In 2014 (anno societatis XLIX), the heavy fighting championship for the Barony of Glymm Mere in the Kingdom of An Tir was won by the honorable lord Olcan Mac Meanma, known affectionately as Olcan “the Gentle”. He served us well for a year with the title ‘Shield of Glymm Mere’, at the end of which I presented him with a Charter.
For inspiration, I researched a fair number of poems written at a time and place in which his persona, from ninth century Ireland, may have heard them.
One poem in particular struck me: Pangur Bán written in the ninth century in Old Irish by an anonymous monk at Reichenau Abbey in southern Germany (Stokes). It is a relatively short poem, just eight verses of four lines, comparing the monk’s joy of learning to his cat’s joy of hunting mice.
Messe ocus Pangur bán, cechtar nathar fria saindán; bíth a menma-sam fri seilgg, mu menma céin im saincheirdd Caraim-se fós, ferr cach clú, oc mu lebrán léir ingnu; ní foirmtech frimm Pangur bán, caraid cesin a maccdán. Ó ru-biam scél cén scis innar tegdias ar n-oéndis, táithiunn dichríchide clius ní fris 'tarddam ar n-áthius. Gnáth-huaraib ar greassaib gal glenaid luch ina lín-sam; os me, du-fuit im lín chéin dliged ndoraid cu n-dronchéill. Fúachaid-sem fri freaga fál a rosc a nglése comlán; fúachimm chéin fri fégi fis mu rosc réil, cesu imdis. Fáelid-sem cu n-déne dul, hi nglen luch ina gérchrub; hi-tucu cheist n-doraid n-dil, os mé chene am fáelid. Cia beimini amin nach ré ní derban cách a chéle; mait le cechtar nár a dán subaigthiud a óenurán. Hé fesin as choimsid dáu in muid du-n-gní cach óenláu; do thabairt doraid du glé for mumud céin am messe.
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)
I was charmed by the homeyness of the poem, and saw that the parallels drawn between the pursuits of the monk and the cat could work well in a poem about martial pursuits. As Olcan’s heraldry includes rampant wolves, I settled on a wolf being the counterpoint for comparison.
Gentle Olcan and a wolf: 'Tis like prey they would engulf. Hunting stags is ones delight; T'other hunts for a good fight. Better far than songs of bards Olcan lists the clang of swords. The wolf prefers his packs howl When he is on his nights prowl. 'Tis a merry thing by far At their tasks how glad they are. In the eric or the wood, Each finds joy just as they should. But the wolf, he earns no fame. Of the man the bards proclaim, "Gentle Olcan with his spear: He was the Shield of Glymm Mere.
When writing my Charter I endeavored to use the same number of syllables per line and the same rhyme scheme as was used in Pangur Bán. The piece is shorter by half, due to the nature of SCA Charters necessary brevity and as I did not wish to overburden the scribe who would be calligraphing the words. I was unable to use the same meter, as I do not read Old Irish and so am unaware of where the stresses fall. I also fairly imitated the style of Robin Flower’s translation and I fully acknowledge that I lifted my verse “Tis a merry thing by far/At their tasks how glad they are.” nearly verbatim from Mr. Flower.
Fortunately, Olcan won the Shield of Glymm Mere again in 2015 and gave me a second chance to write a poetic Charter for him in a medieval style.