Pangur Bán and I at work

I discovered this poem years ago in Helen Waddell’s The Wandering Scholars and just today found that Seamus Heaney had done a translation:


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.
There is a text and alternate – more to the word – translation here

In off the moors, down through the mist-bands / God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping

In off the moors, down through the mist-bands
God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.
The bane of the race of men roamed forth,
hunting for a prey in the high hall.
Under the cloud-murk he moved towards it
until it shone above him, a sheer keep
of fortified gold.

Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf – already the greatest translation of anything I’d have even the pretense of boldness to judge the quality of – is made even better by his doing a reading himself.

It’s missing here but I feel the version I first listened to years ago – BBC radio, I think – also included a quality conversation on the process of translation, specifically his creation of archaizing/exoticizing effects through inclusion of Irish regional vocabulary remembered from his youth.