I wrote a collection called The Resurrection of the Body which contains a lot of biblical material and a lot of mythical material; and a poem about a cat, called Pangur B?n, who belonged to one of the famous Irish scribes. The poem is in three parts.
Jerome has his enormous dozy lion.
Myself, I have a cat, my Pangur B?n.
What did Jerome feed up his lion with?
Always he’s fat and fleecy, always sleeping
As if after a meal. Perhaps a Christian?
Perhaps a lamb, or a fish, or a loaf of bread.
His lion’s always smiling, chin on paw,
What looks like purring rippling his face
And there on Jerome’s escritoire by the quill and ink pot
The long black thorn he drew from the lion’s paw.
Look, Pangur, at the picture of the lion ?
Not a mouser like you, not lean, not ever
Chasing a quill as it flutters over parchment
Leaving its trail that is the word of God.
Pangur, you are so trim beside the lion.
– Unlike Jerome in the mouth of his desert cave
Wrapped in a wardrobe of robes despite the heat,
I in this Irish winter, Pangur B?n,
Am cold, without so much as your pillow case
Of fur, white, with ginger tips on ears and tail.
My name is neither here nor there, I am employed
By Colum Cille who will be a saint
Because of me and how I have set down
The word of God. He pays. He goes to heaven.
I stay on earth, in this cell with the high empty window,
The long light in summer, the winter stars.
I work with my quill and colours, bent and blinder
Each season, colder, but the pages fill.
Just when I started work the cat arrived
Sleek and sharp at my elbow, out of nowhere;
I dipped my pen. He settled in with me.
He listened and replied. He kept my counsel.
Here in the margin, Pangur, I inscribe you.
Almost Amen. Prowl out of now and go down
Into time’s garden, wary with your tip-toe hearing.
You’ll live well enough on mice and shrews till you find
The next scriptorium, a bowl of milk. Some scribe
Will recognise you, Pangur B?n, and feed you;
You?ll find your way to him as you did to me
From nowhere (but you sniffed out your Jerome).
Stay by him, too, until his Gospel’s done.
(I linger over John, the closing verses,
You’re restless, won?t be touched. I’m old. The solstice.)
Amen, dear Pangur B?n. Amen. Be sly.
from Collected Poems (Smith/Doorstop, 2009), ? Michael Schmidt 2009, used by permission of the author and the publisher.