Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939) is a collection of whimsical poems by T. S. Eliot about felinepsychology and sociology, published by Faber and Faber. It is the basis for the musicalCats.
Eliot wrote the poems in the 1930s, and included them, under his assumed name "Old Possum", in letters to his godchildren. They were collected and published in 1939, with cover illustrations by the author, and quickly re-published in 1940, illustrated in full by Nicolas Bentley. They have also been published in versions illustrated by Edward Gorey (1982) and Axel Scheffler (2009).
The contents of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, along with the names of the featured cats where appropriate, are:
In 1954 the English composer Alan Rawsthorne set six of the poems in a work for speaker and orchestra entitled Practical Cats, which was recorded soon afterwards, with the actor Robert Donat as the speaker. At about the same time another English composer, Humphrey Searle, composed another narrated piece based on the poems, using flute, piccolo, cello and guitar. This work, Two Practical Cats, consists of settings of the poems about Macavity and Growltiger.
The best-known musical adaptation of the poems is Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats, which was premiered in the West End of London in 1981 and on Broadway in 1982. It became the longest-running Broadway show in history until it was overtaken by another musical by Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera, and then by Chicago by Kander and Ebb.
As well as the poems in this volume, the musical introduces several additional characters from Eliot's unpublished drafts, most notably Grizabella.
In the film Logan's Run Logan and Jessica meet an old man in the ruins of the United States Senate Chamber during their search for Sanctuary. The Old Man has many cats and refers to the poem "The Naming of Cats", explaining that each cat has three names: one common, one fancy and one that only the cat knows. Later the Old Man refers to one cat in particular, "Gus", short for "Asparagus", and goes on to recite parts of "Macavity: the Mystery Cat".
On June 5, 2009, The Times revealed that in 1937 Eliot had composed a 34-line poem entitled "Cows" for the children of Frank Morley, a friend who, like Eliot, was a director of the publishing company Faber and Faber. Morley's daughter, Susanna Smithson, uncovered the poem as part of the BBC Two programme Arena: T.S. Eliot, broadcast that night as part of the BBC Poetry Season.
- T.S. Eliot (1982). Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Harcourt. ISBN 0-15-168656-4.
- Larsen, Janet Karsten (1982) "Eliot's Cats Come Out Tonight", Christian Century. May 5, 1982, p. 534.
“Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer were a very notorious couple of cats.
As knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians,
Tight-rope walkers and acrobats
They had an extensive reputation.
When the family assembled for Sunday dinner,
With their minds made up that they wouldn’t get thinner
On Argentine joint, potatoes and greens,
And the cook would appear from behind the scenes
And say in a voice that was broken with sorrow
"I'm afraid you must wait and have dinner tomorrow!
For the joint has gone from the oven like that!"
Then the family would say: "It's that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie – or Rumpleteazer!" -
And most of the time they left it at that.
Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer had a wonderful way of working together.
And some of the time you would say it was luck
And some of the time you would say it was weather.
They would go through the house like a hurricane,
And no sober person could take his oath
Was it Mungojerrie – or Rumpleteazer?
Or could you have sworn that it mightn't be both?
And when you heard a dining room smash
Or up from the pantry there came a loud crash
Or down from the library came a loud ping
From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming
Then the family would say: "Now which was which cat?
It was Mungojerrie! And Rumpleteazer!"
And there's nothing at all to be done about that!”
― T.S. Eliot, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats