Classics Teaching Resources
The Poetry and the Power of Pan
Delivered to the Association for Latin Teaching annual Summer School 1998 in Canterbury.
Some years ago I prepared a paper on the Pastoral tradition, which I gave, with illustrations read most excellently by some of you, in this very city. It had been written to be stored away for use in an emergency, if a lecturer was ill, and it was delivered in just those circumstances. Now, alas, we have suffered a similar blow, and our thoughts and prayers go to Bernard Gilles who was to have stood here and who has had to face serious surgery. Last week, therefore, someone hinted that I might repeat that lecture.
I went to revise that previous paper, but I had scarcely rewritten the opening paragraph, which pictured Theocritus on the island of Cos around 280 BC, before I felt a tug on my sleeve, and knew, not daring to turn round, that the brush of bristly hairs on my chair, the shadow of two little horns on my desk, and the rank smell of goat in my nostrils meant a visit by the great god Pan. He had leaped from the opening lines of Theocritus' first Idyll, and was demanding my undivided attention. He was telling me to pass on the stories of his birth and his exploits, and pointed me to the only book of mythology I now have in the house; but he also reminded me of the prose and poetry, ancient and modern, that he had inspired.
I protested that I had so little material to hand. He showed me the Internet and the few books of poetry on my shelves. I pleaded that I was unused to thinking or writing about classical subjects now. The laugh that he gave was a boy's laughter, golden and equivocal. Then I knew that if I did his will I would have entire peace and contentment, nestling between his very hooves; otherwise there was a threat in that laugh of unnamed terrors. I had no choice. I hope that you will be indulgent towards one who has forsaken the trials of the classroom and the delights of the Acropolis and the Forum Romanum for the mystery of the altar and the single-minded devotion and cruelty of Jerusalem, and who is quickly losing sight of any slender sherds of scholarship that he may once have attempted to collect.
[The lecturer retired from teaching in 1997 and took up a post as curate in a Bristol parish]
Pan 'a humble fellow, now dead, was content to live on earth in rural Arcadia.' So wrote Robert Graves. His name is a Doric contraction of paon ("pasturer") but was commonly supposed in antiquity to be connected with pan ("all"). The Homeric hymn to Pan says:
Pana de min kaleeskon oti frena pasin eteryen
They called him Pan because he delighted all.
But from what parents did he come? Some people in the ancient world said 'Hermes fathered Pan on Dryope, or Oenis, or Penelope whom he visited in the form of a ram; or on Amalthea the Goat. Wait! Did you hear right? Did I say Penelope could have been Pan's mother, that chaste patient wife of Odysseus? Some ancients were so bold as to claim that she was. Yes, Hermes could have been the father, they said, but another theory was that Penelope bore Pan to the combined sexuality of all her suitors! The story continues that he was so ugly at birth, with horns, beard, tail and goat-legs, that his mother ran away from him in fear, and Hermes carried him up to Olympus for the gods' amusement.'
Fortunately for all right-thinking people, this slur on Penelope's chastity can be totally thrown out of court. Pan was in fact Zeus' foster-brother, and therefore far older than Hermes, let alone Penelope, even if the Penelope in question was not Odysseus' wife but a goddess of the same name. Pan was foster-brother to Zeus when he was nursed in the cave of Dicte. They both drank the nymph Adrasteia's milk. So we may trust those who say that Pan was the son of Cronus and Rhea; or if we cannot accept the utterly trustworthy story of Pan and Zeus being suckled together, we may take another view, that he was the son of Zeus by Hybris
Pan was not always just 'a humble fellow'. When Zeus led the ten-year battle against the giants, it was the sudden shout of Pan that finally put the giants to flight, hence the well known origin of the word panic. In historical times he appeared at the Battle of Marathon and filled the Persians with causeless fear, as Herodotus relates. We may have wondered what great and fearsome noise could have so routed the Persians, let alone the giants. Fortunately we now have the answer. At the Last Night of the Proms in 1995 we were treated to the first performance of a piece called Panic by Sir Harrison Birtwistle. It was enough to send anyone screaming in terror
Pan, though, lived most of the time in Arcadia, where he guarded flocks, herds and beehives, revelled with oreads on the mountains, and helped hunters find their quarry. This is the Pan that Horace prays to in Odes 3.18. The Latin Faun(us) is just a variant of Pan, as Father is of Pater. The translation is by our own David West.
[Professor David West is a Vice-President of the ARLT]
Faunus who love the nymphs and make them run,
go gently through my land and the sunny countryside,
be kind and pass by without hurting
the young of my flocks,
if I sacrifice a tender kidling when the year comes round,
if wine in abundance does not fail the mixing-bowl,
the crony of Venus, and the old altar
smokes with a rich odour.
When the nones of December come round
the whole flock grazes on the grassy plain;
the country people make holiday in the meadows,
oxen and all;
the wolf ambles among the fearless lambs;
the wood spreads its rustic foliage for you;
the ditcher's foot delights to thump in triple time
the earth he so detests.
