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.


Blogger Fox In Detox said...

There is no hope... only Bosco.

7:00 AM, March 19, 2009  

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