Not quite a quotation from the poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771). He was gifted, devout and more than a little mad. Among his most charming outpourings is the long versified tribute he paid to his cat, written in the Bedlam Asylum where he was confined. It's part of his great poem on creation, Jubilate Agno from which Benjamin Britten drew the text of his marvellous work Rejoice in the Lamb.
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
In a long list of his amazing accomplishments comes this:
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.
I wish I had Smart's flair for words when it comes to our beloved cat Godiva who died this week. She was twenty, a great age. She could not rise to half Jeoffry's attainments (she was never much good at spraggling though she could certainly jump from an eminence, and was doing so right up to last weekend). She outlived her characterful brother Leofric who died eight years ago. And she achieved something that even Jeoffrey could not have dreamed of. She had her own Twitter feed (@HRHLadyGodiva).
Why Godiva, you ask? She was originally called Bridget when we adopted her from the cat shelter in Sheffield where we had just moved. (Leofric's name had been Carlton.) The children wanted to name them in memory of our happy eight years in Coventry. So Earl Leofric and his brave wife Godiva fitted the bill. With the years, Leo transmuted at times into the Shakespearian Leontes and then the 'Cat of Glory'. Godiva simply became Diva or Dives (and not as in 'and Lazarus').
A more affectionate creature than Godiva was never born. Especially after Leo died, she craved human company. She would wander all over this great house seeking it. She was not fussy: Susan my PA, Linda our housekeeper, John the Head Porter, the students upstairs in the eyrie all doted on her. She attended Chapter meetings, seminars on the Psalms, recitals in Priors' Hall, fundraising events in the solarium. She has met a Prime Minister, members of the Royal Family, sundry ambassadors, lords lieutenant, high sheriffs, mayors, vice-chancellors and bishops without number. She never went far from the Deanery (unlike Leo who was twice caught invading the neighbours' cat-flaps and stealing the food of other College cats). She was timid and risk-averse, near the bottom of the feline food chain.
Despite what it says on her Twitter profile, she had little sense of being a World Heritage Cat living in Grade One listed surroundings. (This is despite being a published cat: she and Leo are the subject of a chapter in Richard Surman's illustrated book Cathedral Cats, Collins 2005.) Maybe the Deanery turned her head a little, for she would follow us round the house like a puppy dog eager to please, not at all the Senior Cat she could have been by rights. To the very end, she insisted on clambering on to the amplest vacant lap or settling into a her well-shaped hollow on the sofa to keep us company while we watched TV.
Maybe Godiva's feline sense of self was prematurely arrested by Leo's bullying tactics. Dogs are famously supposed to have owners while cats have staff, but Godiva was too dependent to grasp this important principle. Freud said that time spent with cats was never wasted. Godiva believed that it was definitely the other way round. She was never more miserable than when she was devoid of human companionship. She would trust anyone, incapable of believing that anyone might wish her harm. She hated the sight of bags and suitcases in the hall which meant that we were going away.
For the last year or two, she was completely deaf but this enabled her to find her voice for the first time. She would welcome us vocally when we came into the room, or cry and wail down the long echoing corridors looking for us until we went to find her for the sake of a quiet life. Then a few days ago she went blind too. It was poignant and sad to see her wandering around not knowing where she was, colliding with the furniture, tumbling on steps, her only awareness of us being our touch and caresses. It was kinder not to let this misery go on.
Like every pet who is loved, Godiva carried so many associations. She witnessed two decades of Sadgrove history. Fond recollections of our children, family Christmases, birthdays and Easter egg hunts, celebrations and losses, the highs and lows of life come flooding back. Without her, the house seems empty and a trifle forlorn. It already 'knows' that we are leaving in a few months' time. We miss her funny foxy tortoiseshell face, her creeping around behind us, the warmth of her cherished hollow on the sofa. This parting feels like part of a long-drawn-out farewell. But she leaves behind a rich vein of memories. She has been a loving companion for half our married life, half my working life, the entire time I have been a dean. We are thankful for it all.
So on the day she died I said a prayer of thanksgiving for our pets at evensong. I don't know what I believe about life after death when it comes to animals. But Christopher Smart was right. Animals belong to the world God has made. His love embraces them as it does all of creation: Cuthbert and Francis both teach us that. In her own idiosyncratic cattish way Godiva too has been the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him. Yes, we shall consider, and never forget, our Cat Godiva.
- Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in Northumberland. I have been a parish priest, theological educator and cathedral precentor; then Dean of Sheffield 1995-2003 and Dean of Durham 2003-2015.**** I blog on faith, society, church matters, the North East, European issues, the arts, travel and anything else that intrigues.**** My main blog is at http://northernwoolgatherer.blogspot.com.**** My sermons and addresses are at: http://northernambo.blogspot.com.**** Blogs during my time as Dean of Durham: http://decanalwoolgatherer.blogspot.com.