Tuesday, August 02, 2005

At Swim, One Ambassador

Last night there was a farewell for Dan (HE Mr Daniel Mulhall to give him full respectful title!), the Irish Ambassador and his wife, Greta at Silverfish before they head back to Dublin.

Dan has been a wonderful ambassador not only for the country, but also for literature in general and Irish literature in particular and James Joyce's Ulysses in particularest of all. I thank him sincerely for all the help and support he gave us for the Litfest.

A farewell for a word lover has to be a bookish one, so there were readings of poetry and prose from several.

But the piece I loved most was this poem that Dan read out right at the beginning of the gathering. This charming poem, translated from the Celtic by Robin Flowers, was written more than a thousand years ago by an unknown Irish Monk, in the margins of a copy of St Paul's Epistles. The poet sees himself as a student pursuing knowledge in much the same way that his cat Pangur Ban (which means White Cat), pursued mice.

Pangur Ban

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.

I chose an extract from At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill, a gay love story set in Ireland shortly before the Easter uprisings. I knew that Dan hasn't got round to reading it yet, and that when he does, he will be blown away by the prose style. O'Neill takes the language of Joyce and just runs with it. Who couldn't love a writer who can craft a sentence like "A carillon of coins chinkled in his pocket."?

If you want a taste of the book, you can read the first chapter of the book here.

I think O'Neill is very much a "writer's writer" - just look at how he plays tricks with "point of view", moving inside the main character's head, and then out again, in alternating paragraphs.


Anonymous said...

"A carillon of coins chinkled in his pocket." I like that. It sounds like he's having a lot of fun with the language :)

Anonymous said...

On second thought, I beg to differ with myself. I'm not sure about "chinkling" now. I don't know if "carillon" goes with "chinkling". Somehow "chinkling" reminds me of dirty metal (which is what coins are made of but maybe not carillons.) I'd have used "chimed" which is what a carillon normally does. A carillon of coins chimed in his pocket, calling out "spend me, spend me.." :)


bibliobibuli said...

I think the thing with "carillon" is that it is a whole range of different sounds ... each coins strikes a different note as it hits the others ... a chime is surely a single note?

I think "chinkling" sounds sparkly ...

And how nice that we can argue the weight and colour and taste and texture of words!!

Anonymous said...

Indeed. Most people I know are okay as far as people go, but if I try this sort of thing, the only response I get is "Huh ? what you say ah ?" which isn't actually much to go on.

I think "chime" is a series of repeated notes (as in "Westminster chime") so I think it would be quite apt in this case. Plus it sounds cleaner than "chinkled". I think it's because you have the stereotypical female mind (is this sexist ?). Anyway, I didn't realize that "chinkled" could sound that way until I sort of thought about it that way.. sort of all sparkly and bright. To me (and I suspect anyone with the stereotypical male mind) would probably be thinking "big dirty pieces of metal hitting each other repeatedly" (like in armor.)

bibliobibuli said...

Technically "chinkled" is a "blend word" containing both "chimed" and "tinkled". How clever is that? O'Neill invented it and now it's yours to use too, tomorrow.

I haven't a sterotypically anything mind, I hope. Hope the same for you. You ponder words, therefore are perfectly redeemable, even though you're male.

Anonymous said...

Another portmanteau..I don't know.. the "k" doesn't work right with the rest of the sentence.. all these nice smooth letters.. and then there's a "k". In the middle of a word yet. "k"'s in the middle of a word always sounds strange.. like "eke". And "tinkle" just reminded me of something else. If you chime while you tinkle, are you "chinkling" ? hmm.. excuse me I have to go chinkle. :)

bibliobibuli said...

Does your wit and wisdom know no bounds, oh happy chinkling wordsmith?!

If you're going to hang around for a while (and you seem to like it here) why not give yourself a name? I hate these blank faced anonymouses.

Anonymous said...

What's in a name ? a rose by any other name.. would still have thorns :) if it makes you happy though, I guess I'll pick a name.