The Dead Pan

Table of contents

1. The Dead Pana

Gods of Hellas,1 gods of Hellas,
Can ye listen in your silence?
Can your mystic voices tell us
Where ye hide? In floating islands,
With a wind that evermore
Keeps you out of sight of shore?
Pan, Pan is dead.
In what revels are ye sunken,
In old Æthiopia?9
Have the Pygmies made you drunken,
Bathing in mandaragora11
Your divine pale lips that shiver
Like the lotus in the river?
Pan, Pan is dead.
Do ye sit there still in slumber,
In gigantic Alpine rows?
The black poppies17 out of number
Nodding, dripping from your brows
To the red lees of your wine,
And so kept alive and fine?
Pan, Pan is dead.
Or lie crushed your stagnant corses22
Where the silver spheres roll on,
Stung to life by centric forces
Thrown like rays out from the sun?25
While the smoke of your old altars
Is the shroud that round you welters?
Great Pan is dead.
"Gods of Hellas, gods of Hellas,"
Said the old Hellenic tongue!30
Said the hero–oaths, as well as
Poets' songs the sweetest sung!
Have ye grown deaf in a day?
Can ye speak not yea or nay—
Since Pan is dead?
Do ye leave your rivers flowing
All alone, O Naiades,37
While your drenchèd locks dry slow in
This cold feeble sun and breeze?—
Not a word the Naiads say,
Though the rivers run for aye.41
For Pan is dead.
From the gloaming of the oak–wood,
O ye Drayads,44 could ye flee?
At the rushing thunderstroke, would
No sob tremble through the tree?—
Not a word the Dryads say,
Though the forests wave for aye.
For Pan is dead.
Have ye left the mountain places,
Oreads51 wild, for other tryst?
Shall we see no sudden faces
Strike a glory through the mist?
Not a sound the silence thrills
Of the everlasting hills.
Pan, Pan is dead.
O twelve gods of Plato's vision,57
Crowned to starry wanderings,—
With your chariots in procession,
And your silver clash of wings!
Very pale ye seem to rise,
Ghosts of Grecian deities,—
Now Pan is dead!
Jove,64, that right hand is unloaded,
Whence the thunder did prevail,
While in idiocy of godhead
Thou art staring the stars pale!
And thine eagle, blind and old,
Roughs his feathers in the cold.
Pan, Pan is dead.
Where, O Juno,71 is the glory
Of thy regal look and tread?
Will they lay, for evermore, thee,
On thy dim,strait,74 golden bed?
Will thy queendom all lie hid
Meekly under either lid?76
Pan, Pan is dead.
Ha, Apollo!78 floats his golden
Hair all mist–like where he stands,
While the Muses80 hang enfolding
Knee and foot with faint wild hands?
'Neath the clanging of thy bow,
Niobe83 looked lost as thou!
Pan, Pan is dead.
Shall the casque85 with its brown iron,
Pallas'86 broad blue eyes, eclipse,
And no hero take inspiring
From the god–Greek of her lips?
‘Neath her olive89 dost thou sit,
Mars90 the mighty, cursing it?
Pan, Pan is dead.
Bacchus, Bacchus!92 On the panther
He swoons,—bound with his own vines.
And his Mænads slowly saunter,
Head aside, among the pines,
While they murmur dreamingly,
Ah, Pan is dead!
Neptune99 lies beside the trident,
Dull and senseless as a stone;
And old Pluto101 deaf and silent
Is cast out into the sun.
Ceres103 smileth stern thereat,
"We all now are desolate—
Now Pan is dead."
Aphrodite!106 Dead and driven
As thy native foam, thou art;
With the cestus long done heaving
On the white calm of thine heart!
Ai Adonis! At that shriek,
Not a tear runs down her cheek—
Pan, Pan is dead.
And the Loves113 we used to know from
One another, huddled lie,
Frore115 as taken in a snow–storm,
Close beside her tenderly,—
As if each had weakly tried
Once to kiss her as he died.
Pan, Pan is dead.
What, and Hermes?120 Time enthralleth
All thy cunning, Hermes, thus,—
And the ivy blindly crawleth
Round thy brave caduceus?
Hast thou no new message for us,
Full of thunder and Jove–glories?
Nay, Pan is dead.
Crownèd Cybele's127 great turret
Rocks and crumbles on her head.
Roar the lions of her chariot
Toward the wilderness, unfed.
Scornful children are not mute,—
"Mother, mother, walk a–foot—
Since Pan is dead."
In the fiery–hearted center
Of the solemn universe,
Ancient Vesta,136 —who could enter
To consume thee with this curse?
