The Cats of St. Nicholas

The last few months at North Dakota Quarterly have been a flurry of activity. We’re preparing a volume for publication, we have a new publisher, we’ve moved offices, and I’m learning the ropes as the new editor. 

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the former managing editor Kate Sweney around to guide me, to offer me advice and as sounding board for ideas, and to encourage me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. We also share pet stories.

My colleagues at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens reminded me this morning that George Seferis died on this day in 1971. His papers are held at the American School archives in Athens

One my favorite poems of his “Cats of St. Nicholas”, partly because it involves cats and partly because it is about a monastery on Cyprus and partly because I just like the poem. (For more on the monastery of St. Nicholas’s famous cats, go here.)

I’m pinching this image from Diana Gilliland Wright’s blog, Surprised by Time. The image is from  the travelogue of Krištof Harant (1608).

Cats of St Nicholas

Here’s an excerpt. For the entire poem, go here

The Cats of St. Nicholas

   But deep inside me sings
   the Fury’s lyreless threnody;
   my heart, self-taught, has lost
   the precious confidence of hope . . .

     — Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 990f.

‘That’s the Cape of Cats ahead,’ the captain said to me,
pointing through the mist to a low stretch of shore,
the beach deserted; it was Christmas day — 
‘. . . and there, in the distance to the west, is where
Aphrodite rose out of the waves;
they call the place “Greek’s Rock.”
Left ten degrees rudder!’
She had Salome’s eyes, the cat I lost a year ago;
and old Ramazan, how he would look death square in the eyes,
whole days long in the snow of the East,
under the frozen sun,
days long square in the eyes: the young hearth god.

(From E. Keeley and P. Sherrard, Princeton Literary Chronicle 58.3 (1997), p. 429-431)

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