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I, and Bessa my Cat

October 7, 2012

You know the feeling – so many books, too few shelves. So, I’ve been trying to rearrange my little study/library. To the left of my computer are my reference books, a jar full of stones from the south -western Sahara, and an old coffee mug containing coloured pens and pencils. The shelf below it is empty, save for a box of postcards – 100 Penguin Book Covers. (I’m a wuss, I know I’ll never send them.)

Bessa, aka Cat.

Bessa, also known to my Facebook pals as Cat, normally likes to sit on my part of the couch, or spread out on the duvet when I’m distracted by something else. Sometimes, she appears at the study window sill. When I open the window she hops in and walks around the room, usually fetching up on an old kilm in the corner.

Today she wandered purringly around the room as I did battle with an essay on Nazi Germany. We both settled into our own concentrated quiet. After a while, I was aware of being watched. I looked to the left and found a pair of green eyes blinking at me. The once empty shelf was now the Cat Cave. 

It’s nice to have a companion in the room when one writes, especially one who doesn’t read over one’s shoulder and make smart-assed comments. All Bessa wants is a bit of attention now and then, and a scratch behind the ears.

All this reminded me of a poem learned in primary school: I and Pangur Bán, my cat.  The poem is from the old Irish, and refers to a scribe and his cat. I’m taking a module in Early Irish Script this term. I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoy the word puzzles that are the transcriptions we get as homework. This is the most recent one!

Durham gospels A II 10

So, I can’t help thinking of that anonymous scribe from the early 10th century, who took time out to consider his tasks and those of his cat.








Bless Google and all who sail in her. Here’s a link to the old Irish version translations, and a commentary:

and here is a clip from the Irish animated film, Secret of Kells, which incorporated Pangur into its story:

Finally, below is the Robin Flower translation familiar to those of us who learned it as children…

The Scholar and his Cat   (Translation  by Robin Flower)

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.

’Tis a merry task to see

At our tasks how glad are we,

When at home we sit and find

Entertainment to our mind.

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.

When a mouse darts from its den,

O how glad is Pangur then!

O what gladness do I prove

When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,

Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;

In our arts we find our bliss,

I have mine and he has his.

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