Pablo about a cat, but in fact it’s more

Pablo Neruda’s poem titled Ode to the Cat displays surrealist style
making us think that it is about a cat, but in fact it’s more about how we are
all flawed. He uses vivid imagery placing the cat as a prominent being, comparing
one to everything else, and detailing a cat’s traits. He goes back and forth
examining 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 always
satisfied with itself, “but the cat wants only to be a
cat and every cat is a cat”. (21-23) He refers to the cat’s golden eyes using
it as reference to the cat’s majestic nature. The cat throughout history has
been viewed a mysterious and god like creature, that even the Egyptians once
held in high regard, but does the cat care about how it is viewed? In this poem
the author shows the perspective of the cat as it compares its perfection against
the impossible standards that everything is seeking to become.  

The first stanza examines the
beginning of the animal kingdom and the creation of animals. He explains it
like the birth of humankind in a religious perspective. Many of the animals
were born with imperfections. They had to adapt to their landscapes to be able
to evolve into beings closer to perfection but still never reaching it completely.
The cat however, “appeared complete, and proud: born
fully finished he walked by himself and knew what he wanted.” (11-14) The way
Pablo explains the beginning of the animal kingdom is like the creation of
human kind and has religious tones to how it explains the cat was perfect, almost
like a god compared to it’s fellow animals within the animal kingdom.    

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The second stanza explains the
imperfections of the other animals and compares them to the perfections of the
cat. It is written as one large sentence broken into two halves, with the first
half detailing how other animals want to be more than they are, and the second
half is how the cat is content with itself. The other animals want to be more
than they are. People always compare themselves to others, and are never content
with what they are. Pablo explains how the cat has no need to try to be
something it is not. In this stanza is the first examination of a cat’s eyes,
which Pablo details as showing its royalty. “Man wants
to 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 tries
to imitate flies, but the cat wants only to be cat and every cat is cat from
whiskers to tail, from presentiment to living rat, from the night right up to
his golden eyes.” (15-26)

The third stanza goes into detail
about the cat’s royalty and all its perfections. Even going as far as comparing
the cat to the sun. Pablo explains how the cat moves is perfect, how the cat
looks, is perfect, that the cat’s complexities is what makes it the most
perfect animal on earth. This stanza also includes the second time Pablo
details 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 the
topaz, and the springing curve of his contour firm and subtle as the line of a
ship’s prow.” (27-36) This is the first full explanation that Pablo gives
to his point on how the cat is more than any other animal, like a king, like a
god of the animal kingdom. Pablo details the cat’s eye as an image of excellence.

The fourth stanza is longer than the
first three, and it compares the cat to an emperor to perfect for the dirty
earth of which it must stand on. The first sentence of this stanza is where
Pablo goes fully in to detailing the cat as the god that it is. But he also
explains that it can’t be held down or explained because it doesn’t belong to
any place nor anyone. “Oh little emperor without a realm,
conquistador without a country, smallest tiger in the salon, and nuptial sultan
of the heaven of erotic housetops.” (41-46) The next sentence goes as far
as saying that the cat is far superior than the world in which it lives in, that
it has power over it’s landscape. “Love’s wind you claim
in 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’s
immaculate foot.” (47-59) Unlike every other animal, the cat deserves more
than what it has been given.  Throughout
this poem he examines how a cat is enough, and does not need us or anything, thereby
showing how everything else is lacking.

The fifth stanza of the poem begins going
into the fact that though people know of the cat’s perfections there is still a
lot 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 is
referred to as alien, though further into the stanza it says the cat is not a
mystery. How can a cat be alien yet be known? It also says that the cat is the protector
of the household against outside forces such as mice. Pablo explains at the end
of the stanza how people should feel lucky that they know the cat. “Oh proud Independent of the house, haughty remnant of
night lazy, athletic, and alien, profoundest cat, secret police of the
dwellings flag of a vanished velvet, surely there is no enigma in your manner, perhaps
no mystery, the whole world knows you and you belong to the least mysterious of
householders 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 truly
know the cat and to be able to tame it.  

The sixth and last stanza is the most
confusing, Pablo explains that he doesn’t understand the cat, even though
throughout the poem he explains the reasons why he thinks the cat is perfect. The
main reason why the cat is perfect in the eyes of man, is the fact that it doesn’t
allow itself to be completely known to us, and that it is God like. This goes
into the religious aspects of the poem; People pray to God, people have faith
in God, God is in people’s homes and lives yet God remains an enigma just like
the cat. Pablo goes on to explain the things he does know, how he is a smart
man that knows such things as science and math, but that he can’t fully wrap
his head around the complexities of the cat. “All these
I know: life and its archipelago, the sea and the unmeasurable city, botany-the
pistil and its deviations, the for and the minus of mathematics, the world’s
volcanic funnels, the crocodile’s unreal rind, the fireman’s unknowable
goodness, yet I cannot decipher a cat.” (86-94) He ends the poem with the
last examination of a cat’s golden eyes referencing again its royalty.

This poem has vivid imagery, and
details 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 frustration
of life, and self. He does not have that freedom, free from comparison, and
complete satisfaction with the world. He also does not have all the answers to
life.  The complexity of the world is
meant to be a mystery, but also revered.