Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pangur Bán

The world is dark.
The monk sits quietly in his candlelit cell. Perhaps he is delving into eternal Truths from the Sacred Scripture or wrestling with the words of an ancient Greek philosopher. He squints at the text in the low light, the meaning of the word dancing on the tip of his tongue but not quite there yet. He labors but exults in his task. He is content.
At his feet, a tomcat hunts.
The glow of the candles is reflected in his white fur, lending it a warm, glowing hue. He, too, has his work. His tail darts, his eyes stare, his claws flex. He glares at the wall, waiting...
The monk notices his cat and is moved to verse.

Pangur Bán and I at work,
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
His whole instinct is to hunt,
Mine to free the meaning pent.

More than loud acclaim, I love
Books, silence, thought, my alcove.
Happy for me, Pangur Bán
Child-plays round some mouse’s den.

Truth to tell, just being here,
Housed alone, housed together,
Adds up to its own reward:
Concentration, stealthy art.

Next thing an unwary mouse
Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.
Next thing lines that held and held
Meaning back begin to yield.

All the while, his round bright eye
Fixes on the wall, while I
Focus my less piercing gaze
On the challenge of the page.

With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
When the longed-for, difficult
Answers come, I too exult.

So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
Taking pleasure, taking pains,
Kindred spirits, veterans.

Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
Day and night, my own hard work
Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.
Sometime during the 8th century an unknown author - a monk - compares the activities of his cat, Pangur Bán, with his own scholarly pursuits. He then writes it down within the margins of his working manuscript. It survives to this day.
There is a beautiful simplicity in this imagery and, for some reason, I find it filled with hope.

Monday, March 16, 2009


During a game of Rummy 500 with Jenna and Bridget the other night I had a song from an old "Bugs Bunny" cartoon stuck in my head. Unconsciously I sang it out while I was reviewing my cards:
"Carrots are divine
You get a dozen for a dime
It's ma-gic!"
After laughing at me, Jenna reminded me about one of our favorite "Bugs Bunny" cartoons, which we have not seen in forever.
Until today!
God bless you, Youtube!

Friday, March 06, 2009

His Words were Daggers

Movie Night - Tuesday.
A stringed instrument was heard over the crashing waves, its simple tune lightly dancing through the air. A man appears, walking along a bridge towards a performance hall. The picture fades. The screen, like the room I'm sitting in, goes dark. A voice cries out...Hwæt!

Thus begins Benjamin Bagby's one-man performance of Beowulf.
Bagby's voice rang out with words from ages past, chewing on some words as if they are meat torn from a cooked rib taken blackened from an open fire, launching into others in a sing-song fashion, with soaring, lyrical claims of exultation or deep, somber cries of grief. I was transfixed by the spellbinding rhythms of the story.
And something stirred - no, something resonated - deep inside me.
Without warning, I was sitting in a mead hall lit with torches; the smell of the burning wood from the fire engorged in my nostrils as the thick air stood still, moving only with every breath from the scop who burned images into my mind. There were warriors sitting around thick, wooden tables, dressed in their armor, armed with swords and shields, who feared the night prowling of Grendel, the terrible beast from the moors who ravages them with unsettling ease, and yet who is more human than any would like to admit. The lament of Hrothgar their king was immediate and full of sorrow, as he wondered who could possibly save Heorot, his grand hall, from devastation by the beast from Hell. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, hears of the plight of Hrothgar from across the waves, and sails into his destiny.
I knew the tale; I had heard it before. Yet at times I found myself tense, eager with anticipation, waiting for the next sentence. Bagby's words grabbed at me, shook me hard and refused to let me go. His words were as daggers, piercing my modern-day sensibilities and forcefully demonstrating the power of his words, the drama of storytelling and our deep-seated need as a people to share stories.
In one glorious moment I knew why words survive long after the author has turned to dust and why a bard may just be the most powerful of us all. It is because they know the stories. In a thousand years the concerns and characteristics of humans have not changed all that much and we are still - at times - afraid of the dark. What binds us together is the light and warmth of the fire, good companionship and our shared history, told in dramatic fashion by bards like Benjamin Bagby.
There was magic in the air on this night. Benjamin Bagby has done the near-impossible; he has resurrected the bardic tale of Beowulf and turned it into a visceral, immediate experience. His Beowulf is urgently alive and, because of it, so was I.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


I hold a mug of tea in my hand, breathing deep the steam, grateful for its warmth. The mid-morning sun falls on my back as I sit on the couch in jeans and an oversize sweater. Doyle is asleep next to me and Malcolm is snoring softly at the opposite end of the sofa. All of us are tired. I'll be napping soon, too.
Sick at home since the day before, I am restless but too tired to do anything about it. Whatever this sinus-thing is, it came about quickly and has knocked me around quite soundly. I'm missing work, but I wouldn't say that I'm "missing" work. Also, its Wednesday and I am missing comic book day so I know I'm sick.
The phone rings; I answer it. I talk to my Dad as I sip my tea. He marvels that March is already here - or soon will be - and how time flies. As Dad continues to talk, I think about Mom's birthday which would have been celebrated on March 3rd. It is the 24th birthday that she has missed and, as I listen to Dad, I wonder what Mom would have been like at 71 years of age.
71 years old...
I wonder how she would have felt about being a grandmother? She would have been a great Nana. Mom always loved kids and she couldn't wait to be a Nana. Obviously, she never got the chance.
I wonder what she would think of my career choices, my college career, my life? I know that she'd love Jenna - would she like the man her son became?
I wonder about her life. Would she have gone back to nursing, as she always intended to do? Would she have traveled to the great state of Florida? Or, better yet, to Ireland? Mom was all about family. Would we get together as a family one Sunday a month? Probably? Christmases? Heck, yes. Grandchildren would have been involved. Would her home - my childhood home - still be filled with her special brand of love?
Yes, it would.
As Dad and I say our goodbyes I wonder what Dad thinks about when these anniversaries approach? Does he think of them at all? Or, as with other events in his life, does he not do so because it is too painful and non-productive? I choose not to ask him over the phone. I'll ask him in person - someday.
The phone is back in the cradle and my empty mug is set back on the coaster. Malcolm stirs slightly and Doyle lays on my chest as we all reposition ourselves as I lay down to take a nap.
I close my eyes.
In my minds eye, I visit with Mom as I drift off to sleep.
And, in my dreams, I wonder...