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A Musical Instument
Posted by: Mikay (---.async.iserv.net)
Date: December 11, 2004 03:37PM

A Musical Instrument by E.B.B.

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.

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.

High on the shore sat 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 the leaf indeed
To prove it fresh from the river.

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 sat by the river.

"This is the way," laughed the great god Pan
(Laughed while he sat 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.

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.

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.

One possible Theme for this poem is that things that may appear beautiful to some people, may cause great suffering and pain to others. What are some other possible themes for this poem?Thank you.

Re: A Musical Instument
Posted by: IanB (---.tnt11.mel1.da.uu.net)
Date: December 12, 2004 09:14AM

You could turn that theme around. A process that involves much destruction and causes much grief may nevertheless result in exquisite beauty being created. As to whether that is presented as good or bad, take your pick. Pan's music is 'piercing sweet ... blinding sweet', so maybe that's the main consideration and the end justifies the means. On the other hand, at the end of the poem the 'true gods' sigh for the cost and pain, so maybe they have the final say and don't believe the process is justified.

Another possible theme is that even a half beast like Pan can redeem himself and his beastly ways by creating something of surpassing beauty.

A variant on that is not to underestimate a half beast. Such a creature may appear clumsy, but may have unique specialised knowhow and skills.

In this poem there are two references I don't understand. Hope someone can explain.

What does 'scattering ban' mean in line 3 of the first stanza? Surely Pan wasn't throwing around units of Romanian currency.

Why does line 3 of the last stanza say 'Making a poet out of a man'? Who is the man? Is this something to do with the pith of the reed being likened to the heart of a man, in stanza 4?


Re: A Musical Instument
Posted by: Mikay (---.async.iserv.net)
Date: December 13, 2004 12:00AM

I'm not sure of the answers to your questions, but thank you for the themes you gave.

Re: A Musical Instument
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.denver-02rh15-16rt.co.dial-access.att.net)
Date: December 13, 2004 05:17PM

[www.windows.ucar.edu] />
Could be that Liz was mixing her myths (say that ten times fast). Pan chases the nymph, who turns into a reed, which Pan then turned into a pipe, thereby inventing (lyric) poetry?

Scattering ban sounds like another error (sorry, old girl), perhaps meaning 'cursing', 'scattering curses'. The Shorter Oxford may offer some aid, but I suspect she wrought the wrong rhyme (I'm on a roll).

Re: A Musical Instument
Posted by: IanAKB (124.168.57.---)
Date: December 07, 2008 10:15AM

In a Norton Anthology, I came across a note answering one of my questions of 4 years ago. It said that 'scattering ban' in this poem meant 'scattering baleful influence'.

Re: A Musical Instument
Posted by: petersz (69.181.22.---)
Date: December 08, 2008 06:06PM


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