Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes” by Thomas Gray

Word Meanings

azure – blue
demurest – shyest, most reserved
pensive – thoughtful
vies – wagers
tyrian – purple
presumptuous – assumptive

malignant – evil, harmful

Summary and Analysis

It is very difficult to understand what a writer mean when they write a poem because you have to get into a frame of mind that you think the writer was in when they composed the poem. In the Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes, Thomas Gray uses a cat and fish to
teach a moral.

In the “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes”, the setting was set in the first stanza. The poem gave you an idea that it took place in a very nice house that had a large china vase, that held water, also it gives the allusion that in this vase were flowers and fish. It describes beautiful blue-tinted flowers in bloom and the fish as an angel-like Beta fish, which had a coat of armour made in gold with the hint of royal purple. When Gray went into describing a fluffy black and white tabby cat with deep green eyes.

The cat’s name is Selima and she is perched at the top of the vase watching the fish glide through the water. Selima was planning to eat the fish as soon as she could catch them. So she slowly reached with her paw to nab one of the fishes, her first attempt fails so she thinks again of how she can reach them. Eventually, she falls in and tries to get out eight times while crying for help from a forgiving soul. No one seems to hear her and she drowns in the water where the fish swam.

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Thomas Gray asks two questions ” What female heart can gold despise? What cat’s averse to fish?”(lines 23 and 24) the meaning of those questions are that some gold is not meant for women and these fishes were not meant to be eaten by Selima. Also, the “female” could reflect the cat since cats are generalized has a feminine and “gold” referring to the fish. Gray also states “Malignant fate sat by, and smil’d” (line 28) which leads me to believe that fate was laughing at the cat and not helping it cause fate knew what was going to happen. In line twenty-nine “The slipp’ry verge her feet beguil’d” is an illusion to that the cat thinks it has balance and yet she does not cause she falls into the fishbowl.

In the second to last stanzas, it talks about how she cried out to a “wat’ry God” to send aid to her. “No dolphins came, no Nereid stirr’d: Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard” which in my opinion means that no one heard Selima not even another cat, servant or even her owner came to help her in her dismay.

The last stanza is basically the moral to the little story. The first two lines make the reader believe that the beauty of the vase nor the fishes were disturbed and that one false step could mean your life.

The rest of that stanza has the bases of the moral, which is do not always go for everything that you want cause it could turn out that it is not what it seemed to be in the first place. An example of this moral in today’s society would be a company that relies on its stock to help it succeed. As the stock goes up the company seem to get cocky with the money they have until the stock starts to drop. Then eventually the company will have to file for bankrupts cause they choose to send their money foolishly.

Thomas Gray originally wrote this poem in honour of Selima, Walpole’s cat that drowned after tumbling into a china goldfish bowl. I believe that as he wrote it he put in this underlying moral to get his readers to think of their choices in life. The language usage through word choice, syntax, and style create a dimension all their own. Gray uses an array of words commonly found in someone who is highly educated and knowledgeable. He uses descriptive words with hidden meanings and connotations. For example, he uses the names of Tom and Susan for people who will not come to his aid. Tom and Susan are generally the names of household servants who should be around to come to his aid, and yet, in fact, are not. This implies the relationship and feelings the servants have toward their Master and toward his possessions. The word choice for the title, ode, in particular, suggests this is a tribute to a loved one or someone of meaningful significance. This in fact is true; the cat’s owner as a tribute writes this poem to his beloved friend the cat. The sentences are long as well as the complexities of the thoughts. The descriptions are vivid; they come to life; they leave much to the imagination.

Tonality and mood is set through the interaction of the speaker. The speaker of this poem is the owner of the cat. He is the only speaker and his tone stays consistent throughout. He uses parodies by making the simplest things seem so complex, humorous to some degree.

Over-exaggeration and colourful descriptions add to the flow of the poem. The speaker is direct with his feelings. He is honest and open about the world as he sees it. His specific word choice displays this openness. He makes references to mythology, references to family, and references to mankind.

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Taking a second look at this poem has revealed many new things. The central idea and train of thought still remains, yet depth has been found. Word choice, sentence structure, and mood are
important things to analyze when reading and re-reading literature. It creates an added dimension to an elementary viewpoint after only one glance. So, go ahead and take a second look.

Questions and Answers

1. To what does the speaker compare a lake?
The speaker creates a metaphor at the conclusion of the first stanza, referring to the tub of goldfish as “the lake below.”

2. What does the cat look like? What was its name?
The cat has a round face, white beard, velvet paws, a tortoise-shell coloured coat, black ears, and emerald eyes. The cat’s name was Selina.

3. Who or what is the “Presumptuous Maid” of the poem’s fifth stanza?
The cat is referred to as the “Presumptuous Maid” by the speaker for her naïveté in thinking she could capture the fish in the tub.

4. Who are Tom and Susan?
Tom and Susan are most likely the cat’s owners.

5. What poetic device is exemplified by the phrases “heedless hearts” and “glisters, gold”?
The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words is known as alliteration.

6. At first, Gray makes the reader believe that this poem is simply about the death of a cat. The last stanza, however, proves otherwise. How does the last stanza change the purpose of this poem?
Ans. In the last stanza, Gray warns the reader that “…one false step is ne’er retreiv’d” and that “nor all, that glisters, gold.” His poem becomes not just a story, but a story with a lesson: live a life ruled by caution, and remain aware of the temptations that exist in it.

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