Seamus Heaney…

/blog post recovered from formerly deleted blog/

Every now and then, I’m reminded about how similar we all are. How many of the same emotions, situations and daily activities have been noticed for the first time by someone, repeated by millions of us over time, and still resonate as “quaint” or personal.

I have a love affair with lectures…below are my notes and some background on a favorite poem translated by SH. 

From a lecture by Seamus Heaney
 There is a fragmentary ninth century manuscript belonging to the monastery of St. Paul, Unterdrauberg (in southern Austria). Preserved in that manuscript, along with a Virgil commentary and some Greek paradigms, are Irish language poems – including the little poem about the scholar and his cat, Pangur Ban – perhaps noted down by a bored monkish copyist. That poem had no readership, and no influence, for one thousand years – until it was published by Stokes and Strachan in 1902.

It is now the most famous poem in the Irish language, and one of the best known and the best-loved poems in the world – the various translations have been much anthologized, and practically every Irish poet has made her or his version. The Robin Flower translation was chosen by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes for their successful children’s anthology The Rattle Bag. A new translation, by Sean Hutton, Chair of the British Association for Irish Studies, will be found in Shaun Traynor, The Poolbeg Book of Irish Poetry for Children. In fact, in these days of the Internet, a simple way of discovering Irish language enthusiasts throughout the world is to start a Web search for ‘Pangur Ban’.Pangur Ban

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.

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

– Anon., (Irish, 8th century)


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Christine Haskell, PhD

Systems Consultant & Catalyst: I find the 11 in people and organizations.

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