Pan was mostly easygoing and lazy, and loved his afternoon sleep. We must all know and love Debussy's 'Prelude a L'apres-midi d'un faune,' although we may not have read Mallarme's poem on the Faun's afternoon siesta, part of which Veronique is going to read. Don't worry if you don't understand the very difficult poem. Just relax and think of Pan erotically dreaming about the nymphs that pass by.
L'après-midi d'un faune. [This was read to a background of the Debussy piece. The complete text is here printed. Only parts were read.]
Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer.
Leur incarnat léger, qu'il voltige dans l'air
Assoupi de sommeils touffus.
Aimai-je un rêve?
Mon doute, amas de nuit ancienne, s'achève
En maint rameau subtil, qui, demeuré les vrais
Bois même, prouve, hélas! que bien seul je m'offrais
Pour triomphe la faute idéale de roses.
ou si les femmes dont tu gloses
Figurent un souhait de tes sens fabuleux!
Faune, l'illusion s'échappe des yeux bleus
Et froids, comme une source en pleurs, de la plus chaste:
Mais, l'autre tout soupirs, dis-tu qu'elle contraste
Comme brise du jour chaude dans ta toison?
Que non! par l'immobile et lasse pâmoison
Suffoquant de chaleurs le matin frais s'il lutte,
Ne murmure point d'eau que ne verse ma flûte
Au bosquet arrosé d'accords; et le seul vent
Hors des deux tuyaux prompt à s'exhaler avant
Qu'il disperse le son dans une pluie aride,
C'est, à l'horizon pas remué d'une ride
Le visible et serein souffle artificiel
De l'inspiration, qui regagne le ciel.
O bords siciliens d'un calme marécage
Qu'à l'envi de soleils ma vanité saccage
Tacite sous les fleurs d'étincelles, CONTEZ
« Que je coupais ici les creux roseaux domptés
» Par le talent; quand, sur l'or glauque de lointaines
» Verdures dédiant leur vigne à des fontaines,
» Ondoie une blancheur animale au repos:
» Et qu'au prélude lent où naissent les pipeaux
» Ce vol de cygnes, non! de naïades se sauve
» Ou plonge...
Inerte, tout brûle dans l'heure fauve
Sans marquer par quel art ensemble détala
Trop d'hymen souhaité de qui cherche le la:
Alors m'éveillerai-je à la ferveur première,
Droit et seul, sous un flot antique de lumière,
Lys! et l'un de vous tous pour l'ingénuité.
Autre que ce doux rien par leur lèvre ébruité,
Le baiser, qui tout bas des perfides assure,
Mon sein, vierge de preuve, atteste une morsure
Mystérieuse, due à quelque auguste dent;
Mais, bast! arcane tel élut pour confident
Le jonc vaste et jumeau dont sous l'azur on joue:
Qui, détournant à soi le trouble de la joue,
Rêve, dans un solo long, que nous amusions
La beauté d'alentour par des confusions
Fausses entre elle-même et notre chant crédule;
Et de faire aussi haut que l'amour se module
Évanouir du songe ordinaire de dos
Ou de flanc pur suivis avec mes regards clos,
Une sonore, vaine et monotone ligne.
Tâche donc, instrument des fuites, ô maligne
Syrinx, de refleurir aux lacs où tu m'attends!
Moi, de ma rumeur fier, je vais parler longtemps
Des déesses; et par d'idolâtres peintures
À leur ombre enlever encore des ceintures:
Ainsi, quand des raisins j'ai sucé la clarté,
Pour bannir un regret par ma feinte écarté,
Rieur, j'élève au ciel d'été la grappe vide
Et, soufflant dans ses peaux lumineuses, avide
D'ivresse, jusqu'au soir je regarde au travers.
O nymphes, regonflons des SOUVENIRS divers.
« Mon oeil, trouant les joncs, dardait chaque encolure
» Immortelle, qui noie en l'onde sa brûlure
» Avec un cri de rage au ciel de la forêt;
» Et le splendide bain de cheveux disparaît
» Dans les clartés et les frissons, ô pierreries!
» J'accours; quand, à mes pieds, s'entrejoignent (meurtries
» De la langueur goûtée à ce mal d'être deux)
» Des dormeuses parmi leurs seuls bras hasardeux;
» Je les ravis, sans les désenlacer, et vole
» À ce massif, haï par l'ombrage frivole,
» De roses tarissant tout parfum au soleil,
» Où notre ébat au jour consumé soit pareil.
Je t'adore, courroux des vierges, ô délice
Farouche du sacré fardeau nu qui se glisse
Pour fuir ma lèvre en feu buvant, comme un éclair
Tressaille! la frayeur secrète de la chair:
Des pieds de l'inhumaine au coeur de la timide
Qui délaisse à la fois une innocence, humide
De larmes folles ou de moins tristes vapeurs.
« Mon crime, c'est d'avoir, gai de vaincre ces peurs
» Traîtresses, divisé la touffe échevelée
» De baisers que les dieux gardaient si bien mêlée:
» Car, à peine j'allais cacher un rire ardent
» Sous les replis heureux d'une seule (gardant
» Par un doigt simple, afin que sa candeur de plume
» Se teignît à l'émoi de sa soeur qui s'allume,
» La petite, naïve et ne rougissant pas: )
» Que de mes bras, défaits par de vagues trépas,
» Cette proie, à jamais ingrate se délivre
» Sans pitié du sanglot dont j'étais encore ivre.
