This week I thought it would be good to share a completely anonymous poem that made its way into the top 100 Irish poems of all time. Sometimes in life, it is good to contribute without taking the credit.
So what is this Irish poem all about? “Pangur Bán” is an old Irish poem, written about the 9th century at or near Reichenau Abbey by an Irish monk about his cat Pangur Bán.
The poem was originally written in Irish but later translated by Seamus Heaney.
So yes, this is a poem about a cat chasing a mouse. I am sure it has a deeper meaning. However, it could simply just be that. Either way, enjoy this top Irish poem.
TRANSLATED BY SEAMUS HEANEY
From the ninth-century Irish poem
Pangur Bán and I at work,
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
His whole instinct is to hunt,
Mine to free the meaning pent.
More than loud acclaim, I love
Books, silence, thought, my alcove.
Happy for me, Pangur Bán
Child-plays round some mouse’s den.
Truth to tell, just being here,
Housed alone, housed together,
Adds up to its own reward:
Concentration, stealthy art.
Next thing an unwary mouse
Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.
Next thing lines that held and held
Meaning back begin to yield.
All the while, his round bright eye
Fixes on the wall, while I
Focus my less piercing gaze
On the challenge of the page.
With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
When the longed-for, difficult
Answers come, I too exult.
So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
Taking pleasure, taking pains,
Kindred spirits, veterans.
Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
Day and night, my own hard work
Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.