Pangur Ban – An Alliterative Experiment

Pangur Ban is an Old Irish poem about a monk and his pet cat, which is all you need to know to recognize why it’s one of the most important works of literature ever produced.

Now I myself do not speak Old Irish – Yes, yes, you have every right to be shocked and appalled – But I am blessed to receive the sense of the poem through various translations and interpretations, some of which you can find here.


A Cat (I think) in the Book of Kells. I wish my Bible had random animals in it.

I’ve been experimenting with alliterative verse lately, a simplified explanation for which can be found in my last post. Since then I’ve spent some time learning the more technical features of the genre.

It is hard and complicated but still a lot of fun to paw around with. Of course, I had to try making meow own alliterative interpretation of Pangur Ban. I’ve been editing it for over a meownth now trying to make it petter, and it may not be prrfect, but-

I’m sorry, I’ll stop. I’m sure there’s much room for improvement but if I wait until it’s perfect I’ll never get around to sharing it, so here goes.

Of ashen aspect,    agile Pangur
In cattish crafts    carries on always,
Mouse-mused pupil.    In manner of humans,
Foreign to felines     that follow cats’ ways,
I prowl through pages,    reclining on pillows,
Training in texts.    The tamed white lion
regards not my game;    his gift is enough.

Sport’s spirit thrives,    routine yet splendid.
We whet each our wits    in each our own way.
Pest-practiced hunter,    on paws crouched low,
Vaults valiantly    on vermin unwitting.
The mouse is mastered!    Meow! And he sleeps.
I ponder and prowl    perplexing writing.
My catches are curious    scurrying concepts.
From faded folios,    dusty they fall.

Little light figures    and letter-black strokes,
Lights or letters    in little points,
We watch on walls    or paper-white scrolls.
Unerring-eyed pet    stares at an image,
Fixed focus keeping    on fine shifting shapes.
From birth, bone-hued    keen-eyed beastling
Keeps closest watch    as my posture crumbles.
We jump, joyful both    when jobs are finished.

Each so is occupied,    I and pale Pangur,
When that we will,    and ever the while
We two unperturbed.    He at his trade,
And I sifting scripts.    Scholar is Pangur
In circuit-won skill    and I would excel
To unravel riddles    and render them clear.

pangy boon

If y’all haven’t watched The Secret of Kells, y’all really should.

I should resist commenting on my own poem, but I will anyway.

As I learn more about the structure of classical alliterative poetry, the more I realize that much of what I’ve written deviates from it. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Styles can be innovated, but I try to live by the saying “Learn the rules before you break them.”

“Scurrying” and “Curious” are two of my favourite words that I’ve ever accidentally put together.

“Unravel” is my favourite word in the whole thing.

I’ve rewritten the second stanza a dozen times and I’m still not satisfied with it.

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