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Pangur Ban

Written by an unknown ninth century monk. there is some confusion about the attribution. Some sources say it was found in the margins of a manuscript in the Monastery of St Paul, Carinthia, Austria. Worse, it was on a copy of St. Paul's Epistles (in Irish no less - horrors!). Others say it was 'on the back' of a page the monk was copying.
Another reference says the monk was a student and it was written at Reichenau Monastery, on Lake Constance. Yet another sage even states it was done while the monk was working on the Book of Kells.
How to tell?
Well first, we won't believe it was written 'while working on the Book of Kells'; that smacks of 'oyrish' plastic. Let us dismiss that now.
If he was a student we must assume the Epistle was a practice project, otherwise the precentor (usually in charge of the librarii) would not have allowed a student to copy such holy words. If it wasn’t a practice job then there would not have been a blank 'back of the page' to hold the poem.
We're going with a full antiquarii monk doing an official work. He was a warm-hearted fellow who loved his cat and could not resist the tribute; even if it was a little naughty to stick it into St. Paul's Latin.
The other possibility we rather like is a student who fell out with the Abbot. He crept into the monastery's scriptorium while no one was about and penned his poem into another monk's Holy work.

In any case, we're told that the name Pangur would have been recognized as a cat's name in those days. Aideen (our resident Irish speaker) tells us the word 'ban' means the cat was white. In the translation, the cat is referred to as a male. The choice of pronouns implies this but (with cats) this may not be correct. Taken at face value, our cleric had a talented white tomcat.
There is an old saying: 'Never trust a man who doesn't like cats.' I suppose I can assume the Irish loved cats and so here's to all Irish cats.
We trust you will enjoy...

Pangur Ban

I and Pangur Ban, my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will;
He, too, plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry thing to see
At our task how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
Into the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den.
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine, and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade ;
I get wisdom day and night,
Turning Darkness into light.'

Translation by Robin Flowers (we think)

Photograph: Charles W. Haggerty.
Russ' father was a professional photographer. This is (was) one of the family cats many years ago.

For more Poetry Click the Poetry Index.


Thu, Jul 9, 2015
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No matter who does the collecting, the works stand on their own but this is an excellent compilation and well worth adding to your library.
Click here for Yeats.

1000 Years of Irish Poetry: The Gaelic and Anglo Irish Poets from Pagan Times to the Present
by Kathleen Hoagland

Interested in Irish Poetry?Here's the easy way to collect them all (well, almost all, anyway).
Malachy McCourt says in his introduction, "With the republication of this book, the Irish recover under their roof of stars all the great poets and writers who have been falsely claimed by the saxon crown and its minions - even our reprobates."
Amazon states this is out of stock. They still have used copies for almost nothing (except shipping - chuckle). If you would like a new edition, it was available at Powell's. We can't promise it's still there. Click here for Powell's 1000 Years.
Click here for used at Amazon.


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