Darren Pheapo
English Literature

Jeoffry: An Example for Mankind

Jubilate Agno is Christopher Smart's poem which illustrates at first glance a testament to his religious obsession and his deteriorated mental state. The other side of this poem shows a man trying to keep his sanity in an insane place. William Stead sees the work as "a spiritual diary of his thoughts, memories, and prayers, during the darkest years of his life" (Stead 17). Jubilate Agno focuses on God with daily occurrences weaving their way into the poem. Smart's work "reflects what was . . . his life work: the praise of God through poetry" (Anderson 54). Smart writes about what he knows from the Bible to animals to the alphabet; most contain God themes [?]. In his tribute to his cat, Jeoffry, Smart shows the cat's particular connection to God, and how Jeoffry is the ideal servant of God. Is an insane Smart writing about an imaginary cat's servitude to God? Or is the intellectual Smart merely paralleling human life to cat life to show how each of us can serve God?

Jeoffry became more than a pet to Smart in the years of his confinement. Dr. Sherbo contends that "he had a cat, a real one, not the product of his distressed imagination" (qtd. in Dearnley 155). Smart, being particularly religious, felt that his companion was a good illustration of serving God in his ways. Jeoffry is aware of God, "For he knows that God is his Saviour" (134) just as we should. Smart refers to Jeoffry working for God, "for when his day's work is done his business more properly begins. / For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary" (Smart 133). Jeoffry strives to serve God so much that after each full day of activities he can still be a servant to God. With the detailed descriptions of Jeoffry's daily routines, Smart sees the holy connection in them. "For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way. / For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness" (131). A morning stretch for a feline symbolizes a morning prayer for a person. Jeoffry's actions are an example of religion [?] not only by the way Smart connects them to God, but also the arrangement of the text and its wording.

There is a clear religious tone throughout Jubilate Agno. Smart starts to use the "techniques of Hebrew poetry," particularly "the responsive principle of Hebrew verse" (Anderson 71). He uses the words Let and For which have a biblical tone and are an example of the responsive principle. Even passages not oriented religiously sound more so with these words: "For M is meet. / For N is nay. / For O is over. / For P is peace" (122); "Let Tayler, house of Tayler rejoice with the flying mole" (163). He uses these tones when writing of Jeoffry. For predominantly starts each passage, and now even the primitive tasks sound like an order from God unquestionably followed: "For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it [a] chance" (133). This gives us our perception that our daily ritual routines can be holy without directly involving God. There are also biblical patterns in Jeoffry's tribute.

Smart takes passages and stories from the Bible throughout Jubilate Agno. From 1 Chronicles 1:1-3:16 he gets a family tree (Atwan and Wieder 460) and from Zechariah 1:18-21 he tells the story of the "horns and scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem" (Atwan and Wieder 459). He uses the ten commandment form when describing Jeoffry's daily routine:

For this he does in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
. . .
For Ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For Tenthly he goes in quest of food. (132-133)
The repeated use of For makes the lines resemble those of the commandments beginning with Thou: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. . . . Thous shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, . . ." (Exodus 20:3-17). Jeoffry does each routine daily and the ten commandments should be a daily routine. Jeoffry's characteristics are also virtues to be followed.

The characteristics that Jeoffry displays are ideal for the cat world. "For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements" (136). Jeoffry exemplifies the best cat in his religiosity and character. "For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature" (134). The old saying that cleanliness is next to godliness makes it way into the poem: "For he is the cleanest in the use of his fore-paws of any quadrupede" (134). The translation into human race is definite: be holy and be the best. Jeoffry becomes a symbol for us.

Smart's tribute to Jeoffry sends a message rather than an illustration of insanity. Smart successfully sets Jeoffry up as a symbol for us to follow in our spiritual and daily lives. "For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbor. / For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness" (133). Smart captures the minute details of Jeoffry's activities which add to the tribute's purpose through "his powers of observation and description" (qtd. in Dearnley 155). The cat illustrates how the simplest of activities can reach God without being directly linked to Him. The language Smart uses enhances the theme in the selection with the religious undertones and examples. Such as "For he is the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually" (134). The tribute to Jeoffry ends up as instructions on how to be the ideal person.

Works Cited

Anderson, Frances. Christopher Smart. NY: Twayne Pub., Inc., 1974.

Atwan, Robert, and Laurance Wieder. Chapters into Verse, Vol. I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Dearnley, Moira. The Poetry of Christopher Smart. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969.

Smart, Christopher. Rejoice in the Lamb. Ed. William Force Stead. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1939.

Sample Papers
Introduction to Literature