Drop thy grey chin on thy knee,
O thou palsied Mystery!
For Pan is dead.
Gods, we vainly do adjure141 you,—
Ye return nor voice nor sign!
Not a votary143 could secure you
Even a grave for your Divine!
Not a grave, to show thereby,
Here these grey old gods do lie.
Pan, Pan is dead.
Even that Greece who took your wages,
Calls the obolus149 outworn.
And the hoarse, deep–throated ages
Laugh your godships unto scorn.
And the poets do disclaim you,
Or grow colder if they name you—
And Pan is dead.
Gods bereavèd, gods belated,
With your purples156 rent asunder!
Gods discrowned and desecrated,
Disinherited of thunder!
Now, the goats may climb and crop
The soft grass on Ida's160 top—
Now, Pan is dead.
Calm, of old, the bark went onward,
When a cry more loud than wind,
Rose up, deepened, and swept sunward,
From the pilèd Dark behind;
And the sun shrank and grew pale,
Breathed against by the great wail—
"Pan, Pan is dead."
And the rowers from the benches
Fell,—each shuddering on his face—
While departing Influences171
Struck a cold back through the place;
And the shadow of the ship
Reeled along the passive deep—
"Pan, Pan is dead."
And that dismal cry rose slowly
And sank slowly through the air,
Full of spirit's melancholy
And eternity's despair!
And they heard the words it said—
Pan is dead—Great Pan is dead—
Pan, Pan is dead.
'Twas the hour when One in Sion183
Hung for love's sake on a cross;
When His brow was chill with dying,
And His soul was faint with loss;
When His priestly blood dropped downward,
And His kingly eyes looked throneward—
Then, Pan was dead.
By the love He stood alone in,
His sole Godhead rose complete,
And the false gods fell down moaning,
Each from off his golden seat;
All the false gods with a cry
Rendered up their deity—
Pan, Pan was dead.
Wailing wide across the islands,
They rent, vest–like, their Divine!
And a darkness and a silence
Quenched the light of every shrine;
And Dodona's201 oak swang lonely
Henceforth, to the tempest only,
Pan, Pan was dead.
Pythia204 staggered,—feeling o'er her,
Her lost god's forsaking look.
Straight her eyeballs filmed with horror,
And her crispy fillets207 shook,
And her lips gasped through their foam,
For a word that did not come.
Pan, Pan was dead.
O ye vain false gods of Hellas,
Ye are silent evermore!
And I dash down this old chalice,
Whence libations214 ran of yore.
See, the wine crawls in the dust
Wormlike—as your glories must,
Since Pan is dead.
Get to dust, as common mortals,
By a common doom and track!
Let no Schiller from the portals
Of that Hades, call you back,
Or instruct us to weep all
At your antique funeral.
Pan, Pan is dead.
By your beauty, which confesses
Some chief Beauty conquering you,—
By our grand heroic guesses,
Through your falsehood, at the True,—
We will weepnot … ! earth shall roll
Heir to each god's aureolo230
And Pan is dead.
Earth outgrows the mythic fancies
Sung beside her in her youth;
And those debonaire romances
Sound but dull beside the truth.
Phœbus'236 chariot–course is run.
Look up, poets, to the sun!
Pan, Pan is dead.
Christ hath sent us down the angels;
And the whole earth and the skies
Are illumed by altar–candles
Lit for blessèd mysteries;
And a Priest's hand, through creation,
Waveth calm and consecration—
And Pan is dead.
Truth is fair: should we forgo it?
Can we sigh right for a wrong?
God himself is the best Poet,248
And the Real is his song.
Sing his truth out fair and full,
And secure his beautiful!
Let Pan be dead.
Truth is large. Our aspiration
Scarce embraces half we be.
Shame, to stand in His creation
And doubt truth's sufficiency!—
To think God's song unexcelling
The poor tales of our own telling—
When Pan is dead.
What is true and just and honest,
What is lovely, what is pure—
All of praise that hath admonisht,
All of virtue, shall endure,—
These are themes for poets'uses,
Stirring nobler than the Muses,
Ere Pan was dead.
O brave poets, keep back nothing,
Nor mix falsehood with the whole.
Look up Godward; speak the truth in
Worthy song from earnest soul!
Hold, in high poetic duty,
Truest Truth the fairest Beauty.272
Pan, Pan is dead.

