Merlyn MacLeod, Author

Merlyn MacLeod, Author

Two wenches writing as one. Named after the falcon, not the mage.

Seamus Heaney

All of the posts under the "Seamus Heaney" tag.

Writing Cat

A few weeks ago, I had to say goodbye to Mac — my marmalade-cat friend of 14 years. He stayed as long as he could, refusing to let me know he had cancer. I found out when I ran my hand down his back, and he made a sound I’d never heard before. There was nothing to be done — they can’t cure carcinoma.

Two days later, I was adopted by a black kitten. I grew up with black cats, so all such moggies are friends. She has very big eyes, and her humane society name was Mercy. To herself she is…Herself. Like all kittens, she likes to run and stalk and climb and play. Her favorite toys thus far are neat little chase-me balls made from small strips of flexible cohesive vet wraps that are meant to protect horse legs. They bounce beautifully as they’re made of latex, and they roll in unexpected patterns. They also catch on claws and can be carried about in the mouth. And lost under the furniture. Of course.

During my writing session this morning, Herself jumped atop a five-drawer filing cabinet, only to perch atop my ancient laser printer, to pose with William Turner (aka Orlando Bloom). (My cell phone doesn’t take great pictures, but if I had reached for my Nikon, she’d have be gone by the time I got set up.)


Herself likes to keep company with me when I’m writing, and she reminded me of Pangur Bán who was another cat companionioning another writer.

When I went looking, I discovered Seamus Heaney (who died last year) had made a new translation of the poem featuring Pangur Bán. If you’ve not heard the poem, you’ll likely not know it was written in Irish by an anonymous monk in a ninth-century manuscript that belongs to the monastery of St. Paul in Austria. And here it is, for cat lovers everywhere:

Pangur Bán

From the 9th-century Irish poem written by an annonymous monk. Translated By Seamus Heaney.

Read the translator’s notes

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.
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