Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Pangur Bán

One of the most charming pieces of Irish poetry is the poem 'Pangur Bán'. Written in the Irish language by one of the monkish diaspora scattered throughout Europe in the 9th Century, and is found in a manuscript in an Austrian monastary. Robin Flower's translation nicely captures the tone of the original work which the author composed whilst working in the scriptorium. Flower was an Englishman, but a great scholar of and friend to Gaelic culture and he neatly reproduces the constructions and idiom of the Hiberno-English he would have found in the West of Ireland.
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 task 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 task 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.

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