2. Note on the text

Of human form to the waist, with the legs, ears, and horns of a goat, Pan is the classical god of woods, fields, and fertile herds. In the refrain line for this poem, first published in Poems (1844) he more broadly signifies the entire pantheon of ancient deities, in accord with the literal meaning of his name—"all" (BC 7:70). In this work EBB challenges her own Romantic enthusiasms and her passion for Greek literature and thought. Late eighteenth and early nineteenth–century Romantic poets had embraced classical myths as folk poetry rich in magic and mystery.b1 German poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller (1795–1805) in his 1788 poem "Gotter Griechenlands" ("The Gods of Greece") mourns the passing of the ancient gods as the death of imagination, beauty, romance, and power. Schiller's poem, EBB wrote, "consists of an eloquent Lament for the Gods of Greece & the ancient mythology … for all that luminous effluence from antique Souls which beautified Life & Creation to the Greeks. I take the contrary side of the question; & think the false Gods well gone, & stand up for that best Beauty which is in Truth" (BC 7:70)b2. Focusing here on the contrast between pagan and Christian, EBB defended the religious dimension of her poem and its references to God against her friend John Kenyon's warning that it would diminish her popularity: "My conviction is that the poetry of Christianity will one day be developed greatly & nobly—& that in the meantime we are as wrong poetically as morally, in desiring to restrain it" (BC 7:21-22).b3 The poem can also be seen as entering the Victorian debate about whether to turn to the present rather than the past for inspiration and subject matterb4. In "A Reed" (1846), EBB again obliquely draws upon the myth of Pan, while in one of her finest late poems, the posthumously published "A Musical Instrument" (1862), she employs the figure of Pan to consider relationships among artistic inspiration, creation, and suffering, and between artist and museb5. Victorian reviewers generally admired "The Dead Pan," although one judged it superior to Schiller's poem in "its Christian morality," equal in "felicity of language, in historical enthusiasm, in picturesque beauty," but inferior in lacking the German work's masculine "massiveness of thought and expression" (BC 10:340). Among recent critics, Morlier (1990) discusses the poem's Romanticism, and Sadenwasser (1999) focuses on EBB"s rhyming practices. Excited by Schiller's "Gotter Griechenlands," and partly founded on a well–known tradition mentioned in a treatise of Plutarch ("De Oraculorum Defectu"),b6 according to which, at the hour of the Saviour's agony, a cry of "Great Pan is dead!" swept across the waves in the hearing of certain mariners,—and the oracles ceased. It is in all veneration to the memory of the deathless Schiller, that I oppose a doctrine still more dishonouring to poetry than to Christianity…b7 — 1844

3. Explanatory Notes

In a fair copy manuscript and a transcription by EBB's sister Arabella (R D186, D190) the title was “Pan Is Dead”; EBB altered it in response to suggestions from her kinsman John Kenyon (BC 7:101).

Hellas an early Greek name for Greece.

Æthiopia an African land south of Egypt which, according to the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-420 B.C.), was inhabited by pygmies.

mandragora a plant with narcotic properties (also called mandrake), thought to have magical powers. poppies] flowers long associated with narcotic-induced sleep because opium derives from one variety.

poppies flowers long associated with narcotic-induced sleep because opium derives from one variety.

corses corpses.

Line 23-25 refer to an ancient belief that the universe consisted of concentric spheres revolving around the sun, and that portions of the sun, forcefully flung into space, became planets?

Hellenic tongue early Greek.

Naiades in classical mythology, nymphs of rivers and fountains.

aye ever, always.

Dryads in classical mythology, woods nymphs, especially associated with oak trees.

Oreads in classical mythology, mountain nymphs.

Greek philosopher Plato in Phaedrusdescribes a procession of the twelve principal Olympian gods (steph. 247).

Jove Jupiter (Greek Zeus), chief among the classical gods; the eagle (renowned for superior vision) was his sacred bird, and he wielded thunderbolts with his right hand. (Throughout the poem EBB mixes Greek and Roman names for the deities, a point on which she expressed misgivings, but deferred to John Kenyon; see BC 9:256.).

Juno (Greek Hera) Jove's wife, the principal goddess of the classical pantheon.

strait narrrow.

either lid both eyelids.

Apollo classical god associated with the sun, prophecy, poetry, music, and medicine.

Muses the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (goddess of memory), each of whom presided over a field of the arts and sciences.

Niobe in classical myth, a figure of the most extreme bereavement; she mourned the deaths of all twelve of her children (fourteen in some accounts), eventually turning to stone in her grief.

casque helmet.

Pallas Pallas Athena (Roman Minerva), classical goddess of war and also of wisdom and the arts.

Athena is credited with creating the olive tree, which remained sacred to her.

Mars (Greek Ares) the classical god of war, noted for rashness and rage.

Bacchus (Greek Dionysus) the classical god of wine; he rode a panther and was accompanied by Mænads, women whom he inspired to ecstatic frenzy.

evohe a Greek bacchanalian exclamation.— !"

Neptune (Greek Poseidon) classical god of the sea; he is usually depicted with a trident, a three-pronged weapon resembling a pitchfork.

Pluto Hades (Roman Dis), classical god of the underworld.

Ceres (Greek Demeter) classical goddess of the harvest. Because Pluto kidnapped her daughter Persephone (Roman Proserpine) and took her to his gloomy habitat in the underworld, Ceres here smiles at his discomfort in the sunshine.

