Any of you who have attended our retreats or my yoga classes at home have met our resident people-greeter, entertainer and thief, Pangur Ban. Our second cat, Thomas, is a little more reserved but only because he is more deceptive. He is very naughty, very intrigued with writing, and usually on my lap whenever I’m at the keyboard.
People often ask me about Pangur’s name, and if you’ve heard the story please forgive me. I learned of the name long before I met our Pangur in the flesh. The story starts with a crush I had on the poet Yeats, and later, Oscar Wilde. At the time, I was also a huge fan of the BBC show, Ballykissangel, which was filmed in Ireland near Wicklow. I used to travel to Liverpool every couple of years to visit my Uncle George, and I discovered I could get to Ireland in just a few hours on the ferry.
On one of these literary pilgrimages, I dropped into the Trinity College Library to see the exhibit on the book of Kells, an extraordinary illuminated manuscript that was created by Celtic monks, somewhere about 800 AD. Alongside the Book of Kells was a display dedicated to a poem, composed by an unknown Irish scholar in approximately the same time period. Supposedly this poem was originally written on the back of a manuscript page. In subsequent research I’ve discovered many disagreements as to the origin of the poem. All the sources agree that it was penned by an Irish monk, but some claim it was authored in the Monastery of St. Paul in Carinthia, Austria. Here is the poem:
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.
Pangur Ban has been translated on Wikipedia as “white fuller.” A fuller was a labourer who washed fleece (often by stomping on it with his feet) as part of the fabric-making process. I imagine the movement would be similar to the milk-treading performed by a happy feline. When I encountered the poem I was so taken with it that I decided my next cat would be named Pangur Ban in its honour.
A few years later, we lost our beautiful orange tabby (named Kirby) to kidney disease. I mourned for a while, and then noticed a cat in the local paper. The neighbourhood shelter publishes a “pet of the week” mug shot. The face that caught my attention was grey and a little cross-eyed, with a white furry space shuttle planted firmly in the centre. Later that day, I remarked to my friend Paola that I might be getting over my grief because I’d caught myself lingering over the photo. She called me two days later to say “I have your cat.” I was a little stunned. She had taken it upon herself to save Thomas from death row. She promised that she would hang on to him for as long as we needed. I should have known better than to confess a moment of readiness to a committed cat rescuer.
A month later, after doing some cat-proofing we arrived at Paola’s doorstep to pick up our new furry kid. Paola met us at the door, surrounded by her menagerie of unwanted and misshapen animals. She had a few that she considered un-adoptable such as Zokay, a big lug of a Tom whose ears had been destroyed by mites and fighting, and who was prone to ungentlemanly behaviour with plush toys, pillows, or any soft objects of roughly feline dimensions. She also took in blind cats, elderly cats and dying cats. We found Thomas lounging upstairs in a cat bed, with his tail intertwined with the tail of a mostly white cat that had penetrating green eyes. Paula introduced the white cat as “Toto.” She had rescued him at the pound as well. The staff had planned to euthanize him because he’d been run over and had a serious leg injury. For some reason the terminal needle had been delayed and Paola had spirited him away to her vet. The vet amputated two of his toes and managed to patch up the torn skin and fur surrounding the injury. Toto and Thomas had become best friends, and Paola informed us that we had to take them both.We were startled, but we both agreed that we’d like to have two cats, so that they could keep each other company. We decided to rename Toto, so that I could finally have my Pangur Ban.
To my dismay, Pangur Ban turned out to have no interest in being my writing companion and instead lavishes all of his attention and love on my husband. He is an engineer’s cat, and likes to watch Nascar, assist with home repairs and play in the shower. He does take quite an interest in visitors and enjoys helping on our Writing from the Centre retreats. He especially likes participants who have cat allergies, and revels in stealing food whenever the opportunity arises. I hope you will come and meet him sometime,
Until next time,
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Photo credit (celtic cat)
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Mona Lisa credit
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Ghost cat credit
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