Christopher Smart was an 18th century writer and poet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Smart ) famous for satires, literary feuds and his religious poetry. The latter include poems written while he was confined in a “Hospital for Lunatics” because of “religious mania” although his numerous debts may have played a part as well. He would later die in a debtors prison at the age of 49. I knew nothing about him when I first read Siobhan Carroll’s story last year and indeed remained ignorant until this year.
One of his two significant poems largely written while in the asylum (the other being A Song to David) is Jubilate Agno aka “Rejoice in the Lamb” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilate_Agno ) which contains a substantial section in which he marvels about his cat Jeoffry as an example of God’s creation:
“For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.From Jubilate Agno, Christopher Smart https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45173/jubilate-agno
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.”
Why didn’t I know all this! I know I need to not obsesses about trying to know everything but I feel like I overlooked something that I could have been delighting in for years.
Siobhan Carroll’s story ends with an extract from Jubliate Agno and builds on the implied mythology in the poem to tell a wonderful story about a man, a cat and the devil.
The poet is imprisoned in an asylum. There he struggles to finish his great work, a poem to god:
“Jeoffry considers his poet’s problem as he licks his fur back into place. He’d heard of the Poem before—the one true poem that God had written to unfold the universe. The poet believes it is his duty to translate this poem by communing with God. His fellow humans, on the other hand, think the poet should write silly things called satires, as he used to do. This is the kind of thing humans think about, and fight about, and for which they chain up their fellow humans in nasty sweaty madhouse cells.”https://www.tor.com/2019/07/10/for-he-can-creep-siobhan-carroll/
That great work is clearly not something that Satan can let the poet finish and so he has been sending demons to stop the poet finishing his work. Between the demons and the poet is Jeoffry and Jeoffry is a cat and “he is of the tribe of Tiger. For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger”.
Tired of having his demons despatched by Jeoffry, the Devil himself comes to visit and the story proceeds from there.
Now, what can I say. Manifestly I’m going to vote this number 1. Honestly I don’t think I can give an objective assessment of this story that is so very, very much up my alley that it has moved its furniture in and has set up shop in said alley. It’s delightful, weird, shifts from cat antics to demons to Blake-like imagery and packed full of ideas and it’s about a guy who uses weird pseudonyms to get embroiled in literary kerfuflles who talks to his cat and writes weird satires. Sorry, it won this category a long time ago at Felapton Towers!