On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes and A Correct Compassion


Discuss the shifts of register and their effects in the following two poems: Thomas Gray, “On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes” and James Kirkup, “A Correct Compassion”. You should make use of the following terms where appropriate: field, tenor, mode, intertextuality.


The shift of register and the effect it has in poetry can make a major impact on the reader. Thomas Gray, “On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes, and James Kirkup’s “A Correct Compassion”, both equally make use of this effect and by examining both poem’s in detail we will see how effective this can be. Also we will look at their style and use of different fields and modes of language. They may use and include, intertexuality, as it may add to the substance and feeling of the poem. We will examine what comparisons in style the poets have and where they possibly got their inspiration and genius from.


The poem “On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes” was written in 1747 and Thomas Gray expertly uses shifts in register to relate information to the reader. His choice of words, colour, and reference to Greek heroism enables the reader to see the comparisons between the two parallels and this helps explain the subject of his poem. The intellectual use of register communicates important information to his audience, through certain modes and fields of language. He uses intertexuality to make references from other centuries and their society to convey knowledge to the reader to help them comprehend the moral or proverb in the poem. Poets like Shakespeare, and Chaucer have influenced Gray, and we will see why he borrowed from their works, and by examining his choice of words, and morals used it will become clear they helped to put across his own statement.


The poet shifts and mixes vocabulary by changes of register and using different lexical fields to structure the poem. From the title, the poet captures the reader’s imagination by his choice of heading “On a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of ‘Gold’ Fishes. Straight away the word ‘gold’ is used and it creates a curiosity in the reader, and we question, is there possibly is a moral to this story? The semantic field of colour is used to put emphasis on the colour gold, and this mention of gold recurs throughout the poem, mainly the brightness, and gleam of gold. In line 17: “Through richest purple” a colour also used by the poet, and the colour was also regularly used in medieval texts to signify religious connotations, or regal. Gray, uses the colour purple to make historical reference to the famous battle between Aeneus and Turnus, where the Greek heroin Camilla dies. The colour of her armour was gold and she was “Betray’d a golden gleam” (Line 18). The poets word choice and reference to the gleam of the water, but importantly the intertexuality that connects the gleam of Chloreas’s armour made of gold and purple, and the fact that it caught Camilla’s eye in battle, and led to the golden bow that killed her.


This shift of register to make the reader realize there are comparisons and links between the greek heroin and the real world, and subsequent moral of the poem. He uses lexical bundles of works to show the brightness, words like gleam and gold. The feline cat was drawn into the water by the hunger, and desire to catch the fish, but was drowned. This also happened when the heroin Camilla, charged in, lusting for battle and heroism, but it ended in tragedy, as she was killed. The two parallels that the poet uses to relate his message. The other moral or myth used is a cat has nine lives, and in Line 31 we are told the cat “emerged eight times”, before drowning and calling on “every watery God, changing register from the social situation to the Roman God of the sea ‘Neptune’. James Kirkup again shifting continuously, from one register to another to create effect and impact, as he states: “no Dolphin came” relating to the story