in verse #37 : still Smarting

There is a complex of retirement apartments rising like a mushroom in a former farm a few blocks from my home in Orem calling itself Treeo, and advertising itself with, among other slogans, this:  “Where the smartypants live.[i]”  Smart looms large in their legend:  they have bought two of those cute little Smart cars and decorated them to emphasize their smartitude.  US News reviewers said of the Smart Fortwo that “According to the EPA, the Fortwo gets 34/38 mpg city/highway, which is good for the class, but low for such a small car.[ii]”  That’s my beef with the smart car:  how can something that small and light get such lousy mileage?  My son Cody[iii] has a better beef with Treeo — he pointed out that Treeo’s choice of slogan is as bad as its taste in cars:  it should be either “Where the smartypantses live” or “Where the smartypants lives.”  That’s the kind of attitude for which I was thoroughly mocked in grade school as, yes, a smartypants.

Christopher Smart probably wasn’t so mocked.  Born in 1722, he was sent, at eleven when his father died, to Durham School and, in 1739, to Pembroke College, Cambridge, whence he graduated in 1744 with a BA.  He was much smarter with his language than the people promoting Treeo, or the smart car.  Here’s one of the latter’s[iv] poems:

The smart electric drive’s single-gear transmission means
instant torque and smooth, dare-we-say, sexy acceleration.
Pair that with smart’s classic compact size and tight turning radius,
and you’ll pour milk down the drain just for an excuse to drive to the store.

Conserving the environment? Woo hoo!
Driving a conservative-looking car? Womp womp.
That’s why the smart electric drive, like every smart, is endlessly customizable –
from vehicle wraps to tridion safety cells to mirrors and more.
Want us to cover your smart in photos of your cat? We’ll do it.
Seriously, try us.[v]

And they say that poetry has disappeared from  American public life!  But it was alive and well in Smart’s public world, even still alive and well in Latin, at which Smart, like Milton before him, excelled.  Milton was born on 9 December 1608 and died on 8 November 1674, a month shy of his 68th birthday.  Smart was born on 11 April 1722 and died on 21 May 1771, a month past his 49th.  In Milton’s lifetime the world had been turned upside down, going from the world ruled by King James and his Bible “appointed to be read [aloud; i.e. heard] in Churches [of the Church of England]” to a world ruled by Parliament where people read the Bible for themselves, its three realms reeling from Cromwell’s attempts to purify the Church, by which were let loose the Methodists, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Calvinists and the Reformed churchmen, and Catholics, among others, suppressed — in which, by August 1655, as Christopher Hill says, “Gone were the exuberant days of free discussion:  opposition pamphlets could appear only illegally.  The author of Areopagitica[vi] soon slipped out of the public service”.[vii]  Milton would live 19 years longer in that world, a shade welcome in neither the Protectorate nor the Restoration.  Is it any wonder that this new world drove Christopher Smart mad?

So this was the world Christopher Smart was born into, one in which neo-classicism held literary sway but in which English was displacing Latin, Milton’s tongue of diplomacy being displaced by the tongue of trade, English being spread through the commercial might of the British navy, in which the Dutch and French and Spanish primacy in North America had been challenged by the English colonists, including the Puritans of Massachusetts, and to which the dregs of society, the Irish and Scots and Welsh and Cornish and Manx were hieing for cheap land and a chance to displace the even poorer and less-Christian Indians.  I presented John McWhorter’s thesis that English arose as a patois[viii]  (or pidgin or creole),[ix] a trade language for the conquered Welsh to use in dealing with the conquering Anglo-Saxons, way back in in verse #5  — to which I refer you.  In Smart’s world that was happening again, in the Caribbean, in India, in China, in North America, wherever Britain traded.  The Smiths of New England were as affected by it as anyone.  The language was changing fastly and furiously.  It offered no refuge for the man unwilling to change.  Samuel Johnson responded with a dictionary.  Kit Smart responded with Jubilate Agno.

The best text of Jubilate Agno available to me[x] comes in a Penguin Classics paperback of the Selected poems,[xi] now out of print.  The reason it is the best is that Williamson and Walsh adopt W.H. Bond’s arrangement of the lines, as far as is possible.  According to their notes, his edition[xii] was radically revised from that of W.F. Stead published in 1939 under the title Rejoice in the Lamb : a song from Bedlam.  They credit Bond with being “the first to discover the arrangement of the text evidently intended by Smart.”[xiii]  That was a pairing of sections, each verse beginning with the word “Let” being paired with a verse beginning “For,” in a kind of antiphony.  In my last post I inserted one of each of the “let” and “for” sections; for those sections, there is no corresponding part.  This is how the sections of the whole poem might have appeared, had Smart completed the work, and if Bond is correct:

Let Elizur rejoice with the Partridge, who is a prisoner of state and is proud of his keepers.
For I am not without authority in my jeopardy, which I derive inevitably from the glory of the name of the Lord

Let Shedeur rejoice with Pyrausta, who dwelleth in a medium of fire, which God hath adapted for him.
For I bless God whose name is Jealous — and there is a zeal to deliver us from everlasting burnings.

