‘Oh Harry, Harry! hold me close —
I fear some animile.
It is the horny Catipoce
With her outrageous smile!’
Thus spoke the maiden in alarm;
She had good cause to fear:
The Catipoce can do great harm,
If any come too near.
Despite her looks, do not presume
The creature’s ways are mild;
For many have gone mad on whom
The Catipoce has smiled.
She lurks in woods at close of day
Among the toadstools soft,
Or sprawls on musty sacks and hay
In cellar, barn, or loft.
Behind neglected rubbish-dumps
At dusk your blood will freeze
Only to glimpse her horny humps
And hear her fatal sneeze.
Run, run! adventurous boy or girl—
Run home, and do not pause
To feel her breath around you curl,
And tempt her carrion claws.
Avoid her face: for underneath
That gentle, fond grimace
Lie four-and-forty crooked teeth—
My dears, avoid her face!
‘Oh Harry, Harry! hold me close,
And hold me close awhile;
It is the odious Catipoce
With her devouring smile!’
The poem and illustration as above, are taken from Complete Poems For Children, by James Reeves and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. (Classic Mammoth, First Published in Great Britain, 1994.) Reissued 2001 by Egmont Books Ltd, London.
Many thanks to Laura Cecil for the following permissions.
The Catipoce © James Reeves from the Complete Poems for Children, 1957
‘Permission granted by the Artist’s Estate.
Complete Poems for Children (c) Edward Ardizzone 1957,’Permission granted by the Artist’s Estate.
I can remember being utterly enthralled with The Catipoce as a young person. I don’t own a copy so when I decided to search this poem out a year ago, I blessed the internet. As a child, I loved reading poems aloud and James Reeve’s poems, as Brian Alderson puts it, were ‘intended, as often as not, to be spoken or even chanted as well as merely read. (He was a great proponent of spoken poetry and his ear for “the ring of words” is evident throughout....The article by Brian Alderson is well worth a read and is the best review of James’s work I have found on the internet. Go here to read it.
Prefabulous Anamiles by James Reeves, was the name of the book which I first read, (published 1957- William Heinemann, London). It was followed by More Prefabulous Animiles.
Aside from The Catipoce, James’s animiles included The Snyke…
‘The Snyke! it is the Snyke!’ they wail.
To hear that slithery scratchy tail…’
and the ‘The Chickamungus, who lives amid the dragon fungus, , and when he sometimes
‘stamps and roars
Along the Ump’s resounding shores!
The drowsy cattle faint from fright
the birds fall flat, the fish turn white
Not surprisingly, James was one of the best loved children’s poets of the twentieth century. He was also lucky enough to be illustrated by the great artist, Edward Ardizzone, a much loved children’s writer in his own right.
James Reeves was English, (1909-1978), and educated at Cambridge. As well as children’s stories and poems he wrote adult poetry. He was also a great scholar whose reputation was such that he was commissioned as General Editor of two dozen or more volumes of Heinemann’s ‘Poetry Bookshelf.’ He compiled at least nine of the selections himself. And In 1958 he published his much reprinted manual ‘Teaching Poetry.’ Although his body of work is easy to locate on the net, there is not a lot about James the person. I have searched for a photo with no result. As for family, I have found but one mention of a wife called Mary but none of any children.
There have been many reprints and editions of James’s work, mainly from Faber and Faber and or Heinemann London. The latest edition of his poems appears to be his Complete Poems For Children and was published by Faber and Faber in 2009. The animiles are included within but sadly many of the illos from Edward Ardizzone have been cut out of recent reprints
Stories From England, has been continuously in print since 1954 and was reprinted by Oxford University Press in 2009.
For the favourite poems of other Tuesday Poets, go here.