Jellicle Cats are the protagonist of Cats. Throughout the musical, we are introduced to their world as we meet different Jellicles and follow their exploits. A "Jellicle" is a fictional type of domestic cat, depicted as being the same size as real-life cats, with the set and props in the musical generally scaled up four times.
The concept of a Jellicle Cat was first introduced by T S Eliot in the 1930s. It is the feline counterpart to Eliot's Pollicle Dog. There are two claims for the origins of the terms "Jellicle Cat" and "Pollicle Dog". The popular explanation is that "Jellicle Cat" is a corruption of "dear little cat" and "Pollicle Dog" of "poor little dog". However, Eliot's secretary wrote in a 1959 letter that "Jellicle" is a diminutive of "Jellylorum" (the name of Eliot's cat), with the Jellicle Cat descriptions given in Eliot's poem "The Song of the Jellicles" being based on said cat. In the same vein, "Pollicle" is then presumably a diminutive of "Polly" (the name of Eliot's first wife's dog).
Letter to Tom Faber (1931)
Eliot first referenced Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats in a letter to his godson, Tom Faber, on 5 April 1931:
I believe that you are to have a Birthday soon, and I think that you will then be Four Years Old (I am not Clever at Arithmetic) but that is a Great Age, so I thought we might send out this
TO ALL POLLICLE DOGS & JELLICLE CATS
TO COME TO THE BIRTHDAY PARTY OF THOMAS FABER
Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats!
Come from your Kennels & Houses & Flats;
Pollicle Dogs & Cats, draw near;
Jellicle Cats & Dogs, Appear;
Come with your Ears & your Whiskers & Tails
Over the Mountains & Valleys of Wales.
This is your ONLY CHANCE THIS YEAR,
Your ONLY CHANCE to - what do you spose? -
Brush Up your Coats and Turn out your Toes,
And come with a Hop & a Skip & a Dance -
Because, for this year, it's your ONLY CHANCE
To come with your Whiskers & Tails & Hair on
Ty Glyn Aeron
Ciliau Aeron -
Because you are INVITED to Come
With a Flute & a Fife & a Fiddle & Drum,
With a Fiddle, a Fife, & a Drum & a Tabor (A Musicle [sic] Instrument that makes a Joyful Noise)
To the Birthday Party of
THOMAS ERLE FABER!
Oh But P.S. we musn't send out this Invitation after All, Because, if All the Pollicle Dogs & Jellicle Cats came (and of course they all would come) then all the roads would be blocked up, and what's more, they would track muddy feet into the House, and your Mother wouldn't Like that at ALL, and what's More Still, you would have to give them ALL a Piece of your Birthday Cake, and there would be so Many that there wouldn't be any Cake left for you, and that would be Dreadful, so we won't send out this invitation,
so no more for the Present from your
Five-Finger Exercises (1933)
The first published mention of Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats came in a poem titled "Lines to a Yorkshire Terrier" from Eliot's short collection of poems, Five-Finger Exercises (1933). Three lines from this poem were incorporated into the musical sequence for "The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles ".
"Lines to a Yorkshire Terrier"
In a brown field stood a tree
And the tree was crookt and dry.
In a black sky, from a green cloud
Natural forces shriek'd aloud,
Screamed, rattled, muttered endlessly.
Little dog was safe and warm
Under a cretonne eiderdown,
Yet the field was cracked and brown
And the tree was cramped and dry. Pollicle dogs and cats all must Jellicle cats and dogs all must Like undertakers, come to dust.
Here a little dog I pause
Heaving up my prior paws,
Pause, and sleep endlessly.
Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats (1936)
In a letter to Geoffrey Faber dated 6 March 1936, Eliot included a poem titled "Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats". This poem was set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber during the initial development of the musical Cats. A demo of this song was recorded by Lloyd Webber in 1979 and was released in the 2001 compilation album Andrew Lloyd Webber: Now & Forever. The poem was later used as the model for "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats".
I was lunching on day at The Princess Louise,
When I passed some remark to a man in white spats
Who had ordered a plate of fried gammon and peas,
So we soon fell to talking of thisses and thats -
Such as Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats.