Tant pis! vers le bonheur d'autres m'entraîneront
Par leur tresse nouée aux cornes de mon front:
Tu sais, ma passion, que, pourpre et déjà mûre,
Chaque grenade éclate et d'abeilles murmure;
Et notre sang, épris de qui le va saisir,
Coule pour tout l'essaim éternel du désir.
À l'heure où ce bois d'or et de cendres se teinte
Une fête s'exalte en la feuillée éteinte:
Etna! c'est parmi toi visité de Vénus
Sur ta lave posant tes talons ingénus,
Quand tonne une somme triste ou s'épuise la flamme.
Je tiens la reine!
O sûr châtiment...
Non, mais l'âme
De paroles vacante et ce corps alourdi
Tard succombent au fier silence de midi:
Sans plus il faut dormir en l'oubli du blasphème,
Sur le sable altéré gisant et comme j'aime
Ouvrir ma bouche à l'astre efficace des vins!
Couple, adieu; je vais voir l'ombre que tu devins.
The faun's dreams of amorous encounters with nymphs, as we shall see, should cause us no surprise. When he was dreaming of them, Pan did not like to be disturbed. He revenged himself on those who disturbed him with a sudden loud shout from grove or grotto, according to Robert Graves. This explains that passage in Theocritus 1. The goatherd says:
I dare not, faith I dare not pipe at noon,
Afraid of Pan, for when his hunting's done
And he lyes down to sleep by purling streams,
He's very touchy if we break his dreams.
Translated by Thomas Creech in 1684
Pan was certainly an efficient god of hunting. Even the goddess of hunting herself went to him for the best hunting animals. Callimachus in his Hymn to Artemis tells how she 'went to Arcadia, where Pan was engaged in cutting up a lynx to feed his bitches and their whelps. He gave her 3 lop-eared hounds, 2 parti-coloured and one spotted, together capable of dragging live lions back to their kennels; and 7 swift hounds from Sparta.'
Yet the Arcadians took very seriously the idea that religion was a kind of divine commerce. They would pray for success in the hunt, and no doubt would give Pan thanks and an offering if they were successful. If, on the other hand, they ever returned empty-handed after a long day's hunting, they scourged his statue with squills. Squills are plants of the lily family; they contain an irritant poison, very useful for rats and mice, apparently, and so they symbolised the removal of evil influences. It must have been even more painful for Pan than losing your kite mark for failure to deliver.
Theocritus knew about the strangely bold practice. In Idyll 7.107ff he has a passage about Aratus who is in love with a boy, 'burnt up inside for him'. This is the prayer to Pan:
Pan, master of Homole's lovely plain, I beg you, [Homole is in Thessaly]
Lay Philinus unresisting in my friend's arms;
Lay him or another there, as gentle to hold.
If you make this happen, dear Pan, the Arcadian boys
Who beat you about the body with rods of squill
When they get no meat, may let you off for once.
But if you refuse, may your bed be nettles, your skin
A mass of bites scratched raw from head to hoof.
May you spend mid-winter in the Edonian mountains
By icy Hebrus, face turned toward the Pole;
May you pasture your flock in an Ethiopian summer
Under the Blemmyan cliff, looking south from Nile.
Hardly the way to address a great god, one would think. But he was not your typical Olympian by any means. The 3rd century BC poet Leonidas of Tarentum wrote this epigram:
For that goatfucker, goatfooted
Pan, Teleso stretched this hide
On a plane tree, and in front
Of it hung up his well cut
Crook, smiter of bloody-eyed wolves,
His curdling buckets, and the leash
And collars of his keen-nosed pups.
Translated by Kenneth Rexroth 1962
The huntsman no doubt did well to offer the tools of his trade to the god of wild animals, but the description of Pan is not the kind that most gods, say Athena or Apollo, would respond to kindly. Perhaps Pan's reputation as a philanderer meant that he couldn't be respected like other gods.
He certainly had a strong sex drive. Among the many nymphs Pan seduced was Echo, who bore him Iynx, the wryneck, or snake-bird, a spring migrant used in erotic charms - perhaps you remember Theocritus 2, where the girl resorts to magic to induce her young man to return to her, with the refrain:
i;ugx elke tu thnon emon poti dwma ton andra
Wryneck, draw my man to my house.
Apparently the poor bird was fastened to a wheel as part of the spell. A new meaning for The Magic Roundabout!
Pan also seduced Eupheme, nurse of the Muses, who bore him Crotus, the archer who became Sagittarius in the Zodiac. He also boasted that he had coupled with all Dionysus' drunken Maenads. Pan's son was Silenus, which explains a lot. He even seduced the moon goddess Selene by wearing white fleeces to hide his black goat's hair, and enticing her onto his back.
Swinburne seems to think it was all jolly good fun:
And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night,
Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid,
Follows with dancing and fills with delight
The Maenad and the Bassarid;
And soft as lips that laugh and hide
The laughing leaves of the tree divide,
And screen from seeing and leave in sight
The god pursuing, the maiden hid.
