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A new chapter and an old verse for 'The Secret of Kells'

March 31, 2010 |  5:30 am

The little-known Irish film "The Secret of Kells" caught even insiders by surprise when it received a feature animation Oscar nomination earlier this year, edging out the likes of "Ponyo" and "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." This Friday, "The Secret" will be revealed to Los Angeles moviegoers.

For the film, the artists drew from the scroll-work designs and microscopic detailing of the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the Four Gospels likely dating to the early 8th century. The attention to detail did not stop there; one of the characters, Brother Aidan, has a cat named Pangur Ban -- which happens to be the title of an ancient poem jotted down by an unknown Irish monk in the margin of a manuscript. Mick Lally, the voice of Brother Aidan, chants the poem in the original Old Gaelic over the closing credits of the film.

Director Tomm Moore says, "We learned the poem in school, along with the story that a monk had written it in the corner of a page he was illuminating. It was only later that I learned that the last line can be translated as 'turning darkness into light' or 'turning ink into light,' which I thought was a nice reference to creating an illumination."

You can read my full Calendar story here. And click through to the next page to read an English translation of the poem and see an image of Pangur Ban from the film.

-- Charles Solomon


Pangur Ban (translated from the Old Gaelic by Robin Flower)

I and Pangur Ban, 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 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 Ban, 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.


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Photo: Pangur Ban from "The Secret of Kells." Credit: GKIDS