A Month of Ireland: The Magic, Faerie-Hunting Cat Named Pangur Bán
Posted by Melissa
Last week I provided a very dark but beautiful bit of poetry about the faeries stealing away a child. This week, my Irish-themed post has a slightly happier note. As previous posts have mentioned, there is a cartoon called The Secret of Kells about the writing of the Book of Kells. In that film is a cat named Pangur Bán, white with one blue eye and one green eye. Multicolored eyes indicate magic, as we all know. So today, we will talk more about what it means to have a magic cat.
The original cat Pangur Bán (he was real!) exists for us in the pages of a 9th century Irish manuscript. An Irish monk reflects on how his own struggle for words compares to the hunting of his “whiter than white” cat.
Messe ocus Pangur Bán,
cechtar nathar fria saindan
bíth a menmasam fri seilgg
mu menma céin im saincheirdd.
. . .
I and Pangur Bán my cat
Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
The thing about magic cats is they have a tendency to show up in unexpected places. This Irish cat now lives in my house.
The other thing about magic cats is that they do not see the world the way other cats do. Pangur Bán’s eyes are her gift and her curse. She sees our world with her blue eye, the mundane eye. However, with her green eye, she sees the faeries.
Pangur Bán’s eternal battle with the invisible house faeries has been going on for months now. She hunts them, chases them, and pounces on them, but our house is overrun. Fortunately, Pangur Bán refuses to give up, and her hunt for the faeries continues.
The Pangur Bán of the 9th century hunted mice, so says the poem, but he, too, was a magic cat. He had the ability to inspire his master to write. It is through observing his cat that the anonymous Irish monk is able to conclude:
He fesin as choimsid dáu
in muid dungní cach oenláu
du thabairt doraid du glé
for mu mud cein am messe.
. . .
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
(Translation by Robin Flowers)
The Irish monks of this man’s time were facing many years of darkness – literary darkness, that is. They are responsible for preserving much of the early literature that we value so much today. They were writers and readers, lovers of books, masters of their craft of illumination. You know a true book-lover when he not only writes the book, but he is driven to make it beautiful.
This poem is so especially beloved not just because it is such a strange little bit of writing tucked in the margins of a manuscript. It also shows us just a glimpse of man’s thoughts aside from his long hours of writing down and preserving valuable texts. Over a thousand years ago, a man sits at his desk and struggles to find inspiration and to use just the right words. Another translation of the first verse by Seamus Heaney:
About Melissagenerally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...
Posted on March 13, 2013, in Art, Faerie, Humor, Inspiration, Ireland, Language, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Photography, Poetry, Story, Travel, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged Faerie, illumination, inspiration, ireland, irish monk, magic cat, pangur ban, Poetry, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.