Monday, November 21, 2011

The Carmen Navale - The Boat Song

Columbanus was early Ireland’s greatest missionary. Together with a motley crew of pilgrims for Christ he traversed across modern day France, Germany, Switzerland and ended up in northern Italy where he spent the remaining years of his life correcting the heresies of the Arians of northern Italy with the cauterizing knife of the Scriptures. For Columbanus, life was a journey, a pilgrimage, a voyage of discovery and sometimes of hardship. Its final destination was union with Christ.

French historian Georges Goyau noted, the Celtic missionary genius had produced individuals of outstanding energy, it had given the world magnificent apostolic personalities. Of these Columbanus was probably the greatest. According to Léon Cathlin, Columbanus was together with Charlemagne the greatest figure of France in the early Middle Ages. Henri Petiot described him as a sort of prophet of Israel, brought back to live in the sixth century, as blunt in his speech as Isaiah or Jeremiah. And not to be outdone, Robert Schuman (former French Prime Minister and main architect of what would become the EU) lauded Columbanus as the patron saint of those who seek to construct a united Europe!

Journeying up the Rhine in 610, Columbanus and his disciples supposedly chanted his famous ‘boat song’. One can almost hear the Irish monks dig their oars into the Rhine’s formidable current as they struggle upstream. The poem compares the surging storm waters with the trials and struggles of the Christian life. Columbanus sees the tempests and storms of life overcome by the one who is in Christ. He frequently used the analogy of storms at sea as a picture for hardship and trials. The Carmen Navale is one of my favorite poems attributed to Columbanus. The translation is taken from Tomás Ó Fiaich's work 'Columbanus in his own words'.

Lo, little bark on twin-horned Rhine, From forest hewn to skim the brine, Heave, lads, and the echoes ring!

The tempests howl, the storms dismay, But manly strength can win the day, Heave, lads, and let the echoes ring!

For clouds and squalls will soon pass on, And victory lie with work well done, Heave, lads, and let the echoes ring!

Hold fast! Survive! And all is well, God sent you worse, he’ll calm this swell, Heave, lads, and let the echoes ring!

So Satan acts to tire the brain, And by temptation souls are slain, Think, lads, of Christ and echo Him!

Stand firm in mind ‘gainst Satan’s guile, Protect yourselves with virtues foil, Think, lads, of Christ and echo Him!

Strong faith and zeal will victory gain, The old foe breaks his lance in vain, Think, lads, of Christ and echo Him!

The King of virtues vowed a prize, For him who wins, for him who tries, Think, lads, of Christ and echo Him!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mise agus Pangur Bán! I and white Pangur!

Learning Biblical Greek is like a cat hunting a mouse, plenty of concentration, some frustration, and then the delight of finally ‘getting it’; at least that’s how one medieval Irish monk described it! 

Greek paradigms in MS Stift St. Paul Cod. 86b/1
A fragmentary manuscript dating from around the year 800 preserves an Irish student’s study notes for his upcoming Greek exam. Filled with Greek paradigms and vocabulary it resonates with any student of the Biblical languages. The manuscript is famous for a humorous poem in Irish that compares the student’s study of Greek with his pet cat’s pursuit of mice. Pangur Bán, as his cat was called, was a diligent student of hunting mice. He was persistent, practiced every day and most importantly, he enjoyed it! I think those are good habits for any student. Stokes printed the original Irish text in volume II of Thesarus Paleohibernicus, Robin Flower’s translation is perhaps the most famous.
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 problems 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.

Pangur Bán poem: MS Stift St. Paul Cod. 86b/1