Thursday, August 25, 2011

Poetry for Your Reading Pleasure: Pangur Ban

Pangur Ban - Translation attributed to Robin Flowers
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.

This ninth-century poem was written in the Reichenau Primer (aka St. Paul Irish Codex) by an Irish monk who was probably practicing his copyist skills. The monk would have been far from his native soil, most likely in a monastery on Lake Constance, and whether he was the original author is unknown. Other content in his "notebook" includes inscriptions pertaining to typical scholarly topics in the Dark Ages, such as metaphysics and logic, with an astrological table among them. The manuscript is now in the monastery of Saint Paul in Unterdrauberg, Austria.

Page of the Primer with Pangur Ban penned in, lower left
Pangur means "fuller," which was a method for treating wool, and ban means "white." If you think about these meanings, you might agree that Pangur Ban could have been another way of calling a cat Fluffy. :)

The poem came to light in the early 20th century and has since been translated from Old Irish and interpreted by a great many poets, including W.H. Auden and Frank O'Connor. Robin Flowers, whose translation I shared, chose a rhyming format that I find a lot of fun. For a great blog entry on tracking down information on the Pangur Ban manuscript, see this article by SuburbanBanshee on wordpress.

I hope you've enjoyed this lovely poem that, although written so long ago, has a special resonance for anyone who owns a cat or who loves poetry - or both!

Best wishes from PrettyGonzo! 


Elaine said...

Nice poem ...

PrettyGonzo said...

Happy you enjoyed it! :)