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The Scholar & His Cat, Pangur Bán

December 9, 2022
by the gentle author

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Schrodinger sitting on my desk


I am very grateful to Chris Miles for drawing my attention this ninth century poem written by an unknown monk in Old Irish at or near Reichenau Abbey in what is now Germany. Unsurprisingly, I cannot help but identify with the author.


The Scholar & His Cat, Pangur Bán


(Translated by Seamus Heaney)

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.

Schrodinger sleeping on my desk

The page of Richenau Primer in which Pangur Bán is written


You may also like to read about

Schrodinger’s First Year in Spitalfields

Schrodinger Pleases Himself

Schrodinger Takes Charge

The Loneliness of Schrodinger

A New Home for Schrodinger

Schrodinger, Shoreditch Church Cat

Schrodinger Wants To Recruit Me

9 Responses leave one →
  1. December 9, 2022

    I love the ode to Pangur Ban, there is something special in the relationship with one’s pet. And please give Schrodinger my regards. 😉 He is quite handsome.

  2. December 9, 2022

    Your cat looks quite doleful. I love his soulful eyes and battered ear.

  3. December 9, 2022

    A beautiful cat poem. And once again I have to think of the neighbour’s cat CHICO, who visited me every day in 2017. For months. He knew his way around my flat like no other and had his favourite places here. And he also curled up on my sofa — for 20 minutes. Cats don’t need an eight-hour sleep, I learned back then.

    Love & Peace

  4. December 9, 2022

    I love the ode, too. I have my own feline assistant/boss. Like all of my family’s cats before her, she loves to walk across keyboards of all sorts. Please give my regards to Schrodinger who I’m sure thinks it’s his desk.

  5. December 9, 2022

    I’ve always appreciated the Ode to Pangur Bán. And Schrodinger looks his best. Please give him my warmest greetings.

  6. Cherub permalink
    December 9, 2022

    Gentle Author, you have a very fine desk and a beautiful bookshelf. No wonder Schroedinger enjoys sitting there. He is a very handsome companion.

  7. Jane Annesley permalink
    December 9, 2022

    A delightful poem. Ban is the Irish for ‘white’ so the parallel with the excellent Schrodinger isn’t 100% exact. Not that I can criticise as we called our very handsome ginger cat Pangur. Perhaps he didn’t like the name as he deserted us for next door where he was fed on prime breast of chicken and called ‘Marmalade! He wasn’t terribly affectionate but a good mouser and used to leave gifts of mice in my wellies or umbrella if they were left outside when wet!

  8. Saba permalink
    December 9, 2022

    Can’t say I’m a cat lover, but what a treasure of a poem, written so very, very long ago, in an age that seems a fairy tale, about the joys of reading and study. Thank you, GA.

  9. December 11, 2022

    I have a lovely illustrated book version of Pangur Ban, called ‘The White Cat and the Monk, by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Sydney Smith, published in 2016 by Groundwood Books. It’s more of a retelling than a translation. The pictures are really charming, and I like the simple, pared-down words. Here it is at Abe Books:

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