The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart & illustrated by Sydney Smith

By Maureen Tai, 18 February 2019

“So it goes. To each his own.” – from Pangur Bán by Anonymous.

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A solitary white cat approaches a brick building. All is shrouded in darkness. But the cat knows its way, as it sure-footedly climbs through an open window, then gently pads along a corridor with vaulted ceilings. Soft moonlight illuminates the interior of the monastery. The columns are strong and solemn, the floors well-swept, the wooden barrels in neat rows. The animal makes its way purposefully to a closed door from under which leaks a golden light. A feline paw reaches into the room, and the door opens.

 

 

The room belongs to a monk.  He is a tall, balding man with a long white beard and a serene look on his face. The monk wears a cowled tunic – possibly of wool – that reaches to his ankles, with a thin belt of rope, perhaps of leather, tied around his waist. The monk reaches for the cat, and the two embrace as they welcome each other back into the other’s company.  The monk lights a candle, pours some water from a pitcher, opens his ancient, leather-bound books and prepares for a long night of study ahead.  As the monk bends over and squints at the elaborate, curling script on the pages of his manuscript, his white cat, Pangur, hunches over a small mouse hole in the wall, and waits.

The monk and his cat engage in their vocations for the night, patiently, in peaceful silence and each with a single-minded dedication. Together, but each immersed in their own journey. Together, but each searching for meaning in their meditation. Together, as if in prayer.  And by morning’s light, each is rewarded for their tenacity.

The White Cat and the Monk is inspired by an ancient poem called Pangur Bán, written over 1,000 years ago by an unnamed Irish Benedictine monk. It is a reflective, lyrical and calming picture book which elegantly captures the gentle tone of the original poem and the deep gratitude of the monk for the company of his cat, a kindred spirit.  The ink and watercolour illustrations are gorgeously rustic. The original poem, beautifully translated by the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013) can be found here and it too, is a lovely, lovely read.

For ages 8 and up.

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