Fortunately, though, he was not always successful in his pursuit of women or at any rate nymphs, and the leaves of the tree sometimes took on another function.
He tried to violate the chaste Pitys, who was changed into a fir-tree, a branch of which he afterwards wore as a chaplet; very scratchy I imagine. Ovid tells some of the stories. Here is what happened to Cephisa, as translated by John Gay, author of The Beggar's Opera:
While thus to unknown powers Cephisa prayed,
Victorious Pan o'ertook the fainting maid.
Around her waste his eager arms he throws,
With love and joy his throbbing bosom glows;
When, wonderful to tell, her form receives
A verdant cov'ring of expanded leaves;
Then shooting downwards trembling to the ground
A fibrous root her slender ancles bound;
Strange to herself as yet aghast she stands,
And to high Heaven she rears her spotless hands;
These while she spreads them still in spires extend,
Till in small leaves her taper fingers end;
Her voice she tries; but utt'rance is deny'd,
The smoother sounds in hollow murmurs dy'd.
At length, quite chang'd, the God with wonder viewed
A beauteous plant arising where she stood;
This from his touch, with human sense inspir'd,
Indignant shrinking, of itself retire'd;
Yet Pan attends it with a lover's cares,
And fostering aid with tender hand prepares;
The new form'd plant reluctant seems to yield,
And lives the grace and glory of the field.
But still, as mindful of her former state,
The nymph's perfections on her change await,
And tho' transform'd, her virtue still remains,
No touch impure her sacred plant sustains,
From whence the name of SENSITIVE it gains.
This oft the nymphs approach with secret dread,
While crimson blushes o'er their cheeks are spread;
Yet the true virgin has no cause for fear,
The test is equal if the maid's sincere.
He pursued Syrinx from Mount Lycaeum to the River Ladon, where she became a reed. He could not distinguish her from all the rest, so he cut several reeds and, putting them in order like the feathers on Daedalus' wings (as Ovid pointed out), found that he had made a panpipe. [Ovid Met. 1.694-712].
[Here the lecturer attempted a demonstration of Panpipes]
Andrew Marvell remembers Pan and Syrinx in his poem, The Garden:
When we have run our passions' heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat:
The gods, that mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race;
Apollo hunted Daphne so
Only that she might laurel grow:
And Pan did after Syrinx speed
Not as a nymph, but for a reed.
So that was the beginning of panpipes. They were called Syrinx after the nymph - or possibly the other way round. They were a splendid invention, as even the gods acknowledged. Hermes, always the businessman and usually a cheat, copied a pipe which Pan had dropped, claimed it as his own invention and sold it to Apollo. It has caught on among rural folk ever since. In Europe it has been mainly a shepherd's instrument and has so endured in the Pyrenees. In Romania, however, it is played among professional lautari (fiddlers); their panpipe, the nai, has from 19 to 22 pipes tuned diatonically (i.e., to a seven-note scale), semitones being made by tilting the pipes toward the lips. The panpipe also has a long tradition in the Far East. I have two examples brought by my sister from South America, made of clay. I have never been able to master them.
Giovanni Comotti in his book on Music in Greek and Roman Culture p.72 tell us that the panpipes, 'the syrinx ... had no importance whatsoever in [the Greeks'] musical life and was rather universally considered as an instrument suitable at most for easing the toil of shepherds. Perhaps because of its irrelevance on the paideutic and cultural levels, Plato accepts the syrinx in his state as useful in the country to the herdsmen (Rep 3.399d).'
Comotti is most grudging, but has to admit that 'the syrinx deserves mention too because it represented the starting point for building the only musical instrument of antiquity with mechanical works, the hydraulis or Tyrrenos aulos. It consisted of an upside-down syrinx into whose pipes air was fed from below by means of a mechanism that utilized water pressure.' Apart from pictures, Comotti mentions 'a few fragments of pipes found at Pompeii, and the remains of a small instrument dating from AD 228 preserved in the museum at Aquincum near Budapest.' It so happens that I have seen this, and played on the replica in the museum. A recording of this Roman organ is in the ArLT audio-visual collection. See Wilf.
[Wilf O'Neill is the keeper of the audio-visual collections of the Classical Association and of the ARLT. See the Links page]
Let us be less grudging than Comotti and hear Elizabeth Barrett Browning on the invention of the panpipes, with Debussy's "Syrinx" as accompaniment:
t 1 WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan,
2 Down in the reeds by the river ?
3 Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
4 Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
5 And breaking the golden lilies afloat
6 With the dragon-fly on the river.
7 He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,
8 From the deep cool bed of the river :
9 The limpid water turbidly ran,
10 And the broken lilies a-dying lay,
11 And the dragon-fly had fled away,
12 Ere he brought it out of the river.
13 High on the shore sate the great god Pan,
14 While turbidly flowed the river ;
15 And hacked and hewed as a great god can,
16 With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,
17 Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed
18 To prove it fresh from the river.
19 He cut it short, did the great god Pan,
20 (How tall it stood in the river !)
