‘The Cat and the Moon’ is a poem by W.B. Yeats that on one level celebrates a cat dancing in the moonlight in a childlike ways. On a deeper level it suggests forces at work in life: instinctual, mystical, and spiritual forces that exist beyond many simple and rational views. The poem shows how relationships and perceptions are a changing mix of the objective and subjective. The poem is one, long, continuous stanza and Yeats uses enjambment to give the poem a mystical flow. There is a regular rhyme scheme and this coupled with the rhythm makes the whole poem sound like a song. This reflects the dance element of the poem, as if the poem is a song that the cat, Minnaloushe, is dancing to. The rhythm reflects the hidden rhythms and secret parallels in the natural world of animals, men and the moon, suggesting a wider sense of nature that may exist in philosophies of the time.
This is a playful, delightful and symbolic poem that can be seen as simple, and yet it draws similarities and distinctions between the Cat and the Moon. There is a delight about the poem in it’s conception of a mysterious symmetry between two things in nature that seem so different. There’s a kind of childlike appreciation of the moods of the Cat and it’s energies in a way that is pleasingly magical and mysterious. He is free from rational explanation, yet at the same time potent and real in a different way.
Yeats is fascinated with the occult and all aspects of the supernatural. He worked out his own systems and visions. and believed in the power of different things such as the phases of the moon. There’s an almost mystical sense of communion between the Cat and the Moon and life and the universe. This brings about the image of the gyre, and that everything is linked. This idea also comes into mind when we think of the moon, it changes it’s phase and yet is constant. Minnaloushe initially ignores the Moon, then they become mirrors of each other at the end. This is similar to how Yeats’ ideas of how real and supernatural worlds share links and connections.
The cat, Minnaloushe, is Maud Gonne’s cat. In this poem Minnaloushe represents Yeats, and the Moon represents Gonne. Thus Yeats is dancing childishly around Gonne, trying to attract her attention. The Moon is a traditional symbol for women, the phases of the moon have long been associated with the menstrual cycle. The Moon is behind Minnaloushe, which could be interpreted to suggest that Gonne is behind all of Yeat’s poetic inspirations.
There are distinct contrasts between the Moon and Minnaloushe. The movement of the cat “here and there” and the Moon “spun round like a top” are very different and can’t be synchronised, showing the differences. This description could also show how the Moon wants to be like Minnaloushe, dancing alongside him. The cat is black and the moon is “pure” and “cold”, suggesting it’s white. These two colours are the stark opposites. The phrase “pure cold light” is also ethereal, suggesting a mystical side to the poem. These contrasts show the differences between Minnaloushe and the Moon and could show that Gonne and Yeats are very different. However despite these differences Yeats describes them as “two close kindred” – showing his longing to be with Gonne. There are many apparent differences between the Cat and the Moon, and yet these are superficial as they are both connected by nature.
There’s a strong theme of change in this poem, the change in the moon is reflected in Minnaloushe’s eyes:
“The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round the range?”
This suggestion shows that however they may never be one and the same, they are very similar and have similar aspects: their changing. The change occurs so that the shapes are the same, “round to crescent”, this shows that they change together. These changes in the Moon could show Gonne’s changing attitudes to Yeats and men in general, she would have many relationships with many men.
The “dance” is most probably a metaphor for a relationship. Yeats, as the cat, is desperate to dance and have a relationship with Gonne. Yeats wants the Moon to “learn” this fact, and even though she may be tired of this “courtly fashion” he hopes she may join him in a “new dance”. We can see Yeats’ attitude to the idea of a relationship with Gonne by the use of the word “sacred”. This places Gonne in a divine place in his heart.
Thanks for reading,
(For the people who are reading who are not in my English class you may not understand the picture. The girl in the picture is a friend of mine called Cat. :D)