Tag Archives: marginalia

May 19, 2014 all things Pangur Ban

Dear readers,

you geniuses with your genius comments have placed me in a quandary. A QUANDARY, Liz Lemon! Respond to Pangur Ban/Yeats anecdote, or respond to a trenchant line break question?
I will approach this chronologically. And since Lauren really did ask 2 questions, both of which merit some discussion, let me leave that for next week (I have my thoughts on the WordPress/blog option, and we’ve talked about it before, but I should probably do some research first).
As for Pangur, well, I love cats, and I love poetry, and I love the BC colleagues, so let’s have a little incunabular marginalia fest today. My internet machine tells me that the poem Arwen speaks of was written in Irish (a vernacular for the writer, one assumes), in a German monastery, in the 8th Century. I only have a couple snippets of it, but they go:
Messe ocus Pangur Bán,
cechtar nathar fria saindan:
bíth a menmasam fri seilgg,
mu memna céin im saincheirdd.

Caraimse fos (ferr cach clu)
oc mu lebran, leir ingnu;
ni foirmtech frimm Pangur Bán:
caraid cesin a maccdán.
My favorite translation is, of course, by Muldoon. Below, I will print it alongside (or above) one by another famous translator, Robin Flower. You tell me which one lives on your page. The poems are long-ish, but I’d say this piece is basically just for fun, so they are stanzas that run by quickly, like a mouse, or, quicker, a cat. One thing I also love about Muldoon is that he self-mythologizes by using “call-backs” in his poetry, sometimes within a single book, sometimes across books. He’s always got a linked sequence in his books of poems, and the son-of-a-gun sometimes even links themes and rhyme schemes across the books, just to show that he can–and maybe for other reasons, too. I guess Muldoon liked this little monk poem as much as Arwen, because he named his cat Pangur Ban. In the haiku sequence “Hopewell Haiku,” (1998), he produced these 3 pieces across several pages, as the whole poem grows in emotional intensity:
Our wild cat, Pangur
spent last night under the hood
of my old banger
The bold Pangur Ban
draws and quarters wood thrush
by the garbage can
From under the shed
a stench that’s beyond belief.
Pangur Ban is dead.
It’s funny–to read the haikus, and then to read Muldoon’s translation of a poem that, after all, is about a cat that’s been dead for millennia… it seems so much more personal, more heartfelt. But then Muldoon can’t translate a poem without making it his own. Perhaps Arwen or another wants to take apart some of these lines, below. -ed

Myself and Pangur

Myself and Pangur, my white cat,
have much the same calling, in that
much as Pangur goes after mice
I go hunting for the precise

word. He and I are much the same
in that I’m gladly “lost to fame”
when on the Georgics, say, I’m bent
while he seems perfectly content

with his lot. Life in the cloister
can’t possibly lose it’s luster
so long as there’s some crucial point
with which he might by leaps and bounds

yet grapple, into which yet sink
our teeth. The bold Pangur will think
through mouse snagging much as I muse
on something naggingly abstruse,

then fix his clear, unflinching eye
on our lime-white cell wall, while I
focus, insofar as I can,
on the limits of what a man

may know. Something of his rapture
at his most recent mouse capture
I share when I, too, get to grips
with what has given me the slip.

And so we while away our whiles,
never cramping each other’s styles
but practicing the noble arts
that so lift and lighten our hearts,

Pangur going in for the kill,
with all his customary skill
while I sharp-witted, swift, and sure
shed light on what had seemed obscure.

trans. Paul Muldoon
Pangur Ban
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.

trans. Robin Flower