April 2, 2009

Poetry Friday: Pangur Ban

Myself and Pangur, cat and sage
Go each about our business;

I harass my beloved page,

He his mouse.

Fame comes second to the peace
Of study, a still day
Unenvying, Pangur's choice
Is child's play.

Neither bored, both hone
At home a separate skill
Moving after hours alone
To the kill

When at last his net wraps
After a sly fight
Around a mouse; mine traps
Sudden insight.

On my cell wall here,
His sight fixes, burning,
Searching; my old eyes peer
At new learning,

And his delight when his claws
Close on his prey
Equals mine when sudden clues
Light my way.

So we find by degrees
Peace in solitude,
Both of us, solitaries,
Have each the trade

He loves: Pangur, never idle
Day or night

Hunts mic
e; I hunt each riddle
From dark to light.

-- Unknown 9th Century Irish Monk
translated from Irish by Eavan Boland

There are many translations of this poem, written by an Irish Monk in the Monastery of St Paul, Carinthia, Austria. It was written in the margins of an illuminated manuscript. You can find the original Irish version here.

Pangur Ban means white cat.

Another monk,
Bartolomaeus Anglicus (Bartholomew the Englishman), a 13th c. Franciscan monk and encyclopedist who wrote this entry describing, in part, the cat.

And hath a great mouth and saw teeth and sharp and long tongue and pliant, thin, and subtle.

And lappeth therewith when he drinketh... And he is a full lecherous in youth, swift, pliant and merry, and leapeth and rusheth on everything that is before him and is led by a straw, and playeth therewith;

and is a right heavy beast in age and full sleepy, and lieth slyly in wait for mice and is aware where they be mor
e by smell than by sight, and hunteth and rusheth on them in privy places.

And when he taketh a mouse, he playeth therewith, and eateth him after the play.

The illustrations pictured above are not from that manuscript as far as I know, but you can read more about Pangur Ban's
history here.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by Amy over at Ayuddha


Yat-Yee said...

I think it amazing that the poem was written in the margins of their highly valued, and thus not to be "defaced", manuscripts.

Ruth said...

I LOVE this poem.


Cat people are fabulous! Thanks for sharing this. Here's one for you:

day spent researching
cat pulls the markers
from my book

--Kurious Kitty