Tuesday Poem – The Catipoce by James Reeves

‘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 Catipoce illustration Edward Ardizzone ‘The Catipoce’ illustration by Edward Ardizzone

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.

Biography

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 more information about Edward Ardizzone the wonderful artist and friend of James Reeves go hereWikipedia also has some great information available.

For the favourite poems of other Tuesday Poets, go here.

5 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem – The Catipoce by James Reeves

  1. HI Fiona, Thanks for introducing me to Sukumar Ray’s “kumropotash” I did a search on him…what an amazing person. Methinks that was a wonderful era for nonsense poems and illustrations. Were you referring to one of Sukumar’s poems in particular …re The Catipoce? I would like to use some of his work in the future. Thanks for calling 🙂

  2. I have a 1961 edition of Prefabulous Animiles in mint condition, given to me as a gift by my aunts in 1963. The Catipoce was always my favourite, with her four-and-forty crooked teeth. I always wished I could have her for a companion animal. And I was always a little sad at the Hippocrump’s passing.

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