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      Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

  Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat

    'TWAS on a lofty vase's side,
    Where China's gayest art had dy'd
    The azure flowers that blow;
    Demurest of the tabby kind,
    The pensive Selima reclin'd,
    Gaz'd on the lake below.
    Her conscious tail her joy declar'd;
    The fair round face, the snowy beard,
    The velvet of her paws,
    Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
    Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
    She saw, and purr'd applause.
    Still had she gaz'd; but midst the tide
    Two beauteous forms were seen to glide,
    The Genii of the stream;
    Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue,
    Through richest purple, to the view,
    Betray'd a golden gleam.
    The hapless Nymph with wonder saw:
    A whisker first, and then a claw,
    With many an ardent wish,
    She stretch'd, in vain, to reach the prize.
    What female heart can gold despise?
    What cat's averse to fish?
    Presumptuous Maid! with looks intent
    Again she stretch'd, again she bent,
    Nor knew the gulph between;
    (Malignant Fate sat by, and smil'd.)
    The slippery verge her feet beguil'd;
    She tumbled headlong in.
    Eight times emerging from the flood,
    She mew'd to every watery God,
    Some speedy aid to send.
    No Dolphin came, no Nereid stir'd:
    Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
    A favourite has no friend.
    From hence, ye beauties, undeceiv'd,
    Know, one false step is ne'er retriev'd,
    And be with caution bold.
    Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
    And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
    Nor all, that glisters, gold.


According to Harmon, the cat in question was a favorite of Gray's friend Horace Walpole and did indeed drown in a china vase. The poem can be found in:
  • Gray, Thomas. Poems. Glasgow: Robert and Andrew Foulis, 1768. (as found in the facsimile edition printed by Mentson, England: The Scolar Press Limited, 1973.)
  • Harmon, William, ed. The Classic Hundred Poems (Second Edition). New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.