Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Pangur Ban: Well Said AND Worth a Thousand Words

You don't have to be a cat lover to love this poem about writing and cats by an anonymous 9th century Irish monk. It's often thought that the monk was working on the Book of Kells when he made this poem.

He describes perfectly the striving and dedication all writers feel, as well our triumph at solving a problem in just the perfect way.

Pangur Bán

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.

Unknown 9th century Irish monk,
translation by Robin Flowers

Cat catching mouse, illustration from Book of Kells


  1. I love the poem and the image it calls forth. But my cat would be all over the manuscript and getting her tail in the inkwell. Maybe today's cats are different.

  2. Dear Julie,

    A sweet poem I have long loved, and an enchanting theory that it might have been an Irish monk working on the Book of Kells but unfortunately not entirely likely as the Book of Kells originated either in Iona, Kells, England (Lindisfarne), or Pictish Scotland, or a combination of two of these places. The poem about Pangur Bán, however, appears in the Reichenau Primer (Reichenauer Schulheft), and Reichenau Abbey is on an island in the Bodensee in what is now the state of Baden-Württemberg in Germany. It is thought that an Irish scholarly monk who was teaching there compiled the primer, and he did so at approximately the same time the Book of Kells was created but he was far, far away...

    It is a nice thought, though, that in his lonely evening and night hours far away from home he befriended a cat who became his beloved and entertaining companion.

    Love so many of your thoughts and entries, photos, paintings - truly always a pleasure! Inspiring, thought-provoking, and challenging... Thank you, Julie!

    Peace and blessings,


    1. Interesting information ... and wherever the writer was, we know one thing. He had a cat. And since the Book of Kells has several cats in it, it makes a nice enough illustration of the same time. :-)

      Thank you for your kind compliments! :-)

  3. I've always loved this poem. Were they reciting it at the end of The Secret of Kells? (It was not in English, but I had the impression that it might be from a couple of words I caught.)