Irish Cats and Scribes

28 May

From a ninth-century manuscript by an Irish scribal scholar, quoted in “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” by Thomas Cahill:

I and Pangur Ban my cat,

„Pangur Bán“

„Pangur Bán“ (Photo credit: Михал Орела)

‘Tis a like task we are at:

Hunting mice is his delight,

Hunting words I sit all night.


‘Tis a merry thing to see

At our tasks how glad are we,

When at home we sit and find

Entertainment for our mind.


“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.


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.



Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Old Books, Poetry


Tags: , , , , , ,

5 responses to “Irish Cats and Scribes

  1. thalia3

    June 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    That’s a great little poem! I do fear, though, that I have stymied my poor kitty’s purpose in life by not having mice around. Perhaps this is why she miaws at the ceiling. Lack of vocation…

  2. Rob

    June 6, 2012 at 12:06 am

    . . . or, perhaps, she’s just complaining. That’s what ours does. Also, bugs make a good mouse-substitute, especially in the summer months. As for this poem, I like to imagine an old Irish scribe sitting by candlelight copying a manuscript and watching Pangur Ban stalk some careless rodent. Poetry is so romantic, is it not? Thanks for your comment!

  3. thalia3

    June 6, 2012 at 1:35 am

    I think what first attracted me to poetry was the fragrant scent of other worlds. Doesn’t get more romantic than that!

  4. David

    June 17, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    “the fragrant scent of other worlds”

    Well said, friend! That’s what I tend to love most about poetry, too.

    Aye, the Pangur Ban poem is a great one. I’m glad they used it as some inspiration for The Secret of Kells, for it fits well into the fairy story they invented. But it’s also especially nice to reflect on the poem’s reality. Some monk, tired from working at his desk, watching his cat…such a personal observation bridges the centuries and rolls back history’s mists so we can see ourselves reflected in the people of the past.

  5. Rob

    June 17, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    I love the simplicity of this poem. The best poetry “bridges the centuries, ” as does all excellent writing. Thanks, David.


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