Sunday, October 5, 2008

Writers and Cats

Sometimes I wake up thinking that my cat, Scratchy, is walking on my bed. But she's in Brooklyn, far away. This poem by an early Irish monk brought her to mind.

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.

-- Anon., (Irish, 8th century)

- Written by a student of the monastery of Carinthia on a copy of St
Paul's Epistles, 8th Century. Tr. by Robin Flower.


Pentimento said...

Samuel Barber set the W.H. Auden/Chester Kallman translation of this poem as one of the songs in his cycle "Hermit Songs" (1953).

Steve Imparl said...

Hey Robert,

It's good to see you blogging again! Where are you these days? Still surfing?

I know this is a translation, and I know my appreciation of and taste for poetry are a bit unconventional, but I really like the asymmetry of the rhyme scheme in this one. It provides a bit of a surprise at the end. Whether the translator intended that or not, I find it a nice touch.

I'm going to send this to my good friend Mark. He's one heck of a good guy and I'm sure he and his cat will enjoy it. (For what it's worth, he's a fellow writer--our kind of guy--and he could probably kick my butt in boxing. Heh. He probably eventually will kick my butt just because he's a great guy and a good friend--you know, one of those male-bonding things.)

I'm glad you've come out of the water at least long enough to blog a bit. Enjoy your time, wherever you are!

Robot Boy said...

I'll have to check out those translations, Pentimento.

Robot Boy said...

Sorry I've been off the blogways - I crashlanded at Irvine a few weeks ago and I'm only now getting back on my feet.
I'm working like a coolie most of the time, an intellectual coolie. Still in the edits of my new book. Plus I have a fellowship out here at Irvine, which I've just started to blog about. But I surf when I can.

Pentimento said...

You would like them. They're in blank verse. This one begins:

Pangur, white Pangur
How happy we are
Alone together
Scholar and cat.