21 Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,
22 Steadily from the outside ring,
23 And notched the poor dry empty thing
24 In holes, as he sate by the river.
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
28 To make sweet music, they could succeed.'
29 Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,
30 He blew in power by the river.
31 Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan !
32 Piercing sweet by the river !
33 Blinding sweet, O great god Pan !
34 The sun on the hill forgot to die,
35 And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
36 Came back to dream on the river.
37 Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
38 To laugh as he sits by the river,
39 Making a poet out of a man :
40 The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, --
41 For the reed which grows nevermore again
42 As a reed with the reeds in the river.
It was Pan who taught Daphnis, the beautiful Sicilian youth who invented Bucolic poetry, to play the pipes. But when Apollo, fresh from his cruel triumph over Marsyas, had a musical contest with Pan, with King Midas as judge, Pan lost. Robert Graves thought that this may commemorate 'the Hellenic victory over Arcadia, and the consequent supersession in those regions of wind instruments by stringed ones, except among the peasantry.' Well well. Perhaps.. The fact remains that the syrinx is the ancestor of the hydraulis, and the hydraulis is the ancestor of what Mozart called the King of Instruments, the organ. And that in my book is a good enough reason to value the syrinx. [The lecturer is an organist. There followed a short recording of organ music.]
If Apollo could beat Pan in a general music contest, there was no one to beat Pan on the pipes, and any mortal would be very foolish to try. Theocritus launched the new genre of Pastoral Poetry on the world with these opening lines of Idyll 1:
adu ti to yiqurisma kai a pitus, aipole, thna
a poti tai's pagaisi melisdetai, adu de kai tu
surisdes meta Pana to deuteron a;qlon a;poish|
Sweet is the whispering song, goatherd, that the pine-tree sings by the river;
Sweet is also the tune you play on your pipes, second only to Pan.
We are used to Pan as the rustic goat-god, and as the player of panpipes. We may not think that he was a seer of the future. In fact we are told that Apollo coaxed Pan to reveal the art of prophecy to him, so that he could seize the Delphic Oracle and be its master.
Even more strangely, Pan, as Robert Graves notes, is the only god who has died in our time. Plutarch, in his work 'Why the Oracles are Silent', has the tale. The news of his death came to one Thamus, a sailor in a ship bound for Italy by way of the island of Paxi. A divine voice shouted across the sea: 'Thamus, are you there? When you reach Palodes, take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead!' Thamus did; and the news was greeted from the shore with groans and laments.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning has a long poem on The Dead Pan, including these lines:
Calm, of old, the bark went onward,
When a cry more loud than wind,
Rose up, deepened, and swept sunward
From the piled 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 Influences
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 Sion
Hung for love's sake on a cross -
When his brow was chilled 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.
Probably what the sailor actually heard was an Egyptian cry for the death of Tammuz: Qamus Panmegas teqnhke. 'Tammuz the all-great has died.' rather than 'Qamus Pan megas teqnhke.' Plutarch seems to have believed the story; but when Pausanias toured Greece 100 years later to write his great guide book, he found Pan's shrines, altars, caves and sacred mountains still much frequented.
So, is Pan dead? Or were the rumours of his death much exaggerated? Oscar Wilde wished him alive and in the modern world:
Oscar Wilde Pan - Double Villanelle I O goat-foot God of Arcady! This modern world is grey and old, And what remains to us of thee? No more the shepherd lads in glee Throw apples at thy wattled fold, O goat-foot God of Arcady! Nor through the laurels can one see Thy soft brown limbs, thy beard of gold, And what remains to us of thee? And dull and dead our Thames would be, For here the winds are chill and cold, O goat-foot God of Arcady! Then keep the tomb of Helice, Thine olive-woods, thy vine-clad wold, And what remains to us of thee? Though many an unsung elegy Sleeps in the reeds our rivers hold, O goat-foot God of Arcady! Ah, what remains to us of thee? II Ah, leave the hills of Arcady, Thy satyrs and their wanton play, This modern world hath need of thee. No nymph or Faun indeed have we, For Faun and nymph are old and grey, Ah, leave the hills of Arcady! This is the land where liberty Lit grave-browed Milton on his way, This modern world hath need of thee! A land of ancient chivalry Where gentle Sidney saw the day, Ah, leave the hills of Arcady! This fierce sea-lion of the sea, This England lacks some stronger lay, This modern world hath need of thee! Then blow some trumpet loud and free, And give thine oaten pipe away, Ah, leave the hills of Arcady! This modern world hath need of thee!Two comparatively modern writers for whom Pan still lived were Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, and the witty writer of short stories, Saki (H.H. Munro). Of the thousands of children who know and love Toad of Toad Hall, I wonder how many know the chapter in The Wind in the Willows called 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.' A baby otter is lost and his parents are anxious. Rat and Mole take the boat and search all night by moonlight. The moon sets.
"Then a change began slowly to declare itself. The horizon became clearer , field and tree came more into sight, and somehow with a different look; the mystery began to drop away from them. A bird piped suddenly, and was still; and a light breeze sprang up and set the reeds and bulrushes rustling. Rat, who was in the stern of the boat while Mole sculled, sat up suddenly and listened with a passionate intentness. Mole, who with gentle strokes was just keeping the boat moving while he scanned the banks with care, looked at him with curiosity.
