the scholar and his dog

Twelve centuries ago by a long Swiss lake,
Pangur Bán hunted and an Irish monk looked.
The monk strained for sense from knotty old books;
His Celtic cat stared at the rustling rocks.
The cat was sharper and more often struck,
But both loved the chase, and the monk loved his pet.
Twelve centuries later my dog and I
Walk Cambridge streets lost in separate thought.
He stops to sniff trails; I check my emails.
Sensing a modern mouse has scurried by,
He jingles his tags and trots on while I
Shake off my inbox, walk, and concentrate.
The monk’s name is lost. The name Pangur Bán
Lives on, but I assume it was only the man
Who saw the analogy of monk and pet
And put it in verse that speaks to us still. Yet
Could it be my dog and the long-passed cat
Who knew the truth? We all just do what
We’re made to do, and it’s better to do
It together. (Pangur Bán’s mice knew that too.)

Cf. the 9th-century Irish poem as translated by Robin Flower (“The Scholar and His Cat“) and by Seamus Heaney (as “Pangur Bán”); and see the Wikipedia entry for context.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.