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April 16, 2007

Monastic cats ....

Visiting the exhibition on the Book of Kells (which includes the Book of Dunnow, Book of Armagh and several others of very ancient date) one finds oneself confronted by a little piece of whimsy in the midst of all the wonder of the creation of a book on vellum and by hand. It is a poem by an Irish Monk, obviously distracted from his work sufficiently to make a scribble in the margin of the book he was copying .... It is written in the margins of an illuminated manuscript at the Abbey of St. Paul at Reichenau, Corinthia.

The poem inspired a book telling of the adventures of the cat Pangur Ban who finally ends his travels at Cashel Castle in Eire, keeping it rodent-free and where he was greatly loved.

Pangur Ban is Gaelic for "white Pangur" or "little white cat."

Pangur Ban

I and my white Pangur have each his special art: His mind is set on hunting mice, mine is upon my special craft.

I love to rest - better than any fame!
With close study at my little book;
White Pangur does not envy me:
He loves his childish play.

When in our house we two are all alone...
A tale without tedium.
We have - sport never-ending!
Something to exercise our wit.

At times by feats of derring-do
a mouse sticks in his net,
while into my net there drops
a difficult problem of hard meaning.

He points his full shining eye
against the fence of the wall:
I point my clear though feeble eye
against the keenness of science.

He rejoices with quick leaps
when in his sharp claw sticks a mouse;
I, too, rejoice when I have grasped
a problem difficult and dearly loved.

Though we are thus at all time,
neither hinders the other,
each of us pleased with his own art
amuses himself alone.

He is master of the work
which every day he does:
While I am at my own work
to bring difficulty to clearness.

Eighth Century Irish Monk

Obviously the Latin version has a better rhythmn and rhyme to it's cadences. One can but wonder what Father Prior or Father Abbot thought of the Monk's doodling in one of their precious books!

Posted by The Gray Monk at April 16, 2007 08:57 AM

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