'It's gone!' sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. 'So beautiful and strange and new! Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worthwhile but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever. No! There it is again!' he cried, alert once more. Entranced, he was silent for a long space, spellbound.
'Now it passes on and I begin to lose it,' he said presently. 'Oh, Mole, the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on, Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us.
The Mole, greatly wondering, obeyed. 'I hear nothing myself,' he said, 'but the wind playing in the reeds and rushes and osiers.'
The Rat never answered, if indeed he heard. Rapt, transported, trembling, he was possessed in all his senses by this new divine thing that caught up his helpless soul and swung and dandled it, a powerless but happy infant in a strong sustaining grasp.
In silence Mole rowed steadily, and soon they came to a point where the river divided, a long backwater branching off to one side. With a slight movement of his head Rat, who had long dropped the rudder-lines, directed the rower to take the backwater. The creeping tide of light gained and gained, and now they could see the solour of the flowers that gemmed the water's edge.
'Clearer and nearer still.' cried the Rat joyously. 'Now you must surely hear it! Ah - at last - I see you do!'
Breathless and transfixed the Mole stopped rowing as the liquid run of that glad piping broke on him like a wave, caught him up, and possessed him utterly. He saw the tears on his comrade's cheeks, and bowed his head and understood. For a space they hung there, brushed by the purple loosestrife that fringed the bank; then the clear imperious summons that marched hand-in-hand with the intoxicating melody impose its will on Mole, and mechanically he bent to his oars again. And the light grew steadily stronger, but no birds sang as they were wont to do at the approach of dawn; and but for the heavenly music all was marvellously still.
On eaither side of them, as they glided onwards, the rich meadow-grass seemed that morning of a freshness and a greenness unsurpassable. Never had they noticed the roses so vivid, the willow-herb so riotous, the meadow-sweet so odorous and pervading. Then the murmur of the approaching weir began to hold the air, and they felt a consciousness that they were nearing the end, whatever it might be, that surely awaited their expedition.
A wide half-circle of foam and glinting lights and shining shoulders of green water, the great weir closed the backwater from bank to bank, troubled all the quiet surface with twirling eddies and floating foam-streaks, and deadened all other sounds in its solemn and soothing rumble. In midmost of the stream, embrace in the weir's shimmering armspread, a small island lay anchored, fringed close with will and silver birch and alder. Reserved, shy, but full of significance, it hid whatever it might hold within a veil, keeping it till the hour should come, and, with the hour, those who were called and chosen.
Slowly, but with no coubt or hesitation whatever, and in something of a solemn expectancy, the two animals passed through the broken, tumultuous water and moored their boat in the flowery margin of the island. In silence they landed and pushed through the blossom and scented herbage and undergrowth that led up to the level ground, till they stood on a little lawn of a marvellous green, set round with Nature's own orchard-trees - crab-apple, wild cherry and sloe.
'This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,' whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. 'Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!'
Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror - indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy - but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend, and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.
Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling, he obeyed, and raised his humble head and then, in that uter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them homorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, forr one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.
'Rat!' he found breath to whisper, shaking. 'Are you afraid?'
'Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unuterable love. 'Afraid! Of Him? Oh, never, never! And yet - and yet - Oh, Mole, I am afraid!'
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
Sudden and magnificent, the sun's braod golden disc showed itself over the horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level water-meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.
That is the best evocation of the numinous that I know. It invites us to trust to nature as a friend, and even perhaps to trust our own inner, instinctive, animal nature. There is something about Pan here that calls out the mixture of awe and love that Christians have for God. I was interested to find the Elizabethan writer of Pastoral poems, Michael Drayton, apparently feeling able to call God the creator by the name of Pan, or at any rate to imagine a shepherd crediting Pan with all the attributes of God:
Oh blessed Pan, thou shepheards god sayth he,
O thou Creator of the starrie light,
Whose wondrous works shew thy divinitie,
Thou wise inventor of the day and night,
Refreshing nature with the lovely spring,
Quite blemisht erst, with stormy winters sting.
And a greater poet than Drayton, in An Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, written when he was only 20, pictures the shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night:
The shepherds on the lawn
Or ere the point of dawn
Sat simply chatting in a rustic row.
Full little thought they then
That the mighty Pan
Was kindly come to live with them below;
Perhaps their loves, or else their sheep
Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep.
But I should like to finish with a short story by Saki that Euripides might have recognised as distantly related to his last play, which warns us of the consequences of despising nature.
