Pangur Bán

white cat leaning on brown concrete in macro shot photography
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Pangur Bán
BY ANONYMOUS
TRANSLATED BY SEAMUS HEANEY
From the ninth-century Irish poem

Pangur Bán and I at work,
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
His whole instinct is to hunt,
Mine to free the meaning pent.

More than loud acclaim, I love
Books, silence, thought, my alcove.
Happy for me, Pangur Bán
Child-plays round some mouse’s den.

Truth to tell, just being here,
Housed alone, housed together,
Adds up to its own reward:
Concentration, stealthy art.

Next thing an unwary mouse
Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.
Next thing lines that held and held
Meaning back begin to yield.

All the while, his round bright eye
Fixes on the wall, while I
Focus my less piercing gaze
On the challenge of the page.

With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
When the longed-for, difficult
Answers come, I too exult.

So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
Taking pleasure, taking pains,
Kindred spirits, veterans.

Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
Day and night, my own hard work
Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.

Source: Poetry (April 2006) via Poetry Foundation

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2 replies »

  1. My but it was good to read this again. I had an illustrated book of this poem when i was a child – and I loved it. I don’t know what happened to it – many things went astray along the way.
    It’s good to see it again.

  2. Lovely poem…had the privilege of listening to Seumas Heaney reading it in Stromness many years ago…..sublime!