The Cat and the Moon

Notes by Eliza Brett

  • Published in 1919
  • Can be interpreted to be about Yeats’ relationship with Maud Gonne
  • Can be interpreted to be about the key Romantic idea of mutability
  • Can be interpreted to be about how events/people are forever linked whilst yet remaining separate entities (see yolk/egg white parable from Plato’s Symposium which is also alluded to in ‘Among School Children’).

Structure:

  • The poem is about a dance and therefore the poem moves very rhythmically and repetitively, making it sound like a song to dance to. The strong, simple use of rhyme also helps to build the rhythm.
  • Assonance and alliteration are used to create the soft but swift movements and the lyrical, childish tone.

Analysis – The distance between Yeats and Maud:

  • ‘Black Minnaloushe’ was Maud’s cat (or Iseult Gonne’s cat…or Lady Gregory’s cat…depending on which source you credit); nevertheless the cat in this poem can be seen to represent Yeats. It is made obvious in other of Yeats’ poems from the time that he is unhappy with the fact that he never took enough action (political? pursuing his love for Maud?) and therefore believed himself somewhat predictable and sedentary
  •  ‘The Moon’ represents Maud; in literature The Moon is a traditional symbol/metaphor for women – the waxing and waning of the moon having long been associated with the menstrual cycle. Other reasons that Yeats may have chosen the Moon to act as a metaphor for Maud is that she was a traveller and a revolutionary – constancy was not her forte! Moonlight can also be seen from everywhere and therefore you cannot get away from it. Yeats almost feels tormented by Maud, not being able to get her off his mind. Yet she facilitates his own importance because her moonlight lights the cat – the implication here is that despite his frustrations with her, Maud is behind Yeats’ greatness. She is the muse which drives his art – without her, neither he nor his poetry, can exist.
  • ‘The cat went here and there / and the moon spun around like a top.’ Both movements can’t be synchronised and therefore as also shown in Among School Children –‘The yolk and the white of the one shell’. They are two things which belong together but cannot physically be as one because their parts/movements are so disparate.
  • It hints at the failure of the moon trying to learn ‘a new dance’ and be like the cat.
  • Yeats may have been intending to convey to Maud that, although they are different in many respects, the cat and the moon are ‘close kindred’ and ‘nearest kin’.
  • Contrast– the cat and the moon. The cat is “Black”, while the moon is white. Black and white are naturally obvious opposites, and show the distance between the two objects.
  •  There is a similarity between the two- their changing. The moon changes shape throughout its phases from circular to crescent, just as the cat’s eyes change ‘from round to crescent, from crescent to round’. The suggestion here is that although the two beings can never be reconciled into one whole, there are similarities which could bind them.
  • The shapes change similarly to one another. This shows that although the two are different in so many ways, they are still ‘close kindred’ and can change with each other.
  • ‘The creeping cat looked up’. This would convey the cat’s admiration for the moon, as it looks up at it at all times of the year. The changing of the cat’s eyes could also link with Maud’s changing relationships with various other men.
  • ‘Tired of that courtly fashion’. Yeats expresses his frustration with Maud because he hopes she will stop and dance a new dance. ‘A new dance turn’, he shows his bitterness towards all her rejections, he finally acknowledges them and makes a stand.
  • GYRES: grows and diminishes- constant changes in the moon, a never ending cycle of nature, mutability- round to crescent.
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25 thoughts on “The Cat and the Moon

  1. “The Cat and the Moon” presents time and movement in a very slow and gentle pace. It can be read literally as Yeats is ageing and therefore time is passing by him, or it could suggest how Yeats and Maud are moving away from each other. They have become total opposites yet belong together. Yeats cannot move on but he cannot see that this “connection” will never work.

