Pangur Bán

Pangur Bán is an old poem written by an Irish monk in the ninth century. The poem compares the writer’s attempts at learning and solving problems with his cat’s goal of catching a mouse.

Ireland’s 100 favourite poems
Seamus Heaney

The author of the poem is unknown but some expects suggest it could’ve been the work of Sedulius Scotus, an Irish teacher.

The poem was written in Irish but Nobel Prize winner, Seamus Heaney translated it into English. The English translation is at the bottom of the page.

Click here for the English translation

Pangur Bán translation by Seamus Heaney. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Pangur Bán

Messe [ocus] Pangur bán,
cechtar nathar fria saindán;
bíth a menma-sam fri seilgg,
mu menma céin im saincheirdd

Caraim-se fós, ferr cach clú,
oc mu lebrán léir ingnu;
ní foirmtech frimm Pangur bán,
caraid cesin a maccdán.

Ó ru-biam ­ scél cén scis
innar tegdias ar n-oéndis,
táithiunn ­ dichríchide clius
ní fris ‘tarddam ar n-áthius.

Gnáth-huaraib ar greassaib gal
glenaid luch ina lín-sam;
os me, du-fuit im lín chéin
dliged ndoraid cu n-dronchéill.

Fúachaid-sem fri freaga fál
a rosc a nglése comlán;
fúachimm chéin fri fégi fis
mu rosc réil, cesu imdis.

Fáelid-sem cu n-déne dul,
hi nglen luch ina gérchrub;
hi-tucu cheist n-doraid n-dil,
os mé chene am fáelid.

Cia beimini amin nach ré
ní derban cách a chéle;
mait le cechtar nár a dán
subaigthiud a óenurán.

Hé fesin as choimsid dáu
in muid du-n-gní cach óenláu;
do thabairt doraid du glé
for mumud céin am messe.

Pangur Bán translation by Seamus Heaney. Image copyright Ireland Calling

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Ireland’s 100 favourite poems
Seamus Heaney

Pangur Bán translation by Seamus Heaney. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Pangur Bán – English translation

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.

Pangur Bán translation by Seamus Heaney. Image copyright Ireland Calling

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Ireland's 100 favourite poems

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