About Cats

Tonight’s tea is Mother’s Little Helper.

We always get a kick out of this one because the whole concoction revolves around valerian root. In humans, that makes you sleepy. We never get to have much of it because we open the tin, Miss Maschallin comes nosing, and next thing we know, we are up to our eyes in stoned cat.

The thing about valerian root is that however it works on humans, feline brain chemistry is completely different. It revs them up like nothing on earth. And it stinks to high heaven.

But it’s a really lovely, therapeutic tea if you have, say, spent an evening trying to keep an overactive Dachshund Puppy – let’s call him Rocky – away from the woodpile. And the Christmas tree. And the cat. And…

Tell you what, we’re going to sit down and enjoy our valerian tea, and you can enjoy this lovely poem about cats. Deal?

Pangur Bán
Translation by Seamus Heaney

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.

So, we can’t translate Old Irish unassisted. But we definitely translated quite a lot of Old English while the Marschallin Cat looked on. We learned soprano descants with her sitting in, too. Very musically snobbish that one, we can tell you.  

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