THE MUSIC ON THE HILL
Sylvia Seltoun ate her breakfast in the morning-room at Yessney with a pleasant sense of ultimate victory, such as a fervent Ironside might have permitted himself on the morrow of Worcester fight. She was scarcely pugnacious by temperament, but belonged to that more successful class of fighters who are pugnacious by circumstance. Fate had willed that her life should be occupied with a series of small struggles, usually with the odds slightly against her, and usually she had just managed to come through winning. And now she felt that she had brought her hardest and certainly her most important struggle to a successful issue. To have married Mortimer Seltoun, "Dead Mortimer" as his more intimate enemies called him, in the teeth of the cold hostility of his family, and in spite of his unaffected indifference to women, was indeed an achievement that had needed some determination and adroitness to carry through; yesterday she had brought her victory to its concluding stage by wrenching her husband away from Town and its group of satellite watering-places and "settling him down," in the vocabulary of her kind, in this remote wood-girt manor farm which was his country house. "You will never get Mortimer to go," his mother had said carpingly, "but if he once goes he'll stay; Yessney throws almost as much a spell over him as Town does. One can understand what holds him to Town, but Yessney---" and the dowager had shrugged her shoulders.
There was a sombre almost savage wildness about Yessney that was certainly not likely to appeal to town-bred tastes, and Sylvia, notwithstanding her name, was accustomed to nothing much more sylvan than "leafy Kensington." She looked on the country as something excellent and wholesome in its way, which was apt to become troublesome if you encouraged it overmuch. Distrust of town life had been a new thing with her, born of her marriage with Mortimer, and she had watched with satisfaction the gradual fading of what she called "the Jermyn-Street-look" in his eyes as the woods and heather of Yessney had closed in on them yesternight. Her will-power and strategy had prevailed; Mortimer would stay. Outside the morning-room windows was a triangular slope of turf, which the indulgent might call a lawn, and beyond its low hedge of neglected fuschia bushes a steeper slope of heather and bracken dropped down into cavernous combes overgrown with oak and yew. In its wild open savagery there seemed a stealthy linking of the joy of life with the terror of unseen things. Sylvia smiled complacently as she gazed with a School-of-Art appreciation at the landscape, and then of a sudden she almost shuddered.
"It is very wild," she said to Mortimer, who had joined her; "one could almost think that in such a place the worship of Pan had never quite died out."
"The worship of Pan never has died out," said Mortimer. "Other newer gods have drawn aside his votaries from time to time, but he is the Nature-God to whom all must come back at last. He has been called the Father of all the Gods, but most of his children have been stillborn."
Sylvia was religious in an honest, vaguely devotional kind of way, and did not like to hear her beliefs spoken of as mere aftergrowths, but it was at least something new and hopeful to hear Dead Mortimer speak with such energy and conviction on any subject.
"You don't really believe in Pan?" she asked incredulously.
"I've been a fool in most things," said Mortimer quietly, "but I'm not such a fool as not to believe in Pan when I'm down here. And if you're wise you won't disbelieve in him too boastfully while you're in his country."
It was not till a week later, when Sylvia had exhausted the attractions of the woodland walks round Yessney, that she ventured on a tour of inspection of the farm buildings. A farmyard suggested in her mind a scene of cheerful bustle, with churns and flails and smiling dairymaids, and teams of horses drinking knee-deep in duck-crowded ponds. As she wandered among the gaunt grey buildings of Yessney manor farm her first impression was one of crushing stillness and desolation, as though she had happened on some lone deserted homestead long given over to owls and cobwebs; then came a sense of furtive watchful hostility, the same shadow of unseen things that seemed to lurk in the wooded combes and coppices. From behind heavy doors and shuttered windows came the restless stamp of hoof or rasp of chain halter, and at times a muffled bellow from some stalled beast. From a distant comer a shaggy dog watched her with intent unfriendly eyes; as she drew near it slipped quietly into its kennel, and slipped out again as noiselessly when she had passed by. A few hens, questing for food under a rick, stole away under a gate at her approach. Sylvia felt that if she had come across any human beings in this wilderness of barn and byre they would have fled wraith-like from her gaze. At last, turning a corner quickly, she came upon a living thing that did not fly from her. Astretch in a pool of mud was an enormous sow, gigantic beyond the town-woman's wildest computation of swine-flesh, and speedily alert to resent and if necessary repel the unwonted intrusion. It was Sylvia's turn to make an unobtrusive retreat. As she threaded her way past rickyards and cowsheds and long blank walls, she started suddenly at a strange sound---the echo of a boy's laughter, golden and equivocal. Jan, the only boy employed on the farm, a tow-headed, wizen-faced yokel, was visibly at work on a potato clearing half-way up the nearest hill-side, and Mortimer, when questioned, knew of no other probable or possible begetter of the hidden mockery that had ambushed Sylvia's retreat. The memory of that untraceable echo was added to her other impressions of a furtive sinister "something" that hung around Yessney.
Of Mortimer she saw very little; farm and woods and trout- streams seemed to swallow him up from dawn till dusk. Once, following the direction she had seen him take in the morning, she came to an open space in a nut copse, further shut in by huge yew trees, in the centre of which stood a stone pedestal surmounted by a small bronze figure of a youthful Pan. It was a beautiful piece of workmanship, but her attention was chiefly held by the fact that a newly cut bunch of grapes had been placed as an offering at its feet. Grapes were none too plentiful at the manor house, and Sylvia snatched the bunch angrily from the pedestal. Contemptuous annoyance dominated her thoughts as she strolled slowly homeward, and then gave way to a sharp feeling of something that was very near fright; across a thick tangle of undergrowth a boy's face was scowling at her, brown and beautiful, with unutterably evil eyes. It was a lonely pathway, all pathways round Yessney were lonely for the matter of that, and she sped forward without waiting to give a closer scrutiny to this sudden apparition. It was not till she had reached the house that she discovered that she had dropped the bunch of grapes in her flight.
