Pageviews last month

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Pangur Bán: An indoor cat made immortal by writer's block

This Old Irish poem was found at the bottom of a manuscript in the Benedictine Abbey of Reichenau, situated on an island in the lake bordering Austria and Germany. It seems to have been written by an Irish monk--possibly Sedulius Scotus--sometime in the ninth century. 

Messe ocus Pangur Bán, cechtar nathar fria ṡaindan
bíth a menmasam fri seilgg, mu menma céin im ṡaincheirdd.

Caraimse fos, ferr cach clú, oc mu lebran leir ingnu
ni foirmtech frimm Pangur Bán – caraid cesin a maccdán.

O rubiam (scél cen scís) innar tegdais ar n-oendís
taithiunn (dichrichide clius) ni fristarddam ar n-áthius.

Gnáth huaraib ar gressaib gal glenaid luch inna línsam
os mé dufuit im lín chéin dliged ndoraid cu ndronchéill.

Fuachaidsem fri frega fál a rosc a nglése comlán
fuachimm chein fri fegi fis mu rosc reil cesu imdis.

Faelidsem cu ndene dul hi nglen luch inna gerchrub
hi tucu cheist ndoraid ndil os me chene am faelid.

Cia beimmi amin nach ré, ni derban cách a chele
maith la cechtar nár a dán, subaigthius a óenurán.

He fesin as choimsid dáu in muid dungní cach oenláu
du thabairt doraid du glé for mu mud cein am messe.

There are several different translations of this poem. I give them in order of quality, the most literal first:

I and Pangur Bán, each of us two at his special art:
his mind at hunting (mice), my own mind is in my special craft.

I love to rest—better than any fame—at my booklet with diligent science:
not envious of me is Pangur Bán: he himself loves his childish art.

When we are—tale without tedium—in our house, we two alone,
we have—unlimited (is) feat-sport—something to which to apply our acuteness.

It is customary at times by feat of valour, that a mouse sticks in his net,
and for me there falls into my net a difficult dictum with hard meaning.

His eye, this glancing full one, he points against the wall-fence:
I myself against the keenness of science point my clear eye, though it is very feeble.

He is joyous with speedy going where a mouse sticks in his sharp-claw:
I too am joyous, where I understand a difficult dear question.

Though we are thus always, neither hinders the other:
each of us two likes his art, amuses himself alone.

He himself is the master of the work which he does every day:
while I am at my own work, (which is) to bring difficulty to clearness.
- by Whitley Stokes & John Strachan

Now for one that actually sounds like a poem:

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 mice;
I hunt each riddle
From dark to light.
- by Eavan Boland

And one that scans like one:

Each of us pursues his trade,
I and Pangur my comrade,
His whole fancy on the hunt,
And mine for learning ardent.
More than fame I love to be
Among my books and study,
Pangur does not grudge me it,
Content with his own merit.
When ­ a heavenly time! ­ we are
In our small room together
Each of us has his own sport
And asks no greater comfort.
While he sets his round sharp eye
On the wall of my study
I turn mine, though lost its edge,
On the great wall of knowledge.
Now a mouse drops in his net
After some mighty onset
While into my bag I cram
Some difficult darksome problem.
When a mouse comes to the kill
Pangur exults, a marvel!
I have when some secret's won
My hour of exultation.
Though we work for days and years
Neither the other hinders;
Each is competent and hence
Enjoys his skill in silence.
Master of the death of mice,
He keeps in daily practice,
I too, making dark things clear,
Am of my trade a master.
- by Frank O'Connor

But this is the best one:  

I and Pangur Bán, 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 Bán, 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.
- by Robin Flower

No comments:

Post a Comment

One comment per viewer, please--unless participating in a dialogue.