Pangur Ban – Whiter than white
Posted by LizzyBeth
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…
(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)