A Musical Instrument

- 1806-1861
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. 

More by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

My Letters! all dead paper... (Sonnet 28)

My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee tonight.
This said—he wished to have me in his sight
Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring
To come and touch my hand. . . a simple thing,
Yes I wept for it—this . . . the paper's light. . .
Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed
As if God's future thundered on my past.
This said, I am thine—and so its ink has paled
With lying at my heart that beat too fast.
And this . . . 0 Love, thy words have ill availed
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!

Beloved, my Beloved... (Sonnet 20)

Beloved, my Beloved, when I think 
That thou wast in the world a year ago, 
What time I sate alone here in the snow 
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink 
No moment at thy voice ... but, link by link, 
Went counting all my chains, as if that so 
They never could fall off at any blow 
Struck by thy possible hand ... why, thus I drink 
Of life's great cup of wonder! Wonderful, 
Never to feel thee thrill the day or night 
With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull 
Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white 
Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull, 
Who cannot guess God's presence out of sight.

When our two souls... (Sonnet 22)

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,  
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,  
Until the lengthening wings break into fire  
At either curvèd point,—what bitter wrong  
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long 
Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,  
The angels would press on us and aspire  
To drop some golden orb of perfect song  
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay  
Rather on earth, Belovèd,—where the unfit 
Contrarious moods of men recoil away  
And isolate pure spirits, and permit  
A place to stand and love in for a day,  
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.