Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Wild Gratitude

Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey, 
And put my fingers into her clean cat's mouth, 
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens, 
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air, 
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight, 
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart, 
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing 
In every one of the splintered London streets,
 
And was locked away in the madhouse at St. Luke's 
With his sad religious mania, and his wild gratitude, 
And his grave prayers for the other lunatics, 
And his great love for his speckled cat, Jeoffry. 
All day today—August 13, 1983—I remembered how 
Christopher Smart blessed this same day in August, 1759, 
For its calm bravery and ordinary good conscience. 

This was the day that he blessed the Postmaster General 
"And all conveyancers of letters" for their warm humanity, 
And the gardeners for their private benevolence 
And intricate knowledge of the language of flowers, 
And the milkmen for their universal human kindness. 
This morning I understood that he loved to hear—
As I have heard—the soft clink of milk bottles 
On the rickety stairs in the early morning, 

And how terrible it must have seemed 
When even this small pleasure was denied him. 
But it wasn't until tonight when I knelt down 
And slipped my hand into Zooey's waggling mouth 
That I remembered how he'd called Jeoffry "the servant 
Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him," 
And for the first time understood what it meant. 
Because it wasn't until I saw my own cat 
 
Whine and roll over on her fluffy back 
That I realized how gratefully he had watched 
Jeoffry fetch and carry his wooden cork 
Across the grass in the wet garden, patiently 
Jumping over a high stick, calmly sharpening 
His claws on the woodpile, rubbing his nose 
Against the nose of another cat, stretching, or 
Slowly stalking his traditional enemy, the mouse, 
A rodent, "a creature of great personal valour," 
And then dallying so much that his enemy escaped. 

And only then did I understand 
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him— 
Who can teach us how to praise—purring 
In their own language, 
Wreathing themselves in the living fire. 

Credit


From Wild Gratitude by Edward Hirsch Copyright © 1986 by Edward Hirsch. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Author


Edward Hirsch

Born in Chicago on January 20, 1950, Edward Hirsch is a poet and literary advocate. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (Knopf, 1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Date Published: 1986-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/wild-gratitude