Manuscript draft of 'Pan is Dead' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Description

Composed between 1842 and 1844, this manuscript is a fair copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem ‘Pan is Dead' with revisions of stanzas 33-39.

In May 1843, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cousin John Kenyon showed Robert Browning this manuscript of this poem; she was delighted by his note praising its versification. The poem is full of unusual rhymes, which some critics found awkward, although she maintained that Chaucer and ‘the spirit of the English language’ were on her side.

What is the poem’s message?

Published in Poems (1844) under the revised title ‘The Dead Pan’, the piece declares that the time has come for poetry to deal with modern themes and contemporary issues. It begins with the speaker indulging her love for Greek literature and philosophy, subjects from which Romantic poets, such as John Keats, drew inspiration. In her works Barrett Browning often returned to the mythical figure of Pan – half-man, half-goat, son of the god Hermes – as well as incorporating other classical references. The last line of each stanza, a repetition of the phrase ‘Pan is dead’, conveys a sense of mourning over the passing of this classical age. By the end of the poem, however, this phrase has become celebratory and uplifting. It now symbolises the promise of a new age, centred on Christianity. In this modern age the poet seeks inspiration not from the antiquated past but from the present world, not from ‘mythic fancies’ but from ‘truth’: 

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.

These ideas are further explored in Barrett Browning’s 1847 epic, Aurora Leigh.

Transcript

36 131 9

8


By your beauty which confesses
Some Chief Beauty conquering you;
By our grand heroic guesses,
Through your falsehood, at the True;
We will weep not - earth shall roll
Heir to each god’s aureole -
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.
xxxxxxxxx ^Poets leave your Tereus’ tale ! -
Listen to the nightingale -
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 blessed mysteries !
And a Priest’s Hand through creation
Waveth calm and consecration -
Pan, Pan is dead.

Truth is fair = should we forgot it?
xx ^Can we sigh right for a wrong?
God Himself is the best Poet
And the Real is His song.
Sing His truth out fair & full,
And secure His beautiful -
Let Pan be dead -


10

Truth is large = our aspiration
Yearns for only half we be.
Shame; to stand amid creation
And doubt truth’s sufficiency;
To think God’s song is not smoother
Than the tales we tell each other!
Pan, Pan is dead -

What is true & just & honest,
What is lovely, what is pure;
All of praise that hath admonisht,
All of virtue, shall endure - - -
These are themes for poet’s uses,
Stirring nobler than the muses.
Pan, Pan is 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 -
Pan, Pan is dead -

EBB -


Full title:
'Pan is Dead'
Created:
1842-44
Format:
Manuscript / Draft
Creator:
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Copyright:
© The Provost and Fellows of Eton College
Usage terms
Creative Commons Attribution licence
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Add MS 60391 S [T]

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