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In Thomas Gray’s poem, “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes,” he shares a story about a cat named Selima while also teaching a lesson to readers. Even though the poem is amusing, it is written and arranged cleverly. Gray integrates humor, imagery, and advice into a story to form a poem that will never be forgotten. Both the poem itself, and the message conveyed in it are relatable. Thomas Gray’s style and use of imagery, diction, and structure in his attractive poem help to warn his readers of seeking opulence and superiority.
The style and message of Thomas Gray’s poem allow me to easily connect to it. First, he portrays an amusing scene of a cat with great detail that is fun to read. There is an iambic rhythm throughout the poem as well as a rhyme pattern. At first glance his writing may seem too immature or playful, but beneath the surface Thomas Gray is skillfully arranging words and structure. I connect with his style because I am very goofy myself and like fun poetry with a deeper meaning. As for giving advice to readers, I will always remember this poem and Thomas Gray’s warning. He absorbs the readers and grabs their attention when describing the story of the cat, much like a children’s fable. Gray allows the readers, including myself, to place themselves in the cats’ shoes. He builds up the anticipation and tempts the readers throughout the poem until we fall into the poem’s trap of a warning, realizing our mistake too late.
Thomas Gray integrates imagery of different senses to draw readers into the poem so that they can relate to Selima the cat. For visual imagery, he begins by giving readers a visual perspective of a cat. He describes the vase’s side in detail, “where China’s gayest art had dyed” (line 2), because at the cat’s level of vision the side of the vase is “lofty” (line 1). Rather than acting as a bystander of the scene, Gray forces the readers to share in the cat’s experience. Similarly, Gray uses tactile imagery to further connect readers to the cat. In the beginning, readers physically feel the happiness of the cat when Selima’s “conscious tail her joy declared” (line 7). Likewise, readers feel themselves slip and fall into the tub when the “slippery verge her feet beguiled” (line 29), and then they tumble “headlong in” (line 30). Although the poem is not written from a personal point of view, Gray effectively places readers in the scene so that they will learn from Selima’s mistake.
Thomas Gray uses diction throughout the entire poem to effectively deliver his advice to avoid temptations of opulence and superiority. The words he uses to describe the physical appearance of the cat have connotations of nobility and luxury. For example, her paws are “velvet” (line 9), her ears are “jet” (line 11), and her eyes are “emerald” (line 11). Thus, Gray warns readers of cats or people who ornately decorate themselves. In addition, the cat has a desire to be superior and noble. She is initially attracted to the “lofty” vase (line 1) with its “azure flowers” (line 3). Azure is defined as the color of the sky as well as a heraldic blue. Furthermore, Selima seeks the goldfish who have “scaly armour’s Tyrian hue through richest purple” (line 17) and “betrayed a golden gleam” (18). Grays choice of “betrayed” foreshadows the end of the poem and Selima’s fall. Thus, Gray suggests that a vain desire to appear superior and noble can be even more dangerous than a craving for ornate objects.
The structure of the poem enhances the deceit of goldfish in addition to the falsity of superiority and luxury. Overall, the poem has an upbeat rhythm and fun rhyming patterns that attract readers to the poem, yet Gray also masks its true motives. Although the poem seems happy and playful at first, its main purposes are to tell a story of a cat’s tragic death and to give advice to readers. In this way, the poem’s structure is deceptive just as the goldfish are. Gray also cleverly arranges structure within the poem to draw readers into the scene. For example, the first stanza is iambic until the last line when Selima “gazed on the lake below” (line 6). The water also grabs the attention of readers because the beat falls on “gazed” and does not follow the iambic rhythm. The word and sound of “gazed” is stretched out, and readers are compelled to look at the poem like Selima looks at the water. Moreover, in the fifth stanza structure reflects events occurring in the scene of the poem. There is a pause and a visual space after “the gulf between” (line 27) like there is a gulf between Selima’s face and the water. In addition, “between” (line 27) and “in” (line 30) are unique slight rhymes. The poem’s structure slips and is disrupted just as Selima’s loses control.
Thomas Gray in “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat” combines many different aspects of poetry to present an easily relatable poem for me and for other readers. The key to the poem’s attractiveness is its ability to draw in the readers. He does this by telling a compelling story that is easy to read and follow. Nevertheless, he also grabs the readers’ attention on a deeper level using creative imagery, diction, and structure. He relates to the undeceived reader when he asks rhetorical questions in the fourth stanza, “What female heart can gold despise?” (line 23) and “What cat’s averse to fish?” (line 24). The readers and cat fall for these questions, and he tricks his audience by calling them a “presumptuous maid!” (line 25) in the next stanza. As a reader, I am not simply reading a story of a cat’s tragedy, but am also experiencing her same temptations and feelings during the poem. Thomas Gray has deceived my desire to be absorbed by a poem, however, and I will be with caution bold when I read more poetry and try to relate to it.
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