More on Pangur Ban: ‘Ban’ means white, but what on (Fuller’s) Earth does “Pangur” mean?

In preparing my “Pangur Ban” workshop for Thursday, I’ve been Googling all over the place.

And that research has taken me to many different places, some informative, some not; some repetitive; some greedily plagiaristic. Many prosaic.

And some…quite poetic.

One in particular, in a blog (entitled, I think, “Alien in the World” –or was it “Aliens…”?) explored some questions of provenance connected with “Pangur Ban” –the poem, the poet, the various manuscripts –and did it in a wonderful way.

So much so, indeed, that I was moved to write a comment, which I include below:

“My Dear Whoever you are,

Who are you? Pangur Ban, come back? Pangur’s agent?

What a beautiful job you did with your PBan “pursuing learning” research! As I read your piece, my information (and my confirmation) grew, as did a sense of warm gratitude to you. An open and disciplined mind at work; a sensitive but relentlessly curious mind.

I like the phrase “I think I see where this is going…”

I & we should use that more often: it’s relatively new in narrative, but –it seems to me– it’s an important instinct for us to develop. Where is this going? Where might it go?
“Adrift” becomes, more and more, a prevailing existential state in these times –or seas.

I am quite familiar with Pangur Ban; ran it off as a lad at school in Cobh, and later did my own translation, seeking to stick to the original meanings –or at least more so than the many translations I encountered. Many of these were by well-known Irish poets, who did those familiar double-translations –the first, into English; the second, into their own trademark schtick (which, of course, we love them for. Some of us.) Some were better than others; some departed so much from the original, they strained all credulity.

My little version I put out years ago –a handmade calligraphed dual-language, facing-page translation miniature, with a lino-cut white Pangur on the cover. It’s far from perfect, but it still is a lovely little book (–even if ISSM–) and if you send me an address I’ll send you one –in gratitude for your research, and your…way with words. (Anyone interested to see my own work may visit my site at the URL given above —www.stonestreetpress.com)

My PBan research was all pre-digital. I found all those Strachens and Windisches at our Holy of Holies ( The NYPL Research & Rare Book rooms). But not your discovery of the original notebook –a giddy, dizzy even moment for me when I first beheld the photograph of it in your blog.

The meaning of “Pangur”? My best inf. is that it is a Welsh word, meaning “fuller”. ‘Fuller’ was a medieval occupation, someone involved in the treating of wool. You may be familiar with “fuller’s earth”, which is still around today. One of its original medieval functions was to bleach the wool.
You know where this is going: it was that “bleaching” that I took as my explanation of…why “Pangur” Ban.

By the way, you may be amused to learn –though I wouldn’t be surprised if your finely-honed research instincts had already informed you of this– that one of the modern, commercial uses of “fuller’s earth” is in….Kitty Litter! That’s right, Kitty Litter!

(Now there’s a true sense of Poetic Justice for you: –we may be adrift, but something is guiding us…)

This commercial success, by the way, allowed Pangur (–with, I understand, that wily old consultant, Puss-in-Boots, now managing Pangur’s affairs) to move into a substantial lakefront gated property on Lake Reichenau.

Again, my thanks.
Malachi McCormick ( The Stone Street Press: Handmade Books.)


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