    • It shows cycles as it refers to the moon’s monthly cycle – ” The sacred moon overhead has taken a new phase”. Also it shows the two as having a unseen relationship through the theme of cycles as the lines – “Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils, will pass from change to change, And that from round to crescent, From crescent to round they range” . This shows not only the moon’s phases being replicated in the Cat’s eyes, but the capability of the moon, as it is not only able to influence the tide, and human emotions, but the cat, who’s relationship is unable to be seen but is evidently there.

    • It could be linked with Broken Dreams, as both talk about the passions which he hold for Maude Gonne, and the idea that those emotion will never die.

      The references to nature could be linked to Stolen Child, Leda and the swan ( how Yeats uses nature to express different thoughts, Leda and the swan presenting a gothic image of swans and Wild swans at Coole presenting the purer view on swan)

  2. Easter 1916 and the cat and the moon probably have the most prominent aspects of change out of all the poems, so i would compare those two

    • To be honest Gia if you are considering comparing those two poems then I think you really don’t understand Yeats at all, please try harder

      • Actually I think that if constructed carefully, an argument for the comparison of The Cat and The Moon & Easter 1916 would be valid.The changing eyes of Minnaloushe could reference a different way of seeing or a flux in Yeats’ perception. By Easter 1916 his rash attitude towards independence has changed slightly (compared to September 1913) and he becomes more concerned about consequences i.e. “TERRIBLE beauty”. Maybe we should ALL try harder to understand the interpretations of others, even if we don’t agree with them. Thank you.

    • I’d have to disagree with ya there Gia. Surely The Second Coming is better, Surely a revelation is at hand (see what I did there 😉 )

      • Oh you went there Anna, preach it sister!! You gonna let that rest Luke?

    • The rhyming is every alternate line (line 2 with line 4, line 6 with line 8, etc). This creates the idea of a song or music, despite the fact that the rhyming is not perfect. The poem is also tri-metric (three beat), which supports the idea of a song and the “dance” referred to by Yeats in the poem. Specifically, he has written the poem as a waltz, a three-beat dance which is most commonly associated with love and romance.
      Hope this helps!

    • The rhyming is every alternate line (line 2 with line 4, line 6 with line 8, etc). This creates the idea of a song or music, despite the fact that the rhyming is not perfect. The poem is also tri-metric (three beat), which supports the idea of a song and the “dance” referred to by Yeats in the poem. Specifically, he has written the poem as a waltz, a three-beat dance which is most commonly associated with love and romance.

  3. I noted the fact that the first line is in iambic trimeter and the second line, talking of Maud represented by the moon is an anapaest, an iamb then another anapaest.
    As well as demonstrating a difference in pace between Yeats and Maud and therefore their inability to be together, it also implies Yeats’ attempts to impress/ keep up with his love, because of the reflective iambic meter Minnaloushe is described in.

  4. how would I tackle this exam question on the cat and the moon?- “How does Yeats present the idea of our connectivity with the world we live in in the cat and the moon?”

  5. For heaven’s sake! Yeats’s “The Cat and the Moon” is a poem about a cat! And the moon. Cats are mysterious creatures; the moon too is mysterious. Their kinship makes them perfect dance partners, the lunatic cat able to teach the formal moon a thing or two about dancing. Minneloushe may be Maud Gonne’s, or her daughter’s, or Lady Gregory’s, but no matter. He might as well live across the street, for cats never truly belong to anybody. And the name may be no more than a fond appelation like Snookums. Yeats wrote many poems demanding deep analysis, but this poem is just a charming study of a moonlit cat. May Swenson wrote about cats too. Read the five poems about cats in her book Poems to Solve, and you’ll understand Yeats’s treatment better. Ted Hughes understood cats. Here are the final lines of “Esther’s Tomcat”:

    From the dog’s fury,
    From gunshot fired point-blank he brings
    His skin whole, and whole
    From owlish moons of bekittenings

    Among ashcans. He leaps and lightly
    Walks upon sleep, his mind on the moon
    Nightly over the round world of men
    Over the roofs go his eyes and outcry.

  6. links to other yeats works in reference to his disappointment in not pursuing a romantic relationship with maud gonne?

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