I have been, he confided, a jack of all trades,
A true rolling stone that has gathered no moss,
I have seen much of life, in its various shades,
And the fat and the lean, and the profit and loss;
I have done everything and I've been everywhere,
(I'm at present an agent for small furnished flats) -
But the one thing that's made life worth while, I declare,
Is Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats.
I have been, he continued, involved with the Turf
In the work of Accountant, in quite a small way,
I invented an excellent specific for scurf,
I bought second-hand goods, and I once wrote a play;
I have acted as guide, on a Levantine Tour,
And at one time I travelled (from Luton) in hats:
And for all my misfortunes I've found but one cure -
And that's Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats.
Now my sister, for instance, who lives in the hills,
That lie on the border of Shropshire and Wales,
In a comfortable house where her husband fulfils
His vocation of retail purveyor of ales,
She says, and for me I've no reason to doubt
Her opinion, repeated in dozens of chats -
She says there is one thing she can't do without
And that's Pollicle dogs and Jellicle Cats.
And my brother, for instance, who lives in the plains
That lie on the border of Surrey and Kent,
In a house newly built and with adequate drains,
You would be quite surprised to know how much he spent
On that house - he has actually had to employ
Two men snaring rabbits and two catching rats -
He says, there is nothing that he can enjory
Like Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats.
Now my sister, of whom I have told you before,
Is musically gifted, can sing like a bird,
She can learn any tune and read any score,
She can sing any song that you ever have heard.
I have never known anyone had such an ear,
And she never goes wrong on the sharps or the flats: She says, there are no voices so pleasant to hear
As of Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats.
And my brother, of whom you have just heard me speak,
Is a talented artist, I mean amateur;
He only has time at the end of the week,
But his portraits have made a considerable stir.
He can sketch you, in no time, almost anybody,
From Lady Godiva to Ingoldsby Oddie -
He can draw like Italians, or Frenchmen, or Dutch,
But prefers to draw people with whiskers and hates:
And he says, there's no subject that suits him so much
As Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats.
Well, I said very quickly, that's quite understood,
So now let me order a small glass or port -
It will set your tongue wagging, and do your heart good,
(Any port in a storm, as a final resort):
Besides, there's a question I now wish to put,
Though I know what is what, and I know that is that.
What you've said is exceedingly curious. But
What's a Pollicle Dog? and a Jellicle Cat?
Well at that he turned round with a look of surprise, As much as to say, Well now what about that? Do I actually see with my own very eyes A man who's not heard of a Jellicle Cat?
And a man who's not heard to a Pollicle Dog
Can't know enough even to fall off a log -
Well, he said, at the worst there is hope for you yet;
It's exceedingly lucky for you that we met.
If you do not object to my talking in verse -
Not at all, I replied, I enjoy it of all things,
It's a good way to put either large things or small things;
There is nothing like poetry for real monologues -
So with that he began
ABOUT POLLICLE DOGS.
CATS - ALW - Pollicle Dogs And Jellicle Cats
"Pollicle Dogs & Jellicle Cats" - demo by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Eliot references Jellicle Cats again in a poem titled "A Proclamation". This poem was included in a letter to his friend John Davy Hayward, dated 27 January 1937. Eliot attributed the poem to "Roger Roughton" as a joke.
Fair stood the wind for France
When the Jellicle Cat jumped out;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And sixpenny-worth of stout.
The farmer gave his daughter the ring,
And the Jellicle Cat stood by,
The face that launched a thousand ships
Had a knowing look in its eye.
The toadstool on the mossy bank
Muttered aloud in its sleep;
Jellicle Cats are Jellicle Cats.
They sow and they also reap.
Once more unto the breach, dear friend
The Jellicle hosts proclaim;
Make wing at once to the rooky wood,
It's all a part of the game.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Jellicle Cats have got the vote;
Helen of Troy set out to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat.
Jellicles all, come blow up your horn,
The year's at the spring, too-wit too-woo;
Cassia buds and Venetian blinds,
And never a spray of rue.
Let Jellicle joy be unconfined,
And Jellicle love bring down the sky;
For Cats may come since Cats must go
For an annual holiday.
Cetera desunt ......