Let Shelumiel rejoice with Olor, who is of a goodly savour, and the very look of him harmonizes the mind.
For my existimation is good even amongst the slanderers and my memory shall arise for a sweet savour unto the Lord.

Let Jael rejoice with the Plover, who whistles for his live, and foils the marksmen and their guns.
For I bless the PRINCE of PEACE and pray that all the guns may be nail’d up, save such are for the rejoicing days.

Let Raguel rejoice with the Cock of Portugal — God send good Angels to the allies of England!
For I have abstained from the blood of the grape and that even at the Lord’s table.

Let Hobab rejoice with Necydalus, who is the Greek of a Grub.
For I have glorified God in GREEK and LATIN, the consecrated languages spoken by the Lord on earth.

Let Zurishaddai with the Polish Cock rejoice — The Lord restore peace to Europe.
For I meditate the peace of Europe amongst family bickerings and domestic jars.

Let Zuar rejoice with the Guinea Hen — The Lord add to his mercies in the WEST!
For the HOST is in the WEST — the Lord make us thankful unto salvation.

Let Chesed rejoice with Strepsiceros, whose weapons are the ornaments of his peace.
For I preach the very GOSPEL of CHRIST without comment and with this weapon shall I slay envy.

Let Hagar rejoice with Gnesion, who is the right sort of eagle, and towers the highest.
For I bless God in the rising generation, which is on my side.

Let Libni rejoice with the Redshank, who migrates not but is translated to the upper regions.
For I have translated in the charity, which makes things better and I shall be translated myself at the last.

Let Nahshon rejoice with the Seabreese, the Lord give the sailors of his Spirit.
For he that walked upon the sea, hath prepared the floods with the Gospel of peace.

Let Helon rejoice with the Woodpecker — the Lord encourage the propagation of trees!
For the merciful man is merciful to his beast, and to the trees that give them shelter.

Let Amos rejoice with the Coote — prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
For he hath turned the shadow of death into the morning, the Lord is his name.

Let Ephah rejoice with Buprestis, the Lord endue us with temperance and humanity, till every cow have her mate!
For I am come home again, but there is nobody to kill the calf or to pay the musick.

Let Sarah rejoice with the Redwing, whose harvest is in the frost and snow.
For the hour of my felicity, like the womb of Sarah, shall come at the latter end.

Let Rebekah rejoice with Iynx, who holds his head on one side to deceive the adversary.
For I shou’d have avail’d myself of waggery, had not malice been multitudinous.

Let Shuah rejoice with Boa, which is the vocal serpent.
For there are still serpents that can speak — God bless my head, my heart and my heel.

Let Ehud rejoice with Onocrotalus, whose braying is for the glory of God, because he makes the best musick in his power.
For I bless God that I am of the same seed as Ehud, Mutius Scævola, and Colonel Draper.[xiv]

Yeah, that’s a longish excerpt.  And yes, existimation is what Smart wrote.  According to Williamson and Walsh, thirty-two pages remain of Smart’s manuscript, out of what may have been 88 pages.[xv]  In their edition, that remnant runs from page 42 through page 140 — 98 pages in print.  And you should by now have savored your noticement that there is some semblance of the repetitious nature of the poetry of Biblical Hebrew here, which I discussed in “a Blake vision.” On the matter of whether Smart knew about this pattern, Williamson and Walsh say “The model may well have been the antiphonal pattern of Hebrew poetry as explained in Robert Lowth’s De sacra poesi Hebraeorum (1753), a work which Smart knew well.”[xvi]  Ray Davis responds to Bond and Williamson [the latter having subsequently published Jubilate Agno as volume 1 of The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart (in the Oxford English Texts series)] with this analysis:

Smart’s intentions while writing the manuscript are unknowable, and the manuscript remained unpublished during his lifetime. But he did not write couplets in manuscript, as he easily might have, and the call-and-response pattern is unarguable only in lines 1-158 of the “Fragment B” manuscripts [some of which I quote above]. In lines 159-295 of the “B Fragment” pages and lines 1-162 of the “C Fragment” pages, continuity within pages is much stronger than the continuity between pages, and so there seems little reason to assume a couplet format.[xvii]

I would point out that the sequences seem to have been written discretely, in bursts, and then answered later, and in no particular order, as if Smart were trying a little free writing.  But Williamson and Walsh make their argument more nuanced than that:  “At the same time, however, both Let and For verses have their own sequentiality, formal or thematic:  there is thus a network of linkages, giving scope for a complex interplay of meaning.  In practice, both Let-For correspondences and internal continuities frequently break down.”[xviii]  This you might expect of a text written in a madhouse and left in manuscript and unpublished by the author.  We might say, in the spirit of Alan Ginsberg, “Christopher Smart! I’m with you in Bethnal Green, where you’re madder than I am.”[xix]  Or we might say, with Williamson and Walsh, “Nevertheless, in spite of its disjunctions, its heterogeneity, its obscurities and the seemingly bizarre juxtaposition of orders of experience normally felt to be discrete, Jubilate Agno is neither hopelessly incoherent nor lacking in a logic of its own.”[xx]

