Pablo Neruda’s poem titled Ode to the Cat displays surrealist stylemaking us think that it is about a cat, but in fact it’s more about how we areall flawed. He uses vivid imagery placing the cat as a prominent being, comparingone to everything else, and detailing a cat’s traits. He goes back and forthexamining something flawed and then showing how the cat does not have that flaw.
He uses the poem as a paradox of how we are never satisfied, but a cat is alwayssatisfied with itself, “but the cat wants only to be acat and every cat is a cat”. (21-23) He refers to the cat’s golden eyes usingit as reference to the cat’s majestic nature. The cat throughout history hasbeen viewed a mysterious and god like creature, that even the Egyptians onceheld in high regard, but does the cat care about how it is viewed? In this poemthe author shows the perspective of the cat as it compares its perfection againstthe impossible standards that everything is seeking to become. The first stanza examines thebeginning of the animal kingdom and the creation of animals. He explains itlike the birth of humankind in a religious perspective. Many of the animalswere born with imperfections.
They had to adapt to their landscapes to be ableto evolve into beings closer to perfection but still never reaching it completely.The cat however, “appeared complete, and proud: bornfully finished he walked by himself and knew what he wanted.” (11-14) The wayPablo explains the beginning of the animal kingdom is like the creation ofhuman kind and has religious tones to how it explains the cat was perfect, almostlike a god compared to it’s fellow animals within the animal kingdom. The second stanza explains theimperfections of the other animals and compares them to the perfections of thecat.
It is written as one large sentence broken into two halves, with the firsthalf detailing how other animals want to be more than they are, and the secondhalf is how the cat is content with itself. The other animals want to be morethan they are. People always compare themselves to others, and are never contentwith what they are.
Pablo explains how the cat has no need to try to besomething it is not. In this stanza is the first examination of a cat’s eyes,which Pablo details as showing its royalty. “Man wantsto be fish and bird, the serpent had wanted wings, the dog is a displaced lion,the engineer wants to be a poet, the fly studies how to be a swallow, the poet triesto imitate flies, but the cat wants only to be cat and every cat is cat fromwhiskers to tail, from presentiment to living rat, from the night right up tohis golden eyes.” (15-26)The third stanza goes into detailabout the cat’s royalty and all its perfections. Even going as far as comparingthe cat to the sun.
Pablo explains how the cat moves is perfect, how the catlooks, is perfect, that the cat’s complexities is what makes it the mostperfect animal on earth. This stanza also includes the second time Pablodetails the cat’s yellow eyes. “Nothing has his unity,nothing lunar or floral has such a texture: he is one whole like the sun or thetopaz, and the springing curve of his contour firm and subtle as the line of aship’s prow.
” (27-36) This is the first full explanation that Pablo givesto his point on how the cat is more than any other animal, like a king, like agod of the animal kingdom. Pablo details the cat’s eye as an image of excellence.The fourth stanza is longer than thefirst three, and it compares the cat to an emperor to perfect for the dirtyearth of which it must stand on.
The first sentence of this stanza is wherePablo goes fully in to detailing the cat as the god that it is. But he alsoexplains that it can’t be held down or explained because it doesn’t belong toany place nor anyone. “Oh little emperor without a realm,conquistador without a country, smallest tiger in the salon, and nuptial sultanof the heaven of erotic housetops.” (41-46) The next sentence goes as faras saying that the cat is far superior than the world in which it lives in, thatit has power over it’s landscape. “Love’s wind you claimin the wild weather when you pass and place four feet, delicate, on the ground,sniffing, distrusting the whole universe as if it all were too dirty for a cat’simmaculate foot.” (47-59) Unlike every other animal, the cat deserves morethan what it has been given. Throughoutthis poem he examines how a cat is enough, and does not need us or anything, therebyshowing how everything else is lacking.
The fifth stanza of the poem begins goinginto the fact that though people know of the cat’s perfections there is still alot of mystery to the cat. The stanza includes the contradictions of a cat,saying that a cat is lazy yet then it says that the cat is athletic. The cat isreferred to as alien, though further into the stanza it says the cat is not amystery. How can a cat be alien yet be known? It also says that the cat is the protectorof the household against outside forces such as mice. Pablo explains at the endof the stanza how people should feel lucky that they know the cat. “Oh proud Independent of the house, haughty remnant ofnight lazy, athletic, and alien, profoundest cat, secret police of thedwellings flag of a vanished velvet, surely there is no enigma in your manner, perhapsno mystery, the whole world knows you and you belong to the least mysterious ofhouseholders perhaps all feel that, all whole feel themselves owners, masters,uncles of cats, companions, colleagues, students or friends of the cat.
“(60-82) Pablo writes this as he himself feels like he doesn’t deserve to trulyknow the cat and to be able to tame it. The sixth and last stanza is the mostconfusing, Pablo explains that he doesn’t understand the cat, even thoughthroughout the poem he explains the reasons why he thinks the cat is perfect. Themain reason why the cat is perfect in the eyes of man, is the fact that it doesn’tallow itself to be completely known to us, and that it is God like. This goesinto the religious aspects of the poem; People pray to God, people have faithin God, God is in people’s homes and lives yet God remains an enigma just likethe cat.
Pablo goes on to explain the things he does know, how he is a smartman that knows such things as science and math, but that he can’t fully wraphis head around the complexities of the cat. “All theseI know: life and its archipelago, the sea and the unmeasurable city, botany-thepistil and its deviations, the for and the minus of mathematics, the world’svolcanic funnels, the crocodile’s unreal rind, the fireman’s unknowablegoodness, yet I cannot decipher a cat.” (86-94) He ends the poem with thelast examination of a cat’s golden eyes referencing again its royalty. This poem has vivid imagery, anddetails of nature. I think the use of a cat as a symbol of independence, freedom,and living above all else is a way for Pablo to share his feelings of frustrationof life, and self. He does not have that freedom, free from comparison, andcomplete satisfaction with the world. He also does not have all the answers tolife.
The complexity of the world ismeant to be a mystery, but also revered.