Christopher Smart (1722-1771) was a remarkable English poet known for his extraordinary life and profound poetic vision. Born into a literary family, Smart displayed exceptional intellectual abilities from a young age, which led to a scholarship at Cambridge University. However, he faced numerous challenges in his life, including financial hardships and periods of confinement in mental asylums. It was during these difficult times that Smart's poetic genius shone brightest.
Despite his struggles, he created timeless works such as the enigmatic poem "Jubilate Agno," which explored profound spiritual themes and celebrated the presence of God in the natural world. Smart's poetry was characterized by its unique style and passionate depth, offering a glimpse into the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of art. His life and poetry continue to inspire and captivate readers, leaving an enduring mark on the literary landscape."
Three Key Themes in Smart's poetry:
Divine Presence and Spiritual Connection: Smart's poetry often explores the presence of God in the natural world and the interconnectedness of all creation. He delves into the spiritual realm, finding meaning and significance in even the smallest aspects of life. Smart's poems reflect a deep sense of awe, reverence, and the search for divine connection.
Personal Struggles and Resilience: Smart's own life experiences, including his confinement in asylums and personal hardships, deeply influenced his poetry. He channels his struggles into his work, expressing themes of endurance, resilience, and the ability to find solace and meaning in the face of adversity. His poems often reflect a profound exploration of the human condition and the capacity for inner strength.
Nature and the Beauty of Creation: Smart had a profound appreciation for the natural world and the wonders of creation. His poems celebrate the beauty of nature and emphasize the spiritual significance found within its intricate details. He observes and reflects upon the behavior of animals, the cycles of the seasons, and the harmony of the natural order, creating vivid and imaginative descriptions that evoke a sense of wonder and connection to the world around him
Process Theology and Jeoffry
The three key themes in Smart's poetry - the presence of God in the natural world, the relation of faith and resilience, and the beauty of creation itself - are all important in process theology. The One in whose life the universe unfolds is not all controlling but rather all faithful. inspired by the sheer interconnectedness and beauty of the natural world, of which humans are a part. God does not create this beauty all alone, it is co-created by the creativity and the world together. God is the Poet of the world. God is also active in the world in times of trial such as those faced by Smart in the asylym. God cannot remove hardships, but God dwells within each person as a lure to respond to whatever hardships are faced. Writing poetry was one way Smart creatively responded to the situation we face. We are rightly grateful to him and to his cat, Jeoffry, arguably the most famous cat in English literature.
In process theology, the lure of God is within all living beings, not within humans alone. In their natural activities, other living beings respond to this divine calling naturally. This does not mean that their actions conform to human moral standards. Cats may not love their neighbors as themselves, especially if their neighbors are mice. Nevertheless, cats instinctively follow the inner guidance of their genes, surroundings, histories, and the allure of God within them.
In "Jubilate Agno." Christopher Smart invites us to see this in his own cat, Jeoffry. "Jubilate Agno." derived from Latin, can be translated as "Rejoice in the Lamb." Composed during Smart's time in an asylum, the poem was unpublished during his lifetime. It is a highly personal and eccentric work, reflecting Smart's religious devotion and his experiences within the asylum. Divided into four parts, the poem consists of fragmented verses that often center on the behaviors and characteristics of various animals, including his beloved cat, Jeoffry. Yes, along with Smart, let us consider his cat Jeoffry.
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry. For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him. 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. For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer. For he rolls upon prank to work it in. For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself. For this he performs in ten degrees. For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean. For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there. For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended. For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood. For fifthly he washes himself. For sixthly he rolls upon wash. For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat. For eighthly he rubs himself against a post. For ninthly he looks up for his instructions. For tenthly he goes in quest of food. For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour. For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness. For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance. For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying. 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. For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes. For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life. For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him. For he is of the tribe of Tiger. For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger. For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses. For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation. For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat. For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon. For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit. For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt. For every family had one cat at least in the bag. For the English Cats are the best in Europe. For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped. For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly. For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature. For he is tenacious of his point. For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery. For he knows that God is his Saviour. For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest. For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion. For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually —Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat. For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better. 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 set 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. For he can catch the cork and toss it again. For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser. For the former is afraid of detection. For the latter refuses the charge. For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business. For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly. For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services. For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land. For his ears are so acute that they sting again. For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention. For by stroking of him I have found out electricity. For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire. For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast. For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements. For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer. For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped. For he can tread to all the measures upon the music. For he can swim for life. For he can creep.