Pangur Bán

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The page of the Reichenau Primer on which Pangur Bán is written

"Pangur Bán" is an Old Irish poem, written in about the 9th century at or near Reichenau Abbey, in what is now Germany, by an Irish monk about his cat. Pangur Bán, 'White Pangur', is the cat's name, Pangur possibly meaning 'a fuller'. Although the poem is anonymous, it bears similarities to the poetry of Sedulius Scottus, prompting speculation that he is the author.[1] In eight verses of four lines each, the author compares the cat's happy hunting with his own scholarly pursuits.

The poem is preserved in the Reichenau Primer (Stift St. Paul Cod. 86b/1 fol 1v) and now kept in St. Paul's Abbey in the Lavanttal.


The poem is found in only one manuscript, the Reichenauer Schulheft or Reichenau Primer. The primer appears to be the notebook of an Irish monk based in Reichenau Abbey. The contents of the primer are diverse, it also contains "notes from a commentary of the Aeneid, some hymns, a brief glossary of Greek words, some Greek declension, notes on biblical places, a tract on the nature of angels, and some astronomy".[2]


Original Old Irish version[3]

Messe ocus Pangur Bán,
cechtar nathar fria saindán;
bíth a menma-sam fri seilgg,
mu menma céin im saincheirdd

Caraim-se fos, ferr cach clú,
oc mu lebrán léir ingnu;
ní foirmtech frimm Pangur bán,
caraid cesin a maccdán.

Ó ru·biam — scél cen scís —
innar tegdais ar n-óendís,
táithiunn — díchríchide clius —
ní fris tarddam ar n-áthius.

Gnáth-húaraib ar gressaib gal
glenaid luch inna lín-sam;
os mé, du·fuit im lín chéin
dliged n-doraid cu n-dronchéill.

Fúachid-sem fri frega fál
a rosc anglése comlán;
fúachimm chéin fri fégi fis
mu rosc réil, cesu imdis,

Fáelid-sem cu n-déne dul
hi·n-glen luch inna gérchrub;
hi·tucu cheist n-doraid n-dil,
os mé chene am fáelid.

Cía beimmi amin nach ré,
ní·derban cách ar chéle.
Maith la cechtar nár a dán,
subaigthius a óenurán.

Hé fesin as choimsid dáu
in muid du·n-gní cach óenláu;
du thabairt doraid du glé
for mu mud céin am messe.

English translation by Whitley Stokes and John Strachan (1903):

I and Pangur Bán, each of us two at his special art:
his mind at hunting (mice), my own mind is in my special craft.
I love to rest—better than any fame—at my booklet with diligent science:
not envious of me is Pangur Bán: he himself loves his childish art.
When we are—tale without tedium—in our house, we two alone,
we have—unlimited (is) feat-sport—something to which to apply our acuteness.
It is customary at times by feat of valour, that a mouse sticks in his net,
and for me there falls into my net a difficult dictum with hard meaning.
His eye, this glancing full one, he points against the wall-fence:
I myself against the keenness of science point my clear eye, though it is very feeble.
He is joyous with speedy going where a mouse sticks in his sharp-claw:
I too am joyous, where I understand a difficult dear question.
Though we are thus always, neither hinders the other:
each of us two likes his art, amuses himself alone.
He himself is the master of the work which he does every day:
while I am at my own work, (which is) to bring difficulty to clearness.

Modern use[edit]

A critical edition of the poem was published in 1903 by Whitley Stokes and John Strachan in the second volume of the Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus.[4] Among modern writers to have translated the poem are Robin Flower, W. H. Auden, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Eavan Boland. In Auden's translation, the poem was set by Samuel Barber as the eighth of his ten Hermit Songs (1952–53).

Fay Sampson wrote a series of books based on the poem. They follow the adventures of Pangur Bán, his friend, Niall the monk, and Finnglas, a Welsh princess.

In the 2009 animated movie The Secret of Kells, which is heavily inspired by Irish mythology, one of the supporting characters is a white cat named Pangur Bán who arrives in the company of a monk. A paraphrase of the poem in modern Irish is read out during the credit roll by actor and Irish speaker, Mick Lally.[5]

Irish-language singer Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin recorded the poem in her 2011 studio album Songs of the Scribe, featuring both the original text and a translation by Nobel laureate Séamus Heaney.

In 2016, Jo Ellen Bogart and Sydney Smith published a picture book called The White Cat and the Monk based on the poem.[6]

Dutch band Twigs & Twine used parts of the poem in their song "Messe ocus Pangur Bán".[7]

In 2022, Irish poet Colm Toibin published his own version of the poem in a collection titled Vinegar Hill.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Greene and O'Connor, 1967
  2. ^ Toner (2007), pp. 1-2
  3. ^ "Irish - Pangur Bán". Department of Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  4. ^ Stokes and Strachan, 1904, pp. 293–294
  5. ^ "The Secret of Kells (2009) - IMDb". IMDb.
  6. ^ Kilidatis, Rosemary. "The White Cat and the Monk". The Children's Writer's Guild.
  7. ^ "Messe ocus Pangur Bán". Spotify. 13 July 2019.
  8. ^ Colm Toibin (2022). Vinegar Hill. Boston: Beacon Press.


  • Greene, David; Frank O'Connor (1967). A Golden Treasury of Irish Poetry, AD 600–1200. London: Macmillan. Reprinted 1990, Dingle: Brandon. ISBN 0-86322-113-0.
  • Stokes, Whitley; John Strachan (1904). Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus: A Collection of Old-Irish Glosses, Scholia, Prose and Verse. Vol. II. Cambridge University Press.
  • Toner, Gregory (Summer 2009). "'Messe ocus Pangur Bán': Structure and Cosmology". Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies. 57: 1–22.
  • Tristram, Hildegard L. C. (1999). "Die irischen Gedichte im Reichenauer Schulheft". In Peter Anreiter; Erzsebet Jerem (eds.). Studia Celtica et Indogermanica: Festschrift für Wolfgang Meid zum 70. Geburtstag. Budapest: Archaeolingua. pp. 503–29. ISBN 963-8046-28-7.

External links[edit]