Pangur Bán

Riechenauer Schulheft (Reichenau Primer), Folio 1 verso / 2 recto, displaying the poem Pangur Bán; St. Paul's Abbey, Lavanttal, Carinthia (Stift St. Paul Cod. 86a/1).
Riechenauer Schulheft (Reichenau Primer), folio 1 verso/2 recto, displaying the poem Pangur Bán; St. Paul’s Abbey, Lavanttal, Carinthia (Stift St. Paul Cod. 86a/1).

Preserved in the Reichenau Primer (Stift St. Paul Cod. 86b/1 fol 1v), and now kept in St. Paul’s Abbey in the Lavanttal, Pangur Bán (Gaelic “white fuller”) is a circa 9th century Old Irish poem composed by an anonymous Irish monk about his pet cat. The poem, which compares the activities of the cat with those of the scribe himself, bears similarities to the poetry of Sedulius Scotus or Scottus (fl. 840-860), an Irish teacher, Latin grammarian, and scriptural commentator.

Gaelic

Messe agus Pangur Bán,
cechtar nathar fria shaindán:
bíth a menmasam fri seilgg,
mu menma céin im shaincheirdd.Caraimse fos, ferr cach clú
oc mu lebrán, léir ingnu;
ní foirmtech frimm Pangur bán
caraid cesin a maccdán

Ó ru biam, scél gan scís
innar tegdais, ar n-óendís,
táithiunn, díchríchide clius
ní fris tarddam ar n-áthius

Gnáth, húaraib, ar gressaib gal
glenaid luch inna línsam;
os mé, du-fuit im lín chéin
dliged ndoraid cu ndronchéill

Fúachaidsem fri frega fál
a rosc, a nglése comlán;
fúachimm chéin fri fégi fis
mu rosc réil, cesu imdis.

Fáelidsem cu ndéne dul
hi nglen luch inna gérchrub;
hi tucu cheist ndoraid ndil
os mé chene am fáelid.

Cia beimmi a-min nach ré
ní derban cách a chéile
maith la cechtar nár a dán;
subaigthius a óenurán

Hé fesin as choimsid dáu;
in muid du-ngní cach óenláu;
du thabairt doraid du glé
for mu muid céin am messe.

English

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.

— English translation of Pangur Bán by Robin Flower.

In the 2009 animated movie The Secret of Kells, which is heavily inspired by Irish mythology, one of the supporting characters is a white cat named Pangur Bán who arrives at the monastery of Kells in the company of the monk, Aidan of Iona. A verse of the poem is read out during the credit roll.

Author: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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