Friday, October 10, 2014

Poetry Friday: Pangur Ban

My daughter got a kitten this week.  She named her Pangur Ban, and so far we don't know if she will live up to her famous namesake.  She mostly hides from us, coming out only to eat, drink, and use her litterbox.  A promising detail: one of her favorite hiding places is on my daughter's bookshelf, behind the books.  Perhaps she will make a literary kitty after all.

Here are several versions of the Pangur Ban poem that inspired her name.  The original was written by an anonymous Irish monk in the 9th century, and many poets have translated it.  The monk compares his work of writing with Pangur's work of catching mice. 

Here is Robin Flower's translation, the first one I heard and fell in love with when I was a child.  It begins:

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.

Click through to read the rest here.

While that one will always be the definitive version to me, I really love Seamus Heaney's translation, too.  Here are some later stanzas from that one:

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.

You can read the rest of it here.

And here's Leontyne Price singing Auden's translation, set to music by Samuel Barber.  

Our experience with cats is pretty much confined to reading about them, so we have a lot to learn about Pangur Ban the real cat.   And we'll start learning just as soon as she comes out from behind the books.

Miss Rumphius is hosting the Poetry Friday roundup today here.  Head on over to see what everyone else has posted! 


Tabatha said...

Congratulations on your new family member! What a great name. Thanks for sharing all the versions of this poem -- it was new to me.

Rich Bowen said...

I always loved the last two lines of that poem. What a great name for a cat. Almost makes it worthwhile having a cat. ;-)

Doraine said...

Not being a cat person, I hadn't heard the poem before, but what a great name! Hope he turns into a great literary kitty.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

You are off to an adventure! That poem is new to me too - striking comparison.

jama said...

Was not familiar with Pangur Ban. Both translations are interesting and quite charming. Love that your daughter chose that name. It already sounds like the new kitty loves books. :)

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

I'm with you, I love that Robin Flower translation. Happy Catwarming!

Linda B said...

Beautiful poem and comparison, gives me shivers from long ago. I love the name. Don't worry about the hiding. Our cat of many years could hide and never be found if she didn't wish it. We rarely discovered her hiding places. Perhaps Pangur Ban will inspire more poems?

Mary Lee said...

Thank you for these poems (unknown to me until now). I have shared them with the other writer who lives in my house, which we share with a grown up kitten who is content to hunt from inside the house, running from window to window as he tracks the skunks, possums, and neighborhood cats that venture into our yard!

Bridget Magee said...

I've never heard of Pangur Ban, but I love the sound of it for your kitty. Thanks for sharing the poem and wishing you many Happy Kitty Days to come. =)

Violet N. said...

Welcome to Catdom (which I left years ago when my cat creeped me out by stalking me and jumping me at the door when I opened the apartment). Hovering near your books all day, Pangur is bound to catch a good catitude.