A Cat May Look At A King

“A cat may look at a king,” said Alice. “I’ve read that in some book, but I don’t remember where.”

“Can ye judge a man, (quoth I), by his looking?
What, a cat may look on a king, ye know!”   –  John Heywood, 1562

“A cat may look at a king.”  I’ve always felt a fey attraction towards the saying.  It has the sound of a distant conversation – an interesting one, surely, about the worthiness of certain animals – that ends with an obvious explanation:  that a cat is fit to be in the presence of royalty.  Evocative and remote, it is a gift of thoughts, one linking to the other, until it ends with the vision of a feline silhouette, gazing with disdain at a pair of velvet slippers, an ermine cloak, and a crown of many towers.  The cat stares with contempt at the golden circlet, at the jewels that cannot match the unblinking prisms, the faceted, undefined colors that recline in its eyes.

To me this saying has nothing to do with society, with the classes, with equality or the lack of it – the messy feelings of humanity do not enter into it at all.  The meaning of the saying is simple:  a cat will do any damned thing it pleases. 

A few months ago, a couple moved into the recently vacated house next to my parents’.  They brought with them two large, loud and curly dogs.  And a cat.  He is black and white, and is named Sylvester.  The first time we noticed him was when we saw him trotting behind his owners and the dogs – the family taking a walk in the late summer twilight.  

One of his owners is allergic to cats, so obviously Sylvester does not get the attention he deserves.  But all he has to do is go next door, where he is guaranteed attention from a minimum of two people (parents) and a maximum of four people (add Aubrey and Boyfriend, on weekends).  Petting must be constant; once it ceases he will stop purring and give the offending party a look of questioning disgust.

In Search Of Intelligent Life

Sylvester gives one gentle and genteel head butts, he does not scratch.  He circles the sidewalk, searching for a softness in the concrete – for the slightest indentation that will cradle his body comfortably.  On finding that spot, he will settle down with a silent sigh of approval.

Nothing Beats A Brick

But he is infatuated with my parents’ house.  When the door is open but a sliver, he will slip in like a knife.  When no one is at home, he will wait – patient and annoyed – until my parents return, hoping that they will feel sufficiently guilty. 

This irresistible house, built in the 1920’s, is full of scents:  ghosts of past generations that rise to greet an inquisitive and appreciative cat.  Sylvester curls around corners, shadows the hallways, drifts lovingly amongst tables.  Motionless as he prowls, he reviews each room, carried by quiet muscles that flow like silk and water.  A history of danger reduced into domesticity, he is still capable of finding – and conquering – his own jungles.

I Know - They Don't Feed Me Either


Home Away From Home

Sylvester stalks the property line as he once stalked the Egyptian afterlife; he sleeps in my parents’ garage as he once did on Mohammed’s coat:  confident he would remain undisturbed.  He scratches my mother’s $800 wicker chair with a ferocity that is now confined and tamed – yet which still is a piercing joy to his feline blood.  He does these things because it is his choice, because he once, long ago, dared to look a king into his eyes, and so was granted his inalienable rights.

Cat vs. Crown Stare-Down


16 responses to “A Cat May Look At A King

  1. Goodness, your parents’ neighbors are in danger of losing Sylvester to your parents. Cats know a cat-friendly house when they see one, and will stay with it if they find more to their liking than their previous one. If a person wants complete loyalty, he or she should get a dog. 😉

  2. One of these lovely creatures resides with me. She can be very cold, but since the departure from our lives of a certain loud man who made her very nervous, she sometimes graces me with surprising bits of warmth and togetherness. And not just when she wants a meal.

    Even so, I am tired of people saying that animals notice and try to soothe you when you’re sad. As the commenter above alludes, those people are referring to dogs. Cats stare at you when you’re down and wonder if you’ll still be capable of dishing up their food. Kitty is across the room now, staring at me through slitted eyes.

  3. What a handsome, well-dressed fellow! I am glad your parents have provided a welcoming home for him.

    Cats still remember when royalty worshiped them as gods — of course they will look at a king!

  4. elizabethannewrites

    Sylvester is obviously a very discerning cat (was there ever a non-discerning cat?) He knows the best place to be, just as he can recognize the most comfortable bricks to lie on.

    A cat may look at a king, and a morgat may bask in the lyrical writing of an Aubrey. Thank you.

  5. [this is good]
    I’m afraid I don’t give my cats the attention they deserve (which is a different calculation from what they demand), but I do have a fairly reliable cat sitter who loves them up more than I do on evenings when I’m not there. I’m sure they’d like to go home with her (they may or may not know about her dog).

  6. Hi,
    Seems your household has a friend for life. 🙂
    Cats can be amazing creatures, you often wonder what on earth is on their mind sometimes.

  7. Cats are like daughters; they will never let you off easy. I love my cat because she is so difficult. She moves just out of reach when I’m petting her so I have to pursue. Her eyes are like fingers, poking me until I surrender.

  8. I always associate this saying with the publishing industry, too. Not in quite the same vein of “I’ll do what I want,” but the strange feeling that sometimes comes upon me when I send off a query to some very famous agent or editor. Yes, yes, I know you once edited The Color Purple, but I can still ask you to read my book.

  9. My thought when I hear that quote is “Who could stop a cat from looking at a king?”
    Sylvester is a lucky handsome boy. 🙂

  10. What a fabulous tale Aubrey. I love the shot of Sylvester looking at the cushion. Two alley cats have decided that they like our back porch way better than any other in our street. I love seeing them basking out there but they do not want human company ……… yet.

  11. Oh this was a delight to read! I do love the picture of the cat and the cat pillow in particular. Some days I miss the fact that we no longer have a pet cat… but then I remember to smelly cat litter in high summer….

  12. Ah, the cat. I’m allergic, too. It drives me nuts. I love those cat paws, the slink and shadowy-ness of the cat. These pictures are darling (sorry, not a “cat” word – surely they’re prefer something loftier than “darling” but that’s how I feel about them) and you’ve got such great captions on them. Lucky Sylvester to have two homes but then, the Universe is his territory, non?

    A lovely sharing. Please give him a few neck rubs, head pats or ear ticklings for me!

  13. I’m back now from a ten-day trip. I’ve never left my cat to a cat-sitter for such a length of time, and reports are that she wasn’t pleased. Living under the bed for ten days hardly suits a feline.

    When I returned, she deigned to emerge from the cave, but I clearly was non grata. When night fell, she jumped atop the bed, and declared her intention: I was NOT to sleep in my own bed my first night home. Tooth and claw defended her rights.

    I’m no fool. I slept on the sofa. Twice I woke to find her staring at me. By the next afternoon things were repairing themselves, but I dare not put to keyboard and screen the things I know she was thinking.

  14. Cats are mesmerising. Do you know that cats always choose to sleep in the part of the house that is most nocive to humans? Except, of course, when they want to curl up on or near the one that they have chosen as their human companion. The “nocive” thing has something to do with electricity and telluric currents. A bad spot for us is beneficial for them. No wonder they were accused of witchcraft and burnt with their “owners” in former times.

  15. Sylvester is getting the royal treatment he deserves. I can’t imagine he gets his due process if one of the owners is allergic. His mirror glance at the black-and-white cat illustration is priceless. Have you read When Cats Reigned like KIngs?

  16. Pingback: Goodbye Sylvester | Aubrey's Blog

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