Sometimes called "The Monk and his Cat", the poem Pangur Bán was written by an Irish monk, in the 9th or late 8th Century. It details the similarities between the scribe hunting appropriate words and solutions, and his pet cat hunting mice.

Mysterious origins:

The manner in which the poem was written is a mystery - there are several different stories. It is generally agreed that the poem was added to a manuscript by the scribe, but whether in Switzerland or Austria, on the back of a page, in the margins, or on a practice sheet is hard to tell. Various stories of the poem's origin include:

It is probable that the truth will never be known about the true origins of the poem. What can be fairly safely concluded, from the numbers of corroborating reports, is that the poem was written by an Irish monk, most probably in Austria, in amongst some of his manuscript work. The time period of the 9th century is fairly well agreed upon.

The translation

The poem was originally in a form of Gaelic, and the most common translation (below) is by the scholar Robin Flowers. It has kept much of the poetry of the original - other translators have simply translated into prose or very bad verse. Flowers stayed fairly close to the meaning of the text, and indeed to the metre of the original - a herculean task.

The name of the cat; Pangur Bán, means simply "white Pangur" or white cat. Pangur is a very common cat's name, and would have been recognised as such in 9th century Ireland. Roughly, it could be compared to the English "Kitty". Some legends involve Pangur Bán and Pangur Dubh - the white cat and the black cat.

Other details:

Pangur Bán has captured the imaginations of many - the poem is beloved of calligraphers, who render it in forms ranging from the modern, to the intricate designs of the ancient celtic manuscripts. The story of the monkish scribe and his white cat was romanticised in a series of children's books by Fay Sampson - the first of which is "Pangur Bán - the white cat". Like C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series, the Pangur Bán books use fantastic creatures to parallel the story of Christ's death and resurrection.

The original poem:

Messe ocus Pangur Bán,
cechtar nathar fria saindan:
bíth a menmasam fri seilgg,
mu memna céin im saincheirdd.

Caraimse fos (ferr cach clu)
oc mu lebran, leir ingnu;
ni foirmtech frimm Pangur Bán:
caraid cesin a maccdán.

O ru biam (scél cen scís)
innar tegdais, ar n-oendís,
taithiunn, dichrichide clius,
ni fris tarddam ar n-áthius.

Gnáth, huaraib, ar gressaib gal
glenaid luch inna línsam; os mé,
du-fuit im lín chéin
dliged ndoraid cu ndronchéill.

Fuachaidsem fri frega fál
a rosc, a nglése comlán;
fuachimm chein fri fegi fis
mu rosc reil, cesu imdis.

Faelidsem cu ndene dul
hi nglen luch inna gerchrub;
hi tucu cheist ndoraid ndil
os me chene am faelid.

Cia beimmi a-min nach ré
ni derban cách a chele:
maith la cechtar nár a dán;
subaigthius a óenurán.

He fesin as choimsid dáu
in muid du-ngni cach oenláu;
du thabairt doraid du glé
for mu mud cein am messe.

Translation by Robin Flowers, Copyright 1931

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 tasks we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practise every day had made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.