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"Written between 22 Feb. and 1 March 1747. In a letter of about 22 Feb. 1747 ( Corresp i 271), G[ray]. replied to a request from Horace Walpole for an epitaph on one of his cats, which had been recently drowned in a goldfish bowl at his house in Arlington Street:
'As one ought to be particularly careful to avoid blunders in a compliment of condolence, it would be a sensible satisfaction to me (before I testify my sorrow, and the sincere part I take in your misfortune) to know for certain, who it is I lament. I knew Zara and Selima, (Selima, was it? or Fatima) or rather I knew them both together; for I cannot justly say which was which. Then as to your handsome Cat, the name you distinguish her by, I am no less at a loss, as well knowing one's handsome cat is always the cat one likes best; or, if one be alive and the other dead, it is usually the latter that is the handsomest. Besides, if the point were never so clear, I hope you do not think me so ill-bred or so imprudent as to forfeit all my interest in the survivor: Oh no! I would rather seem to mistake, and imagine to be sure it must be the tabby one that had met with this sad accident. Till this affair is a little better determined, you will excuse me if I do not begin to cry: 'Tempus inane peto, requiem, spatiumque doloris.'[']
G. here adapted Aeneid iv 433: Tempus inane peto, requiem spatiumque furori (For empty time I ask, for peace and reprieve for my frenzy). Instead of 'I knew Zara and Selima', as printed by Mason in 1775 , G. actually wrote 'Zara I know & Selima I know', a parody of Acts xix 15, which Bedingfield persuaded Mason to alter ( Corresp i 271 n ).
G. sent the poem to Walpole on 1 March, having identified the cat in question, 'feüe Mademoiselle Selime, whom I am about to immortalise for one week or fortnight, as follows' ( Corresp i 272). This text has not survived but, after giving it, G. added, 'There's a Poem for you, it is rather too long for an Epitaph.' On 17 March 1747 G. sent another copy of the poem to Thomas Wharton ( Corresp i 277-8) entitled 'On a favourite Cat, call'd Selima, that fell into a China Tub with Gold-Fishes in it & was drown'd'. He introduced it by saying that 'the most noble of my Performances latterly is a Pome on the uncommon Death of Mr W:s Cat'. The poem was first printed on 15 Jan. 1748, in Dodsley's Collection of Poems ii 267-9, no doubt as a result of Walpole's enthusiasm for it. This text, probably based on that originally sent to Walpole, appears to be the earliest. A number of changes were made in that sent to Wharton and in the transcript in G.'s Commonplace Book (i 381), which is entitled 'On the Death of Selima, a favourite Cat, who fell into a China-Tub with Goldfishes in it, & was drown'd'. Final revisions were made for 1753 . Two early printings of the poem are noted by . Eaves, in Philological Quarterly xxviii (1949) 512-5, and xxx (1951) 91-4. The first was in the Newcastle General Magazine for Jan. 1748, p. 24, and the second in the Scots Magazine for June 1748, pp. 279-80. These two texts are related, both being closer to the revised text sent to Thomas Wharton than to that recently printed in Dodsley's Collection . It is therefore possible that Wharton was responsible for these appearances of the poem, or another revised MS of the poem may have been in circulation before Dodsley's Collection appeared."
This poem is written in dactylic hexameter, with six dactyls in each line. The poet has combined dactylic hexameter with spondaic meter to give more rhythmic and uplifting reading experience to readers.
A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.