (and world view) continues to exert enormous influence on graphic noveliststheatermakers, and creatives of every stripe.

He’s also a dab hand at animation, collaborating from beyond the grave.

The short above, a commission for a late ‘70s Blake exhibition at The Tate, envisions a roundtrip journey from Heaven to Hell. Animator Sheila Graber parked herself in the Sculpture Hall to create it in public view, pairing Blake’s line “Energy is Eternal delight” with a personal observation:

Gainsborough and animator Renaldho Pelle worked together to bring the chosen works to life, frame by frame, against a series of London buildings and streets that were well known to Blake himself.

The film opens with Blake’s Ghost of a Flea emerging from the walls of Broadwick Street, where its creator was born, then stalking off, bowl in hand, ceding the screen to God, The Ancient of Days, whose reach spreads like ink across the gritty facade of a white brick edifice.

Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

A Robin Red breast in a Cage

Puts all Heaven in a Rage 

A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons

Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions 

A dog starvd at his Masters Gate

Predicts the ruin of the State 

A Horse misusd upon the Road

Calls to Heaven for Human blood 

Each outcry of the hunted Hare

A fibre from the Brain does tear 

A Skylark wounded in the wing 

A Cherubim does cease to sing 

The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight

Does the Rising Sun affright 

Every Wolfs & Lions howl

Raises from Hell a Human Soul 

The wild deer, wandring here & there 

Keeps the Human Soul from Care 

The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife

And yet forgives the Butchers knife 

The Bat that flits at close of Eve

Has left the Brain that wont Believe

The Owl that calls upon the Night

Speaks the Unbelievers fright

He who shall hurt the little Wren

Shall never be belovd by Men 

He who the Ox to wrath has movd

Shall never be by Woman lovd

The wanton Boy that kills the Fly

Shall feel the Spiders enmity 

He who torments the Chafers Sprite

Weaves a Bower in endless Night 

The Catterpiller on the Leaf

Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief 

Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly 

For the Last Judgment draweth nigh 

He who shall train the Horse to War

Shall never pass the Polar Bar 

The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat 

Feed them & thou wilt grow fat 

The Gnat that sings his Summers Song

Poison gets from Slanders tongue 

The poison of the Snake & Newt

Is the sweat of Envys Foot 

The poison of the Honey Bee

Is the Artists Jealousy

The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags

Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags 

A Truth thats told with bad intent

Beats all the Lies you can invent 

It is right it should be so 

Man was made for Joy & Woe 

And when this we rightly know 

Thro the World we safely go 

Joy & Woe are woven fine 

A Clothing for the soul divine 

Under every grief & pine

Runs a joy with silken twine 

The Babe is more than swadling Bands

Throughout all these Human Lands

Tools were made & Born were hands 

Every Farmer Understands

Every Tear from Every Eye

Becomes a Babe in Eternity 

This is caught by Females bright

And returnd to its own delight 

The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar 

Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore 

The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath

Writes Revenge in realms of Death 

The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air

Does to Rags the Heavens tear 

The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun 

Palsied strikes the Summers Sun

The poor Mans Farthing is worth more

Than all the Gold on Africs Shore

One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands

Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands 

Or if protected from on high 

Does that whole Nation sell & buy 

He who mocks the Infants Faith

Shall be mockd in Age & Death 

He who shall teach the Child to Doubt

The rotting Grave shall neer get out 

He who respects the Infants faith

Triumphs over Hell & Death 

The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons

Are the Fruits of the Two seasons 

The Questioner who sits so sly 

Shall never know how to Reply 

He who replies to words of Doubt

Doth put the Light of Knowledge out 

The Strongest Poison ever known

Came from Caesars Laurel Crown 

Nought can Deform the Human Race

Like to the Armours iron brace 

When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow

To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow 

A Riddle or the Crickets Cry

Is to Doubt a fit Reply 

The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile

Make Lame Philosophy to smile 

He who Doubts from what he sees

Will neer Believe do what you Please 

If the Sun & Moon should Doubt 

Theyd immediately Go out 

To be in a Passion you Good may Do 

But no Good if a Passion is in you 

The Whore & Gambler by the State

Licencd build that Nations Fate 

The Harlots cry from Street to Street 

Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet 

The Winners Shout the Losers Curse 

Dance before dead Englands Hearse 

Every Night & every Morn

Some to Misery are Born 

Every Morn and every Night

Some are Born to sweet delight 

Some are Born to sweet delight 

Some are Born to Endless Night 

We are led to Believe a Lie

When we see not Thro the Eye

Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night 

When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 

God Appears & God is Light

To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 

But does a Human Form Display

To those who Dwell in Realms of day