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Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

A Musical Instrument


I.
              1WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan,
              2   Down in the reeds by the river ?
              3Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
              4Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
              5And breaking the golden lilies afloat
              6   With the dragon-fly on the river.

II.
              7He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,
              8   From the deep cool bed of the river :
              9The limpid water turbidly ran,
            10And the broken lilies a-dying lay,
            11And the dragon-fly had fled away,
            12   Ere he brought it out of the river.

III.
            13High on the shore sate the great god Pan,
            14   While turbidly flowed the river ;
            15And hacked and hewed as a great god can,
            16With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,
            17Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed
            18   To prove it fresh from the river.

IV.
            19He cut it short, did the great god Pan,
            20   (How tall it stood in the river !)
            21Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,
            22Steadily from the outside ring,
            23And notched the poor dry empty thing
            24   In holes, as he sate by the river.

V.
            25` This is the way,' laughed the great god Pan,
            26   Laughed while he sate by the river,)
            27` The only way, since gods began
            28To make sweet music, they could succeed.'
            29Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,
            30   He blew in power by the river.

VI.
            31Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan !
            32   Piercing sweet by the river !
            33Blinding sweet, O great god Pan !
            34The sun on the hill forgot to die,
            35And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
            36   Came back to dream on the river.

VII.
            37Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
            38   To laugh as he sits by the river,
            39Making a poet out of a man :
            40The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, --
            41For the reed which grows nevermore again
            42   As a reed with the reeds in the river.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Last Poems. London: Chapman and Hall, 1862. 19th-cent. STC: 5.1.510. mfe DA 533 N55.
First publication date: 1862
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: Not in printed RP.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/7

Rhyme: abaccb


Other poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning