‘On lute strings cat-eaten’
Are these the strings that poets feign
Have clear’d the Ayre, and calm’d the main?
Charm’d wolves, and from the mountain crests
Made forests dance with all their beasts?
Could these neglected shreds you see
Inspire a Lute of Ivory
And make it speak? Oh! Think then what
Hath been committed by my cat,
Who, in the silence of this night
Hath gnawn these cords, and marr’d them quite; 10
Leaving such reliques as may be
For frets, not for my lute, but me.
Puss, I will curse thee: Mayst thou dwell
With some dry hermit in a cell
Where Rat ne’re peeped, where mouse ne’re fed
And flies go supperless to bed
Or with some close-pared Brother, where
Thou’lt fast each Sabbath in the year,
Or else, prophane, be hang’d on Monday
For butchering a mouse on Sunday 20
Or mays’t thou tumble from some tower
And miss to light upon all four
Taking a fall that may untie
Eight of nine lives, and let them fly.
Or may the embers singe
Thy dainty coat, or Jane beswinge
Thy hide, when she shall take thee biting
Her cheese clouts, or her house beshiting.
What, was there ne’re a rat or mouse
Nor buttery ope? Nought in the house 30
But harmless lutestrings could suffice
Thy paunch, and draw thy glaring eyes?
Did not thy conscious stomach find
Nature prophaned, that kind with kind
Should stanch his hunger? Think on that
Thou cannibal, and Cyclops cat.
For know, thou wretch, that every string
Is a cat-gut, which art did spin
Into a thread; and now suppose
Dunstan, that snuff’d the divel’s nose 40
Should bid these strings revive, as once
He did the calf, from naked bones,
Or I, to plague thee for thy sin
Should draw a circle, and begin
To conjure, for I am, look to’t
Then with three sets of mops and mows
Seven of odd words, and motley shows
A thousand tricks, that may be taken
From Faustus, Lamb, or Friar Bacon 50
I should begin to call my strings
(My catlings, and my minikins)
And they, recalled, straight should fall
To mew, to purr, to caterwaul
From Puss’s belly. Sure, as death
Puss should be an Engastranith;
Puss should be sent for to the King
For a strange bird, or some rare thing,
Puss should be sought to far and near
As she some Cunning Woman were, 60
Puss should be carried up and down
From shire to shire, from town to town
Like to the camel, lean as hag,
The elephant, or apish nag
For a strange sight, Puss should be sung
In lousy ballads, midst the throng
At markets, with as good a grace
The Troy-sprung Briton would forgo
His pedigree he chaunteth so 70
And sing that Merlin – long deceased
Returned is in a nine-liv’d beast.
Thus Puss, thou seest what might betide thee -
But I forbear to hurt or chide thee
For maybe Puss was melancholy
And so to make her blithe and jolly
Finding these strings, she’d have a fit
Of mirth, nay, Puss, if that were it
Thus I revenge me, that as thou
Hast played on them, I’ve played on you 80
And as thy touch was nothing fine
So I’ve but scratched these notes of mine.
Thomas Master or Masters (1603-43), an
~ This playful poem deploys the classical sub-genre of dirae, curses, which had to be wittily apt to the subject of the curse. Donne’s Elegy IV, ‘The Perfume’ is an example. His cat having eaten the lute strings, Masters finally arrives at the idea of using magic to reanimate the cut-gut strings, and so causing his “cannibal, and Cyclops cat” to turn “Engastranith” (56), which is in the OED in the form ‘Engastromith’, an early word for a ventriloquist. After his outburst, Masters charmingly forgives Puss for her misdemeanor.
The Puritan hanging his cat on a Monday (19ff) for having profaned the Sabbath by catching a mouse the day before was a common anti-puritan joke of the time. I can’t find the story about St. Dunstan (40ff) reviving a calf from bones. Prior to his conversion, the Saint was supposed to have been a practitioner of black magic. That he tweaked the devil’s nose with his metal-working pincers when the devil tried to tempt him in the form of a young woman is in the Golden Legend. The Devil Tavern in London was opposite St Dunstan's Church, and was properly 'The Devil and St Dunstan'; http://www.paintedchurch.org/bartduns.htm
gives fragment of a wall painting of this comic and popular legend.
There is a brief mention (61ff) of captive exotic animals then being shown around
(The image is a detail from Evaristo BASCHENIS, 'Still-life with Instruments', on the Web Gallery of Art)