While rats run rampant for a fall harvest season, he is helpless as his cat is gone. Upon the news that somebody’s cat gave birth, the poet is in a hurry. He is ready to bring a kitten with cat food any moment. His words show his impatience. He must have given fish or salt in return for a cat. The poem reads “skewering fish with a willow branch” while Lu You often wrote, “welcoming a cat in return for a bag of salt.” Unlike the poet’s puritan poetics emphasizing the careful selection of poetic words based on a broad base of knowledge, the poem is simple and cheerful in terms of both its material and expressions. This is why his friend Shidao Chen must have said that something seemed missing with a humorous style but readers would find it fresh 1,000 years later.
Cats in classical Chinese poetry played the role of companions sharing relaxing time and warmth with their owners but also had an important duty to catch rats that steal grains and gnaw on books. “For what the heaven sent you down? It was for you to catch rats and help with people’s suffering,” Jeong Yak-yong wrote in his “Song of cat.” “A kitten brought in return for a bag of salt keeps well mountains of books,” Lu You wrote in his poem “To cats.” As such, they had unique expectations for cats.