Manuscript, with revisions, of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Pan is Dead!'

Description

Composed between 1843-44, this manuscript copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem ‘Pan is Dead’ is one of two versions held by the British Library. This copy is the longest version, containing the poem in its entirety. 

In May 1843, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cousin John Kenyon showed Robert Browning this manuscript of her poem ‘Pan is Dead’; 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 main message? 

Published in Poems (1844) under the revised title ‘The Dead Pan’, the poem 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

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

Pan is Dead !

 

E.B.B.



                                                                                                       2




                           Pan is dead.


                                        humbly dedicated to the author
                                        of the Paraphrase of
                                        Schiller’s Gods of Greece.

 

                                                                                               1

                                                                                               3

 

                            Pan is dead.

 

Gods of Hellas, 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?

Have the Pygmies made you drunken,

Bathing in mandragora

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 poppies 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 corses

Where the silver spheres roll on

Stung to life by centric forces

Thrown like rags out from the sun?

While the smoke of your old altars

Is the shroud that round you welters?

                        Pan, Pan is dead.

 


2

Gods of Hellas, gods of Hellas,
Said the old Hellenic tongue;
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;
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.
Pan, Pan is dead.

From the gloaming of the oakwood,
O ye Dryads, 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.
Pan, Pan is dead.

Have ye left the mountain=places,
Oreads 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.
                                               - - -
                                                                                          3
                                                                                          4

O twelve gods in Plato’s vision,
Crowned to starry wanderings;
With your chariots in procession,
And your silver clash of wings!
Very pale ye seem to rise,
Ghosts of Græcian deities.
Now Pan is dead!

Jove! that right hand is unloaded,
Whence the thunder did prevail;
While, in idiocy of godhead,
Thou are staring the stars pale!
And thine eagle blind & old
Roughs his feathers in the cold.
Pan, Pan is dead.

Where, O Juno, is the glory
Of thy regal look & tread?
Will they lay, for evermore, thee,
On thy dim straight golden bed?
Will thy queendom all lie hid
Meekly under either lid?
Pan, Pan is dead.

Ha! Apollo! Floats his golden
Hair all mist-white where he stands;
While the Muses hang enfolding
Knee & foot with faint wild hands?
‘Neath the clanging of thy bow,
Niobe looked lost as thou!
Pan, Pan is dead.


4

Shall the casque with its brown iron,

Pallas’ broad blue eyes, eclipse; -

And no hero take inspiring

From the god=greek of her lips?

‘Neath her olive dost thou sit,

Mars the mighty, cursing it?

                        Pan, Pan is dead.

 

Bacchus, Bacchus! on the panther

He swoons; - bound by his own vines.

And his Mænads slowly saunter,

Head aside, among the pines,

While they murmur dreamingly; -

‘Evohe .. ah! Evohe!’.

                        Pan, Pan is dead.

 

Neptune lies beside the trident,

Dull & senseless as a stone;

And old Pluto deaf and silent

Is cast out into the sun.

Ceres smileth stern thereat; -

“We all now are desolate!”

                        Pan, Pan is dead.

 

Aphrodite! 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.

- - -

5

5

And the Loves we used to know from

One another; - huddled lie,

Froze 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! - Time enthralleth

All thy cunning, Hermes, thus;

And the ivy blindly crawleth

Round they brave caduceus?

Hast thou no new message for us,

Full of thunder and Jove=glories?

                        Nay!  Pan is dead.

 

The crowned Cybele’s great turret

Rocks and crumbles on her head;

Roar the lions of her chariot

Toward the wilderness, unfed.

Railing

^

Scornful

 children are not mute ..

“Mother, mother, walk afoot -!

                        Since Pan is dead.”

 

In the fiery=hearted centre

Of the solemn universe,

Ancient Vesta, - who could enter

To consume thee with this curse?

Drop thy grey chin on thy knee,

O thou palsied Mystery!

                        Pan, Pan is dead.


6

Gods! we vainly do adjure you;

Ye return nor voice nor sign;

Not a votary 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 obolus 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.

                        Pan, Pan is dead.

 

Gods bereavèd, gods belated;

With your purples rent asunder!

Gods discrowned and desecrated,

Disinherited of thunder!

Now the goats may climb and crop

The soft grass on Ida’s top!

                        Now, Pan is dead.

 

Calm at eve 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 & grew pale,

Breathed against by the great wail.

                        Pan, Pan is dead.

 

- - -

7

6

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 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 stood 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.


8

 

Wailing wide across the islands,

They rent, cloak=like, their Divine!

And a darkness and a silence

Quenched the light of every shrine;

And Dodona’s oak swang lonely

Henceforth, to the tempest only.

                        Pan, Pan was dead.

 

Pythia staggered; - feeling o[’]er her,

Her lost gods’ forsaking look!

Straight her eyeballs filmed with horror,

And her crispy fillets 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 libations ran of yore.

See! the wine crawls in the dust,

Wormlike ... as your glories must!

                        Pan, Pan is dead!

 

Get to dust as other 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.

 

- - -

8

7

 

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.

Dante! leave your Taurus tale ^ Phoebus’ chariot=course is done;

Listen to the nightingale ^ Poets! look up 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

fit 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;

And the Real is His song.

Sing His truth out fair and full -

And secure His beautiful.

                        Let Pan be dead!

 

 


10

Truth is large; our aspiration
Yearns for only half we be;
Shame! to stand in His 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, and just, and honest,
What is lovely, what is pure, ...
All of praise, the best and boonest, ...
All of virtue, shall endure, ...
These are themes for poets’ 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.

                                                   E.B.B.


Full title:
'Pan is Dead!' with revisions
Created:
1843-44
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:
Ashley MS 213

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