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The Student and His Cat is quite a famous translation of a poem written in Old Irish in the margins of a copy of St. Paul’s Epistles. It is also known as ‘The Monk and His Cat’ and dates from the end of the 8th century or the beginning of the 9th. It’s preserved in the Reichenau Primer and is thought to be by a student at the Monastery of Carinthia. Sounds heavy, but it’s not. For me, this is a delightful and light-hearted take on the task of sitting studying or writing late at night when one is easily distracted, eg, by a cat’s antics. I love how the poet uses the analogy of the cat’s hunting techniques to communicate his own search for knowledge and wisdom. All would-be students, monks, and writers, please note the last stanza – practice makes perfect!

    The Student and His Cat

Painting by Elizabeth Wrightman @ www.wouldgodmilkagoat.com

Painting by Elizabeth Wrightman http://www.wouldgodmilkagoat.com

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.

‘Tis a merry thing 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.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night,
Turning darkness into light.

-translated by Robin Flower

The Reichenau Primer

The Reichenau Primer

*This version is from Irish Verse: An Anthology, Edited by Bob Blaisdell (Dover Publications, 2002)

*For further information about the poem, see the Irish Archaeology website.

*Elizabeth Wrightman
kindly gave permission to use her painting of Pangur Bán sitting on the poem.

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