Writers and their Cats: Pangur Bán

I came across this old poem in the Book of Kells exhibition in Trinity College, Dublin. Written in the 9th century by an Irish monk while he was in St. Gallen, Switzerland, it shows the relationship between writers and their cats goes back quite a long way.

Thinking outside the box.


I’m a writer but I don’t ‘get’ cats. They’re nice enough creatures but I don’t feel that affinity other people obviously do. The cat that lives in our house definitely belongs to Gaie, and he, (Schrodinger*), is, if nothing else, a one-person cat and that person is not me. I come a poor second in his affections. Unless he’s hungry.

I and Pangur Bán 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.

I expect many cat lovers out there already know this poem. It was new to me and I thought it was lovely.


* Yes, we have a cat called Schrodinger, the only cat on Earth that refuses to sit in boxes.

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