Saturday, October 09, 2010

For I will consider my cat Pangur

Why are so many good poems written about cats??

A parishioner, whose late husband was my father's psychiatrist during many hospitalizations, donated a sizable chunk of her large collection of books to the Pious Ladies Bookmobile. Like my mother and like many seniors who approach the eighth and ninth decades of their life, she wanted to dispose of all but her most precious possessions to make the task less painful for her children, after her passing.

So I now my living-room-turned-workspace is bulging at the seams with boxes of books -- a bounty, but also a labor. It's a labor of love though, and I promised the donor I would do my best to find good homes for the books she has acquired and loved over the years.

I am listing John O'Donohue's book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, and have to pause to record here the poem of an 8th century Irish monk known variously as "Pangur Bán", "The Scholar and His Cat", and other titles. Every time I read this poem, I smile and feel a kinship down the centuries, the kinship of one writer for another.



The Scholar and His Cat

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.

Translated by Robin Flower

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