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939)
Eliot later wrote a poem about Jellicle Cats titled "The Song of the Jellicles", which was published in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats on 5 October 1939. In this poem, Jellicles were depicted as commonly nocturnal black and white, scruffy cats. Specifically, Eliot mentions that they like to gather at an event called the "Jellicle Ball". "The Song of the Jellicles" is performed in its entirety in the musical number of the same name in Cats.
The Marching Song of the Pollicle Dogs (1939)
Eliot references Pollicle Dogs again in a poem published in November 1939 in The Queen's Book of the Red Cross. Eliot wrote this poem to the tune of "The Elliots of Minto", and several lines from this poem were incorporated into the musical sequence for "The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles".
There are dogs out of every nation, The Irish, the Welsh and the Dane; The Russian, the Dutch, the Dalmatian, And even from China and Spain; The Poodle, the Pom, the Alsatian And the mastiff who walks on a chain. And to those that are frisky and frollical Let my meaning be perfectly plain: That my name it is Little Tom Pollicle - And you'd better not do it again.
There are dogs that are sniffy and curious,
There are dogs that are drowsy and dumb;
There are dogs that are sleeky and spurious,
There are dogs that are mimsy and mum.
There are dogs that are frantic and furious -
And I say of such: let 'em all come.
And to those that are rowdy and rollical
Let my meaning be perfectly plain:
That my name it is Little Tom Pollicle -
And you'd better not do it again.
There are dogs that are frowsy and frumpious,
There are dogs that are freaky and frail;
There are dogs that are growly and grumpious,
There are dogs that are puny and pale.
But I say, if you're surly and scrumpious,
Just you tread on the tip of my tail!
For my meaning is not amphibolical
And I'd like it to be very plain
That my name it is Little Tom Pollicle -
And you'd better not do it again.
For our motto is still cave canem -
That's the cry of the Pollicle Clan,
And our words we'll not stop to explain 'em,
But bark 'em as loud as we can.
For the way to show how you disdain 'em
Is to bark at dog, devil and man.
And be ye the most diabolical
Of what diabolic may be -
Yet my name it is Little Tom Pollicle,
And WHA MAUN MEDDLE WI' ME?
Cats the Musical
The Jellicles that we meet in the musical are a tribe of cats that, in contrast with "The Song of the Jellicles", possess many kinds of coat-patterns, diverse personalities, individual talents, and even mystical powers. Jellicle cats shown to have magical abilities include Mistoffelees, Macavity, Old Deuteronomy, Coricopat and Tantomile.
The tribe has its own established hierarchy, with Old Deuteronomy as the leader and Munkustrap as his second-in-command, as well as their own belief system, with concepts such as the Heaviside Layer and the Everlasting Cat.
Of course, many significant Jellicle Cats are featured in poems describing them -
Jellicle Cats refers only to this particular tribe of cats and many other similar cat tribes exist, similar to how the dogs have Pollicles, Pekes, Poms and Pugs
Jellicle Cats refers to a special type of cat that possesses human-level intelligence, magical powers etc. Other cats are just normal cats
↑The Poems of T. S. Eliot Volume II: Practical Cats and Further Verses. Faber & Faber, 17 November 2015. Page 43. Quote: "Pollicle Dogs was a corruption, in the style of Edward Lear, of 'poor little dogs'. Jellicle Cats, a corruption of 'dear little cats'."
↑Playbill: The National Theatre Magazine, April 30, 1991. Quote: "Eliot heard this word [Jellicle] from his young niece, who sounded as if she were saying "Jellicle cat" whenever she called for her "dear little cat" and "Pollicle dog" whenever she called for her "poor little puppy."
↑The Letters of T. S. Eliot Volume 7: 1934–1935. Faber & Faber, May 30, 2017. Quote: "TSE's secretary replied, 25 June 1959: 'Mr Eliot has asked me to write and say that he does not wish to copyright the word "jellicle" and is quite content that it should be used without acknowledgement, so long as its use conforms to the definition of Jellicle Cats given in his poem about them. And jellicle, by the way, is not a diminutive of "angelical" but is a diminutive of "Jellylorum" which was the name of a cat of that description which Mr Eliot once owned.'"