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The Scholar & His Cat, Pangur Bán

February 5, 2024
by the gentle author

There are just five tickets left for the VALENTINE’S CARD WORKSHOP next Saturday 10th February 2:30pm – 4:30pm at Townouse, Spitalfields.

Introduced by Rupert Thomas, Director of Dennis Severs’ House, with an illustrated lecture on nineteenth-century Vinegar Valentines by The Gentle Author and a tutorial on the making of cards by floral designer and art director, Amy Merrick. 

Ticket price covers all materials including blank cards, replica Victorian paper cut-outs and a range of other decorative elements, as well as complimentary tea, coffee and freshly baked cake.



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

12 Responses leave one →
  1. February 5, 2024

    I too have cat companions – plural. I don’t think I have been without a cat, other than my university years. The current two were cast off by their previous owners but that was several years ago. They have a quiet grace and a way of saying: ” Stop working, don’t worry, feel better soon.” Sometimes this is, as Schrödinger has done, to sit , or to sleep, where you need to work, forcing you to stop, relax and “be more cat”.
    This is an interesting poem. I like the juxtaposition of the author’s work and the cat’s occupation. What magical creatures they are!

  2. February 5, 2024

    Oh, how I would love to drop by for a quick Valentine’s card-making session…!

    Oh yes: Schrödinger on the desk. Again, I remember the neighbour’s cat CHICO, with whom I was in love — and who also walked up and down on my desk without bumping or knocking anything over.

    The background to the poem about the monk and his cat is the superiority of the rational human being over the animal world, as prescribed for the monk by Christian theology (Dominium terrae). The humorous exaggeration of the cat and the understatement of the scholar make this appear in an unexpected light.

    Love & Peace

  3. February 5, 2024

    Handsome Schrödinger who found a confortable home after his church years. I wouldn’t know how to live, work or sleep without a cat (or several, for that matter). Thank you for the update on Schrödinger.

  4. John Cunningham permalink
    February 5, 2024

    Pangur Ban (White Pangur) is a well known poem here in Ireland. We also have a bookshop called Pangur Ban in Ballina County Mayo. Ballina’s other claim to fame is that it is the ancestral town of President Joe Biden. I live close to Ireland West Airport at Knock County Mayo. Last year when President Biden came to visit, we watched Airforce One glide in to land. Ireland was a great centre of learning during the middle ages. Irish Monks took their knowledge all over Europe. All this is outlined in a book by Thomas Cahill, “How The Irish Saved Civilisation” .

  5. debra sewell permalink
    February 5, 2024

    I LOVE YOUR KITTY. HE HAS A MUSTACHE!! VERY DISTINGUISHED. So soft and darling. Very glad kitty has new home with you and looks very happy. 😻😸💌

  6. February 5, 2024

    I remember this poem and it is very special. Also thank you for the update on Schrödinger. I have my own feline companion too

  7. Cherub permalink
    February 5, 2024

    Schrödinger is such a handsome fellow.

  8. Linda Granfield permalink
    February 5, 2024

    If you have four minutes to treat yourself, enjoy this video reading of “The White Cat and the Monk”–book by Jo Ellen Bogart and art by the award-winning Sydney Smith. Both Canadian creators.

    Time for tea/coffee and a viewing?

  9. Kasey Grier permalink
    February 6, 2024

    Oh, this is lovely — thank you so much for sharing! I wrote my dissertation and my first book, and got well into my second book, thanks to Margaret, a round, brown tabby with celadon green eyes and a very loud purr. She sat under the desk lamp on a sheet of paper (she needed something rectangular for comfortable sitting) and offered companionship and NO criticism — I got enough of that from advisors, colleagues and anonymous readers! She lived to 18 and, many decades later, I still miss her. Other cats have offered other talents — she was my only writing companion.

  10. Jill Wilson permalink
    February 6, 2024

    Great Schrodinger update – thank you!

    My cat also shares my desk, both from choice when he is “helping” me work, but also from necessity. As there is no cat-flap in my current flat I have had to
    make a cunning device which fits in the window by my desk to allow Bezzy the freedom to access the outside world as and when the mood takes him. This does however mean that he has to negotiate a route through all the half made models, paperwork and other creative zhush which always seems to be on the desk…

    I’m always impressed by his ability to jump up and land on the one square inch of clear space amongst all the clutter.

  11. Winnie permalink
    February 6, 2024

    Schrodinger is ADORABLE.

  12. Tricia Davies permalink
    February 7, 2024

    What a wonderful face Schrödinger has… Oh, those eyes and that moustache, what a dapper gentleman. I always loved reading about his life with you. And yes, how very similar is the relationship between you and Schrödinger to that of the monk in the amazing poem, Pangur Ban. I have a treasured copy of ‘The Life and Times of Mr. Pussy’ too 🙂

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