Tag Archives: paul muldoon

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

March 17, 2014


There are really only two people I can think of who know a little bit of everything about literary culture and pop culture from Agamemnon up to Warren Zevon. One is Tim Joseph, and the other is Paul Muldoon. The New Yorker of March 3 was a fertile field for MV types, with that lovely poem by Don Paterson, and also an article on ee cummings by Muldoon, the magazine’s poetry editor (the scamp named his column “Capital Case”). The article was an appraisal of cummings’ work and also a review of a new biography, which Muldoon liked, and didn’t like. I learned a lot about cummings. I’ve always known that undergraduates tend to really like his poetry. I learned from the article that women undergraduates tended to really like his poetry, to the point that Cambridge and Greenwich Village neighbors were irked by the gathering throngs. I also learned that cummings was pretty much of a son-of-a-bitch, but really, should we be surprised by that?

I’ve never been all that great at breaking down cummings’ poems–they seem to do a fine job of that on their own. But look at this one, from later in his career, that appears pretty dang normal aside from the weird syntax and hidden referents. And hear all the rhymes! Bonus points to the reader who notices what form we’re reading here (2 weeks in a row)… The question for cummings is often, why the fractured mess, and what does it mean? I thought he provided a great and appropriate response to that general line of inquiry in the program notes to a play of his: “Don’t try to enjoy it, let it try to enjoy you. Don’t try to understand it, let it try to understand you.” Those commas should be semicolons, but hey, it’s cummings, whaddya gonna do?

And remember, for those lunks who will not forgive me for not running an Irish poet on St. Patrick’s Day, Muldoon was born in Portadown, Armagh! -ed.

how many moments must(amazing each

how many centuries)these more than eyes

restroll and stroll some never deepening beach

locked in foreverish time’s tide at poise,

love alone understands:only for whom

i’ll keep my tryst until that tide shall turn;

and from all selfsubtracting hugely doom

treasures of reeking innocence are born.

Then, with not credible the anywhere

eclipsing of a spirit’s ignorance

by every wisdom knowledge fears to dare,

how the(myself’s own self who’s)child will dance!

and when he’s plucked such mysteries as men

do not conceive–let ocean grow again


Feb 27, 2012 Afghanistan

The elusive, allusive trickster, smart-ass extraordinaire, Paul Muldoon (born near Portadown, County Armagh, 1951). He’s not usually known for his concision.This poem, while no ways funny or glib, shows that sometimes brevity is the soul of his wit. -ed.


It’s getting dark, but not dark enough to see
An exit wound as an exit strategy.


April 28, 2009 The Birth

Dear Readers,

The other nice thing about being in Belle Mead, NJ, last weekend, was being closer to the employer of Paul Muldoon, MV staple and a favorite poet of your editor. As you all know, he teaches at Princeton, and has also been poetry editor of the New Yorker for about a year. My friend Mike gave me a copy of the Princeton magazine, which featured an article about one of Muldoon’s other personas, lyricist/singer/rhythm guitarist for the local garage-pop band Rackett.

I never need much of an excuse to run a Muldoon poem, but there it was. And after enjoying such a lovely weekend, and the Mets game at Citifield last night, I went looking for a “spring” poem by the man. What I found, however, was this paean, which speaks not of rebirth, but birth itself. Nonetheless this is a nature poem of sorts: look at the vocabulary following “haul into the inestimable realm.” Muldoon is copying, of course, since a catalogue of scientific names of flora and fauna is an old trick of English-language poets. He does it in his own inimitable style, however, ditching the phyla and species names for his own arcane choices–jennets? eel-spears? kickapoo quiffs? A real treatment of the poem would of course send one to the OED. Anyone game?

I’m dedicating this poem to my friends Brian and Kathleen, special guest readers of this week’s verse. Last week they welcomed their daughter, Maeve, and what could be more appropriate than an Irish-american poem welcoming Dorothy Aoife? Have a good week, y’all. ~mjl


Seven o’clock. The seventh day of the seventh month of the year.
No sooner have I got myself up in lime-green scrubs,
a sterile cap and mask,
and taken my place at the head of the table

than the windlass-woman ply their shears
and gralloch-grub
for a footling foot, then, warming to their task,
haul into the inestimable

realm of apple-blossoms and chanterelles and damsons and eel-spears
and foxes and the general hubbub
of inkies and jennets and Kickapoos with their lemniscs
or peekaboo-quiffs of Russian sable

and tallow-unctuous vernix, into the realm of the widgeon—
the ‘whew’ or ‘yellow-poll’, not the ‘zuizin’—

Dorothy Aoife Korelitz Muldoon: I watch through floods of tears
as they give her a quick rub-a-dub
and whisk
her off to the nursery, then check their staple-guns for staples


Monday’s Verse 9-24-07

What? Paul Muldoon again? Awww… Like little kids getting served
broccoli, that’s what you are. But you know it’s good for you! Well,
those in need of a more regular fix can at least pick up a New Yorker
and find a couple Paul Muldoon-SELECTED poems, since the man has just
been named poetry editor of that fine literary publication. The
outgoing editor, Alice Quinn, “worked with a range of poets that
included Joseph Brodsky, Jane Kenyon, Louise Glück, Yusef Komunyakaa,
John Ashbery, Charles Simic, Eavan Boland and Mark Strand,” according
to the NYTimes. Poets, it should be mentioned, who have all graced
these pages (with the possible exception of Jane Kenyon. Anyone know
her work?).

But we’ve probably printed more Muldoon than anyone else, just because
he’s my hobby horse. When critiquing a Muldoon poem, it’s hard to know
where to begin, because it’s also hard to know where to end–that is,
there will always be something more to unlock, something more to say,
trickster that he is. But we should not forget there is blood and life
in his poetry too, and deep emotion. Here’s one that seems to speak a
little more for itself, sans finery. I can’t remember how old it is
but I believe 80’s era.  -ed.


My father and mother, my brother and sister
and I, with uncle Pat, our dour best-loved uncle,
had set out that Sunday afternoon in July
in his broken-down Ford

not to visit some graveyard—one died of shingles,
one of fever, another’s knees turned to jelly—
but the brand-new roundabout at Ballygawley,
the first in mid-Ulster.

Uncle Pat was telling us how the B-Specials
had stopped him one night somewhere near Ballygawley
and smashed his bicycle

and made him sing the Sash and curse the Pope of Rome.
They held a pistol so hard against his forehead
there was still the mark of an O when he got home.