Pangur Ban

Kage Baker was a dedicated writer, with a will of iron. The only way to be a writer, she said, is to writeevery day, regardless of topic, just putting words down in order. Eventually a theme would emerge and momentum would kick in.

A lot of writers say the same thing; but even among the pros, the stubbornness to actually do it is rare. It takes a touch of OCD in your nature, according to Kage, and she gleefully employed what she always claimed was her own when faced with the challenge. She said that considering it a compulsive act, and writing about whatever came into her head – as opposed to the half-written contracted novel sulking on the hard drive – gave the exercise the frisson of wickedness necessary to keep going.

In the years before Kage went pro, she really did write almost every day. Those years date back to before high school … tons of legal pads, reams of typing paper, all written in her insanely bad cursive script. Entire novels were written this way and are now sealed up in boxes (except the ones living on and in my desk …) One of the delights of my teens and 20’s and 30’s was coming home every night to read what she had written that day. It taught Kage the rudiments of her craft. New ideas rose to the surface even as she struggled grimly with obdurate plots, and were stored away thriftily. She mined that hoard for stories for the rest of her life.

I have striven mightily to emulate her in this, and have pretty much succeeded. It’s a rare day now when I don’t write something, and I’ve reached that splendid point where ideas bubble up at all hours – as I fall asleep, as I read, as I edit and write new stuff. It gets confusing sometimes, and I know I haven’t achieved Kage’s effortless flood, but I am achieving much more than I ever thought I could.

However, real life does interfere … I was so excited and happy to come home from the hospital a week ago, that I apparently slightly overdid things. Yesterday I hit a wall, maybe. Maybe my recovery just plateaued for a while. Whatever it was, I suddenly just stopped, and not even my Kindle or a rousing game of Plants Vs. Zombies could hold my attention.

When I realized that the little black cat was complaining because the cursor on the screen – in front of which she likes to sprawl and watch – was unmoving, I knew I had pegged “E”. Nothing was wrong – I was just in need of being horizontal and maybe asleep. I explained this to the little black cat, and she agreed: sometimes you just have to be a flat drowsing object. She curled up with me as soon as I was under the covers, too, thus tenderly making sure I would rest …

So I am resting a bit more, and bouncing around a bit less. I’m much better than I was pre-surgery, but I am still convalescent. Imagine my surprise! It took my black velvet friend to bring this to my attention, and to insist I slow down a little.

Anyway:  in her honor, here is a poem that pretty much sums up yestreday and today. Not mine or Kage’s – it’s from the Gaelic, written long ago when the world was very, very different: but not, apparently, for cats or writers.

Pangur Bán — (9th century poem in Old Irish)

I and Pangur Bán, my cat
‘Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way:
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

(Translated by Robin Flower)

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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8 Responses to Pangur Ban

  1. Medrith says:

    What a good poem, and what a good cat name! I don’t know if I would have used it when I had a new cat to name 4 months ago (when you adopt a cat called Mr. Fraggles at the shelter, but who doesn’t answer to that horrid name, you MUST change it), but I sure would have tried it. I tried a dozen the first evening, until I heard his huge purr and then the radio played “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”. Tried “Vincent” and Vincent said “yes that’s me” so there we were. But Pangur Ban is a great name.


  2. Love the poem, love the introduction of gentle OCD as a strong supportive stick for writing every day. Sleep well, heal, write.


  3. Carolyne says:

    For a lovely avatar of Pangur Ban, treat yourself to a viewing of “The Secret of Kells.” It’s streaming on Netflix. And I think Pangur should be “she” because ‘Ban’ (or ‘mban’) is ‘woman’ in Irish Gaelic…for don’t we know women are the more determined hunters?


  4. Widdershins says:

    Wise things are black velvet friends … Wonderful poem. I read it aloud to my cat. She was asleep at the time but appreciated it, no doubt.


  5. Patrick O'Leary says:

    Read that post with a purring black kitty on my chest. Good to slow down. Heal up, Lass. Still miss your sister. A year gone by now.


    • Kate says:

      Thank you, Patrick. Yep, I am blessed with sweet animal companions – they even all get on with one another. They’ve all helped enormously in my healing, too; though the little black cat is my special desk beastie – she has made it her place.

      My sister Kimberly tells me that the first thing I said to her when I awoke from surgery was: “Did you see Kage?” Apparently *I *did; but, damn it, I don’t remember! But Kim at least remembered to tell me I said it, and that reassured me.



  6. Tom says:

    ‘Pangur Ban’ was also set by Samuel Barber as one of his ‘Hermit Songs,’ under the title ‘A Monk And His Cat.’ It’s the one in the set that young singers understand best.


  7. PJ says:

    Thank you so much for reminding me of Robin Flower and Pangur Ban. I took a few courses in Celtic lit in college and The Irish Tradition was one of my great delights. I read it several times.

    And I definitely believe OCD—whether natural or acquired—is part of many a writer’s makeup. I was thinking just last week that it’s certainly been part of mine in the past. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to acquire it again some day. Glad you’re resting and doing well.


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