(Poem #839) A Musical Instrument
I. What was he doing, the great god Pan, Down in the reeds by the river? Spreading ruin and scattering ban, Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat, And breaking the golden lilies afloat With the dragon-fly on the river. II. He tore out a reed, the great god Pan, From the deep cool bed of the river: The limpid water turbidly ran, And the broken lilies a-dying lay, And the dragon-fly had fled away, Ere he brought it out of the river. III. High on the shore sate the great god Pan, While turbidly flowed the river; And hacked and hewed as a great god can, With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed, Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed To prove it fresh from the river. IV. He cut it short, did the great god Pan, (How tall it stood in the river!) Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man, Steadily from the outside ring, And notched the poor dry empty thing In holes, as he sate by the river. V. 'This is the way,' laughed the great god Pan, Laughed while he sate by the river,) 'The only way, since gods began To make sweet music, they could succeed.' Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed, He blew in power by the river. VI. Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan! Piercing sweet by the river! Blinding sweet, O great god Pan! The sun on the hill forgot to die, And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly Came back to dream on the river. VII. Yet half a beast is the great god Pan, To laugh as he sits by the river, Making a poet out of a man: The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, -- For the reed which grows nevermore again As a reed with the reeds in the river.
Note: Publication Date: 1862. Elizabeth Browning is, sadly enough, another poet whom I've avoided due to my dislike of a single poem (in this case, the ubiquitous "How Do I Love Thee?"). I was surprised, when I finally read some more of her work, to see how - well, not 'good', since I do admit 'How Do I Love Thee' is a good poem - but how much more to my taste a lot of it was. Today's wonderfully musical poem is definitely one of my favourite pieces of Browning. The sound and rhythm of the lines and the adjective-laden imagery evoke the scene beautifully, with just that touch of languid sun-stippled mistiness that gives it a wonderfully Arcadian riverside feel. The repetition of 'river' in the second and last lines of each verse also helps with the musical effect, tying the poem together and providing a constant strain without the inclusion of an actual chorus. The abaccb rhyme scheme does break the flow somewhat - I keep expecting it to be abaaab (influenced, no doubt, by poems like Horatius and the aforementioned Rimini), or even abccab, and the fourth line comes as a subconscious surprise. The problem is mostly that the metre strongly suggests that the third and fourth lines rhyme; on the other hand, the 1-3 rhyme is not emphasised much, so that at some level I have to keep mentally regrouping lines when I read the poem. And finally, there's the unexpected last verse, which, with a little rewriting could have made an excellent poem in its own right, and which provides a haunting and satisfying conclusion to the tale of Pan.  Kipling's 'Rimini' uses the same effect, though it has a chorus too. (It also has a very similar rhythm) Links: Other poems by EBB on Minstrels: Poem #269, "How do I love thee?" (Complete with biography) Poem #591, "Sonnet XIV" ('If thou must love me, let it be for nought') Kipling's 'Rimini': http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/rimini.html Another beautiful piece about Pan is Kenneth Grahame's 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn', from his masterpiece 'The Wind in the Willows' http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/GraWind.html  and one of my favourite titles ever -martin