Percy Bysshe Shelley
major English Romantic poet
A Cat in Distress
'Verses On A Cat'
A cat in distress,
Nothing more, nor less;
Good folks, I must faithfully tell ye,
As I am a sinner,
It waits for some dinner
To stuff out its own little belly.
You would not easily guess
All the modes of distress
Which torture the tenants of earth;
And the various evils,
Which like so many devils,
Attend the poor souls from their birth.
Some a living require,
And others desire
An old fellow out of the way;
And which is the best
I leave to be guessed,
For I cannot pretend to say.
One wants society, But this poor little cat
Another variety, Only wanted a rat,
Others a tranquil life; To stuff out its own little maw
Some want food, And it were as good
Others, as good, Some people had such food,
Only want a wife. To make them HOLD THEIR JAW!
The earliest surviving poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a piece entitled “A Cat in Distress”, written by the author when he was a child. According to a note written by his sister Elizabeth on the extant manuscript, Percy wrote this poem at “10 years of age.” Elizabeth, who would have been eight at the time, copied the poem and drew the illustration of the cat as well. Then she probably gave it to a younger sister, Hellen, as a present. This fact is quite representative of the close intimacy which characterised the Shelley’ s siblings of whom Shelley was the oldest. In his family, Percy was the only male among the five children of Sir Timothy and Elizabeth Shelley, who were newly wealthy
landowners. Before the age of 10, when he was sent to a boys’ school at Sussex , Shelley had thus been exclusively in the company of his adoring sisters who (like his wife Mary afterwards), occasionally collaborated with him on his projects. Syon House Academy
‘A cat in distress’ comes down to us thanks to his sister Hellen, who described it in a letter to his brother’s friend and early biographer Thomas J. Hogg: “I have in my possession a very early effusion of Bysshe’s, with a cat painted on the top of the sheet, I will try and find it: but there is not promise of future excellence in the lines, the versification is defective”
In this early poem critics see evidence of the themes and variations of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s later work, including a kind of determined and radical concern with the welfare of the local tenant farmers. Through the lines it is also possible to perceive the young poet’s interest in the fauna of the country estate, as are his embryonic republican feelings.The poem was published in ‘Life of Shelley’ (1858) by Thomas Jefferson Hogg.