Knowing all that, and even forewarned, I would love to read the Let sections corresponding to the For sections known as “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry,” the best-known if not the onliest known section of Jubilate Agno.  Wouldn’t you?  But Smart was writing on loose sheets of paper, each folded so as to make four pages,[xxi] with some of the sections numbered to correspond each to each.  The For sections, as far as is known, have not survived — if Smart ever wrote them.  Having introduced you to the concept of the paired couplets, here are the unpaired lines concerning Jeoffry, probably written as Smart observed the subject in Bedlam:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
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 considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of      Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually–Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

So, you might arsk, does this sound like the ravings of a madman?  Well might you arsk! Womp womp.

Your turn!


[i] You can check this one out for yourself, just by driving past 250 E. Center Street in Orem, or check out their website at http://www.betreeo.com/.

[ii] http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/Smart_Fortwo/, accessed 23 January 2014.

[iii]Until recently a movie critic for the Provo Daily Herald and one of the smartest people I know, intelligence shown by his recently jumping ship from that rag. Check him out at http://thepicturesmove.blogspot.com/, yo!

[iv] Or should that be “latters’s”?

[v] Copied from copy on http://www.smartusa.com/models/electric-drive/overview.aspx, accessed, 23 January 2014.

[vi] John Milton, needless to say.  So why say it, you ask?  Just showing off.

[vii] In God’s Englishman : Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (London : Folio, 2013), p. 133.  I am currently reading the book, which is less a biography than critique of Oliver Cromwell.  Hill, a Marxist historian, holds that Cromwell allied himself with conservative powers in order to rule, especially after the Presbyterians, the Kirk of Scotland, refused to join with the Church of England, no matter how purified it was.

[viii] McWhorter, John. Our magnificent bastard tongue : the untold story of English. – New York : Gotham, 2008.

[ix] Yeah, I know, those are not all the same thing — check out McWhorter’s book, and learn.

[x] Not to slight Ray Davis, whose introduction to and text of  the poem at http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/jubilate/index.html I find very welcome [accessed 26 December 2013].  So an online site still offers the only readily available source for Smart’s texts.

[xi] Selected poems / Christopher Smart ; edited by Karina Williamson and Marcus Walsh. – New York : Penguin, 1990.

[xii] Cataloged by the Library of Congress  as “Jubilate Agno. Re-edited from the original manuscript with an introd. and notes by W. H. Bond. – New York, Greenwood Press [1969]”, using older cataloging conventions than I learned and used.

[xiii] Op. cit., p. 337.

[xiv] Paired by me from Ray Davis’s text posted at http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/jubilate/index.html, and checked against Williamson and Walsh, and adopting their convention of italicizing the response sections.

[xv] Op. cit., p. 338.

[xvi] Op. cit., p. 338.

[xvii] Davis, op. cit., introduction.

[xviii] Op. cit., p. 338-39.

[xix] Mimicking the opening lines of part III of “Howl”, as found in Howl, and other poems / by Alan Ginsberg. – San Francisco : City Lights, c1956, p. 19.

[xx] Op. cit., p. 339.

[xxi] Which is why Davis’s account of the number of pages differs from Williamson and Walsh’s.

About Dennis Clark

Dennis Clark should have been locked up long ago, but since he was allowed to wed and breed, the cat is out of the bag, the toothpaste is out of the tube, the cat is pawing the toothpaste and you should be careful what you put in your mouth. Put a good poem in your mouth!
This entry was posted in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to in verse #37 : still Smarting

  1. Glenn Gordon says:

    Well, whatever you think of Christopher Smart, Benjamin Britten’s settings of this poem in “Rejoice in the Lamb” is wonderful and the musical context transforms the poem about a cat, a mouse and other beings to a meditation on the love of God. Apparently even insane poets have their place…

    • Dennis Clark says:

      I obviously think well of Kit Smart, but I was unaware that Benjamin Britten had set any of Jubilate Agno. Thank you for the notice. And for those of you who didn’t know either, there is a Naxos recording, under the title English Choral Music, of Britten’s settings of at least seven parts of Jubilate Agno. You can find it at Amazon.

      As for insane poets, isn’t anyone pursuing poetry almost by definition insane?

  2. Amazing. There is inspiration here. I am stunned. (And will begin immediately to write a novel about my cats JINX and PANDORA.)

    • Dennis Clark says:

      For I will consider your cat Pandora.
      For she has put a Jinx of the highest kind on field mice.
      For they jink into her field of view as if intoxicated by her musk.
      For she has the good sense to mewl at the moon as if it were music.
      For the moon is waning when it is not waxing, and Pandora waxes her whiskers in its presence.
      For the man in the moon is her better mouse trap.
      For this is not nearly as easy as it might seem….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>