Aphrodite (Roman Venus) classical goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, who was "born" from sea foam. She wore an embroidered girdle with magical properties called the cestus and loved the mortal Adonis, whose death she lamented in the Greek phrase here quoted, meaning "Woe Adonis." EBB translated the "Lament for Adonis" (CW 6:134-39) by the Greek poet Bion (flourished c. 100 B.C.).

Loves Aphrodite is often accompanied by gods personifying love's varied aspects, such as sexual desire (Eros, Cupid) and married love (Himeros, Hymen).,

frore very cold, frosty.

Hermes (Roman Mercury) messenger of the gods; he carries a caduceus (Latin), a herald's staff made of wood or gold, topped with wings, and entwined with snakes. The ivy here growing round it is sacred to Bacchus, suggesting distraction from the messenger's quest. Famed for trickery, Hermes sometimes acted as the guide of souls after death.

Cybele (Roman Ops) a Titan who protected her people in war, gave oracles, and cured disease. She wore a crown decorated with towers and walls and, as the mistress of mountains and wild nature, was accompanied by lions.

Vesta (Roman Hestia) goddess of the hearth and emblem of home, one of the oldest of Olympian deities.

adjure entreat.

votary a person fervently devoted to a leader, movement, or ideal.

obolus a small Greek coin. It was often placed in the mouth of a corpse as the price paid to the boatman Charon to ferry the body across the river Styx into the underworld.

purples Purple garments and cloth were traditionally associated with royalty.

Ida Mount Ida, the highest peak on Crete, associated with the gods' activities (the site where Jove was educated, and where he sent Juno, Aphrodite, and Athena to be judged by Paris).

Influences divine, spiritual, invisible, occult, or astral powers that infuse or influence human beings (a poetic usage derived from ancient beliefs).

Sion the Holy Land, more specifically Jerusalem, near the site of Christ's crucifixion.

Dodona a city in Epirus, site of perhaps the oldest of the Greek oracles, where Jove's (Zeus's) prophecies issued from a sacred oak.

Pythia oracular priestess of Apollo at Delphi.

crispy fillets wavy locks of hair (fillets are literally headbands and ribbons for binding one's hair).

libations liquids, usually wine, poured out as offerings to the gods.

aureole a circle of radiance or light surrounding the head of a god.

Phœbus Apollo, classical god of the sun, who was said to drive his chariot across the sky through the daylight hours.

Cf. RB's Paracelsus (1835): "God is the perfect poet, / Who in his person acts his own creations" (2:648-49).

EBB here responds directly to Schiller’s ending, as paraphrased by Kenyon: Lamenting the ancient myths in which "The Beautiful was still the Holy!," he concluded, " Bright as ye were—bright Fictions! now / Ye live in Poet’s dream alone" (Kenyon, "The Gods of Greece," The Keepsake for 1843, 80). EBB also echoes Keats's "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty'" at the conclusion of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (1820), as she also did in another 1844 poem, "A Vision of Poets" (see headnote and ll. 84, 289-91, 407-11).

Douglas Bush has suggested of poet John Keats (1795-1821), for example, that he saw "dryad behind every oak tree" (Mythology and the Romantic Tradition in English Poetry [1937; NY: W.W. Norton, 1969], 85).

An echo of Keats; see note to l. 272 and EBB's tribute to Keats in "A Vision of Poets" (1844).

Her religious argument with Schiller recalls Milton's criticism of Greek culture in Paradise Regained (4:285-364) and his description of the silencing of pagan gods in "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity": "The Oracles are dumb, / No voice or hideous hum / Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving. / Apollo from his shrine / Can no more divine, / With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving" (173-78). A reviewer of "The Dead Pan" observed this connection, judging Milton's poem superior and EBB's marred by meter "peculiarly unsuitable to a stately subject," while praising its "beauty of imagery and thought" (BC 10:388)

On EBB's participation in this debate, see the "Introduction" to Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Selected Annotated Critical Edition, ed. Marjorie Stone & Beverly Taylor (Broadview Press, 2009)

In the later poem, Pan is aggressively violent, a representation reinforced by Frederic Leighton's illustration in the Cornhill Magazine (July 1860).

Latin title meaning "On the Cessation of Oracles," by Plutarch (before 50 A.D.- after 120 A.D.), Greek philosopher and biographer, and in his last thirty years a priest at the shrine of Delphi.

The remainder of this prefatory note dedicates the poem to John Kenyon, whose paraphrase of Schiller’\'s poem, published in the giftbook The Keepsake for 1843, attracted EBB to this subject. In 1843-44 correspondence she discusses Kenyon's suggestions for revising her poem (see, e.g., BC 7:10, 11-12, 36, 70, 101, 160; 9:256).

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Date: 2009-03-06
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