Tuesday, November 1, 2005


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 tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In 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.

9th century
translated by Robin Flower from 1000 Years of Irish Poetry,  ed. by Kathleen Hoagland.
Copyright © 1947, renewed 1975

I first ran across this poem in Andrew Greeley’s “May the Wind be at Your Back” a series of meditations on some Irish poems. He uses the theme of the poem to discuss the problems many writers face from the people around them. “Why do you write so much?” may be the most common. Or that writing isn’t a real job. Ninety five percent of what I write is in this journal. Once in awhile it’s really easy and once in awhile it’s like pulling teeth.  

Pangur Ban is also known as the scholar and his cat. The scholar in this case is a monk probably Irish and the cat is, well the cat. Anybody who knows cats knows that you don’t own them. So you have the monastic writer, perhaps translator and his furry companion. Each doing what he does best.

The original dates from the late 8th or early 9th century. And other translations are not quite as polished. This is as much for writers as for people who share their lives with cats. Pangur is a cat and he’s very good at doing what cats do, catching mice. Chasing mice is part of what cats do. Part of their “catness” if you please. If Pangur quits trying to chase anything that moves he would lose part of his identity as a cat.

For those of us who love words, not writing is like cutting off your right arm.  If we don’t write part of what makes us who we “are” is missing.   And we give up writing because the outside world believes that we write too much or it isn’t a real job then a vital part of us is lost.

Part of the Winter season of Samhain is a time of reflection and remembrance. A time to remember what our grandparents, friends and teachers have taught us. Perhaps a time to remember someone who also loved to write and shared that love with us.


lisaram1955 said...

I don't know where my compulsion to write comes from.  None of my immediate family is particularly into it, in fact my sisters don't (won't) read my journal.  Whatever emotions or thoughts come from deep inside me, they aggresively DO NOT want to know...

Now that I think on it, my grandmother (dad's mom) fancied herself a writer, and I once found a poem my grandfather wrote.  So it must be in the genes, a generation removed.  Lisa  :-]  

toonguykc said...

Thanks for sharing that poem -- I'd never run across it before!