"I saw a youth in the wood today," she told Mortimer that evening, "brown-faced and rather handsome, but a scoundrel to look at. A gypsy lad, I suppose."
"A reasonable theory," said Mortimer, "only there aren't any gypsies in these parts at present."
"Then who was he?" asked Sylvia, and as Mortimer appeared to have no theory of his own she passed on to recount her finding of the votive offering.
"I suppose it was your doing," she observed; "it's a harmless piece of lunacy, but people would think you dreadfully silly if they knew of it."
"Did you meddle with it in any way?" asked Mortimer.
"I---I threw the grapes away. It seemed so silly," said Sylvia, watching Mortimer's impassive face for a sign of annoyance.
"I don't think you were wise to do that," he said reflectively. "I've heard it said that the Wood Gods are rather horrible to those who molest them."
"Horrible perhaps to those that believe in them, but you see I don't," retorted Sylvia.
"All the same," said Mortimer in his even, dispassionate tone, "I should avoid the woods and orchards if I were you, and give a wide berth to the horned beasts on the farm."
It was all nonsense, of course, but in that lonely wood-girt spot nonsense seemed able to rear a bastard brood of uneasiness.
"Mortimer," said Sylvia suddenly, "I think we will go back to Town some time soon."
Her victory had not been so complete as she had supposed; it had carried her on to ground that she was already anxious to quit.
"I don't think you will ever go back to Town," said Mortimer. He seemed to be paraphrasing his mother's prediction as to himself.
Sylvia noted with dissatisfaction and some self-contempt that the course of her next afternoon's ramble took her instinctively clear of the network of woods. As to the horned cattle, Mortimer's warning was scarcely needed, for she had always regarded them as of doubtful neutrality at the best: her imagination unsexed the most matronly dairy cows and turned them into bulls liable to "see red" at any moment. The ram who fed in the narrow paddock below the orchards she had adjudged, after ample and cautious probation, to be of docile temper; today, however, she decided to leave his docility untested, for the usually tranquil beast was roaming with every sign of restlessness from corner to corner of his meadow. A low, fitful piping, as of some reedy flute, was coming from the depth of a neighbouring copse, and there seemed to be some subtle connection between the animal's restless pacing and the wild music from the wood. Sylvia turned her steps in an upward direction and climbed the heather-clad slopes that stretched in rolling shoulders high above Yessney. She had left the piping notes behind her, but across the wooded combes at her feet the wind brought her another kind of music, the straining bay of hounds in full chase. Yessney was just on the outskirts of the Devon-and-Somerset country, and the hunted deer sometimes came that way. Sylvia could presently see a dark body, breasting hill after hill, and sinking again and again out of sight as he crossed the combes, while behind him steadily swelled that relentless chorus, and she grew tense with the excited sympathy that one feels for any hunted thing in whose capture one is not directly interested. And at last he broke through the outermost line of oak scrub and fern and stood panting in the open, a fat September stag carrying a well-furnished head. His obvious course was to drop down to the brown pools of Undercombe, and thence make his way towards the red deer's favoured sanctuary, the sea. To Sylvia's surprise, however, he turned his head to the upland slope and came lumbering resolutely onward over the heather. "It will be dreadful," she thought, "the hounds will pull him down under my very eyes." But the music of the pack seemed to have died away for a moment, and in its place she heard again that wild piping, which rose now on this side, now on that, as though urging the failing stag to a final effort. Sylvia stood well aside from his path, half hidden in a thick growth of whortle bushes, and watched him swing stiffly upward, his flanks dark with sweat, the coarse hair on his neck showing light by contrast. The pipe music shrilled suddenly around her, seeming to come from the bushes at her very feet, and at the same moment the great beast slewed round and bore directly down upon her. In an instant her pity for the hunted animal was changed to wild terror at her own danger; the thick heather roots mocked her scrambling efforts at flight, and she looked frantically downward for a glimpse of oncoming hounds. The huge antler spikes were within a few yards of her, and in a flash of numbing fear she remembered Mortimer's warning, to beware of horned beasts on the farm. And then with a quick throb of joy she saw that she was not alone; a human figure stood a few paces aside, knee-deep in the whortle bushes.
"Drive it off!" she shrieked. But the figure made no answering movement.
The antlers drove straight at her breast, the acrid smell of the hunted animal was in her nostrils, but her eyes were filled with the horror of something she saw other than her oncoming death. And in her ears rang the echo of a boy's laughter, golden and equivocal.
More poems on Pan:Robert Browning wrote 'Pan and Luna'.
John Keats wrote a hymn to Pan in Endymion.
Shelley wrote a hymn of Pan.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote 'Pan' .
Paul Fort wrote 'Pan and the Cherries'.
Robert Frost wrote 'Pan with us'.
A collection of poems to or about Pan is on this web site.
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