My Pangur Bán


Introduction by Daniel Bosch

The poem known as “Pangur Bán” was written down by a monk (probably in the 9th century) in Old Irish on the page of a text of St. Paul’s Epistles which is in the collection of a monastery in Carinthia and has become known as the Reichenau Primer. The text has been transcribed here.

According to the eight quatrains of the poem, Pangur Bán is the name of the anonymous poet’s cat, and the daily pursuits of the cat and the poet run in close parallel.

The poem has attracted a host of translators, including W.H. Auden, Eavan Boland, Robin Flower, Seamus Heaney, J. Marchand, Paul Muldoon, Frank O’Connor and Helen Waddell.

The adaptation below is in conversation with these translations and responds, in part, to my own sense of years spent in parallel with a cat named Hegemony.


My Pangur Bán

Busy Pangur is not
These chambers’ only predator,
Sharing them as he must
With another editor.

But busy Pangur is too busy
To censure me,
For whom pursuit of mousy
Meaning is luxury.

He catches, and releases,
And retakes with his talons.
Like his master Pangur seizes
Each day with small talents.

If his master stilly labors
Pangur enjoys
Rapturously, and languorously,
The mice he makes toys.

When Pangur’s eyes burn empty air
He does not rage,
Nor have my eyes learned to tear
Meaning from any page.

O the victorious Pangur lords it
Over his prey!
I, too, have been known to purr
When a text reads my way.

So man and cat find
Solace—sometimes violently.
One feeds his mind,
The other fills his belly.

Ever my Pangur lies
In wait for mice.
Every day I rise
I am nearer paradise.

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