Pangur Ban – Whiter than white

I was going through some random files I had saved on my computer when I came across  a poem, “Pangur Ban.”  Instantly, I was reawakened by the imagery and the beauty of it:  Something so simple, yet something rather profound.  It is strange to see how animals effect our imaginations and how they illuminate our understanding.

My first real introduction to the character of Pangur Ban was in the movie The Secret of Kells. I instantaniously fell in love with the little white cat, who had more character and attitude than a precocious three-year-old. Some of you may remember that Melissa wrote a very nice post about the movie, but I want to focus on Pangur.

Pangur has genuine personality, but not so much so that he ceases to be a cat.  He is the epitome of cat-ness.  Everything about Pangur is cat-like and true from his haughty nature, to the swish of his tail.  There are moments that it would appear that Pangur had human qualities, but he is too much of a cat to say that he is anything but cat. His quirks are  perfect in cat-like nature.  If only every cat could be a Pangur Ban.

Have you ever looked at a picture, particularly an abstract one and discovered that in that abstract you saw its soul?  Have you seen a color, the truest blue, and known in that moment that that is what blue was supposed to look like?  Maybe it was a sunset…and you saw the golden hues and the pinks and oranges blending, the way the sun’s rays glinted off trees and fields, and you knew in that moment that all sunsets were trying to be that sunset? Well if you can relate to any of these moments, then you will know what I am talking about when it comes to Pangur. He is cat.

Creating such a character is not an easy task particularly for writers, so much of Pangur’s cat-ness in The Secret of Kells comes from the visual, where he is on the screen, how he moves from place to place.

So after watching the movie, I became rather intrigued by this little creature.  I don’t remember who it was that told me Pangur Ban was named so after an actual character in literature, but I soon found the a little poem that was written by a monk in the 9th century.  The monk was an illuminator of the Book of Kells.  If you look closely in some of the illuminated pages you will see glimpses of this enchanting cat within…

Pangur Ban
(written by a ninth-century Irish monk in St Gallen, Switzerland) . . . .

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

Oftentimes a mouse will stray

In the hero Pangur’s way;

Oftentimes my keen thought set

Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye

Full and fierce and sharp and sly;

‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I

All my little wisdom try.

Practice every day has made

Pangur perfect in his trade;

I get wisdom day and night

Turning darkness into light

(This poem appears in The Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity College, Dublin and was kindly transcribed for AuthorScoop by Felicity O’ Mahony, Assistant Librarian, Manuscripts Department)


About LizzyBeth

There is a Story inside of me that I must give a voice. I write so that imagination can take me to Faerie and I can catch a glimpse of the Otherworld and hopefully so will you.

Posted on February 24, 2012, in Art, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Movie Reviews, Poetry, Rachel Burkholder and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. i havent seen the movie the secret of kells,and im so looking forward to seeing it now!!!
    love the poem…like u said, simple,yet profound!!
    Great post!

    • Thanks. I love the movie…it is old style animation (all hand drawn) and the artwork and imagery the film captures…Yeah, it is an excellence film. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

      • I so agree on the movie! I loved it and truly want to own and watch it often, now. But Pangur Ban was such a graceful part of it’s peace that I cannot imagine the movie without him.

  2. Reading this post just made my day, it was the first thing I read this morning while having breakfast. Pangur Ban is one of my all-time favourite Irish poems I had to translate during my Old Irish course and one I love to keep rereading.

  3. Lovely poem and great post.

    “Hunting words I sit all night.

    Better far than praise of men

    ‘Tis to sit with book and pen;”

    How many of us can relate to this part? 🙂

  4. Oh, Pangur Ban, you are my hero. That scene from the picture you posted changed my world.

    ‘You must go where I cannot… Pangur Ban…’

    Now I need to watch it again! Aaah!

    • Yes!! I have been thinking that it is time for a movie night! To bad you are on the other side of the big pond…I’d invite you.

  5. Very nice blog and pictures. We all see life through our eyes. Some just continue to wear blinders and do not look beyond the surface. Blessings to you on the wind.

  6. I first read this poem in Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization. It resonated with me too. That was a life-changing book for me.Have you read it, Rachel? I enjoyed to The Secret of Kells movie also.

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