A musical instrument by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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A musical instrument

What was he doing, the great god Pan,
In the reeds by the river?
Spread of ruin and prohibition of dispersal,
Splashing and paddling with the hooves of a goat,
And break the golden lilies afloat
With the dragonfly on the river.

He plucked a reed, the great god Pan,
From the deep and cool bed of the river:
The limpid water flowed cloudy,
And the broken lilies died,
And the dragonfly had run away,
Before he gets him out of the river.

High on the shore sat the great god Pan,
While the river flowed murky;
And hewn and hewn like a great god can,
With its hard and dreary steel to the patient reed,
Until there is no sign of a leaf indeed
To prove it fresh from the river.

He cut it short, made the great god Pan,
(How high he stood in the river!)
Then pulled out the marrow, like a man’s heart,
Constantly from the outer ring,
And nicked the poor, dry, empty thing
In holes, as he sat by the river.

“This is the way,” laughed the great god Pan,
(Laughter as he sat by the river,)
“The only way, since the gods began
To make soft music, they could succeed.
Then, dropping his mouth into a hole in the reed,
He blew in power by the river.

Sweet, sweet, sweet, oh Pan!
Soft piercing by the river!
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!
The sun on the hill forgot to die,
And the lilies rose again, and the dragonfly
I came back to dream on the river.

Yet half of a beast is the great god Pan,
Laugh as he sits by the river,
Make a man a poet:
The true gods sigh for the price and the pain,
For the reed that never grows again
Like a reed with the reeds in the river.

Looking for more? Read last week’s poem: Darkness of Lord Byron


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