per amica silentia lunae

or, across the ferny brae with the evil voodoo celt

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Pangur Ban
nola
evcelt
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 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 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.

- Anonymous, tr. by Robin Flower

This is a poem that was found written in a 4-page manuscript at the Monastery of St Paul, on Reichenau Island in Lake Constance (Bodensee). It was probably written by an Irish monk in the 9th century; Eire was the main preserver and disseminator of classical and Christian knowledge at the time, and Irish monks were greatly sought after for their knowledge, as well as their skill in calligraphy and illumination. Much of what we know about Old Irish comes from various glosses and other marginal notes written in continental manuscripts of the period.

The Flowers translation isn't the most accurate, but it's my favorite. It captures some of the rhyme and alliteration of the original, and gets the imagery across in a delightful way. You can just see the monk working late at night, watching his white cat* hunting the mice that would otherwise gnaw the precious texts... inspiration hits him as he sees the connection between his actions and his pet's... he takes a break, using the paper that comes to hand to record his thoughts... laying down his pen with a sigh, he looks down at a triumphant mew to see a fresh-caught mouse laid at his feet... he scoops his friend up, stroking and praising him as he purrs...

When monsteralice and I went to Eire in 2001, we went to the Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. They had a wonderful exhibit on illumnated manuscripts; it covered every aspect of their making, from bookbinding to illumination, and made us appreciate the books on display even more. The title of the exhibit? Turning Darkness Into Light.

--
* 'Ban' means white in OI; 'Pangur' was apparently a common cat name of the time...

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