Monday, December 23, 2013


The Death of Pan

Laurence Whistler (1912-2000), "The Death of Pan: A Fragment," The World’s Room: The Collected Poems of Laurence Whistler (London: William Heinemann, 1949), pp. 10-13:
                                          Then Pan rose up
And in clear daylight stretched his heavy arms,
That seemed encumbered with the wasted weeks,
And on his forehead the broad shield of the sun
Smote golden, and within his lampless eyes—
Dim as dead leaves among the twilight groves
Of green Arcadia, where Alpheus glides
In haunting laughter by the hollow urn
Of some scarce-pictured shepherd—in those eyes,
Unbeaconed by long sadness, it might seem
A little shadow of a faded joy
Quivered one moment, as, on burning noons,
The blue-fly dances by the meadow pool
Where cattle drink at ease. Around, above,
High-templing heaven dreamed in brilliant fire—
The dome of the no-more-remembered Gods;
And there, serene like memory, and fair,
As all the splendid actions of those Gods,
Jagged Erymanthus stretched in dwindling line,
And pale Cyllene dreamed into the clouds.
Between the mountains and the gazing God
Lay all bough-built Arcadia—sunlit farms—
Tree-vaulted pens—flocks like ethereal clouds
That browse on the cool pastures of the wind—
And all unseen in green forgotten places
Old temples mouldering softly into grass
With nothing but a whisper of hushed leaves
To tell their lost divinity—alas!

Tears filled the God's fair eyes: he forced them down—
What use were tears, now all Olympus slept?
Now that the ribald lips of melting pipes
No longer roused the hooves of frolic goats
In stony places, and the shepherd's heart
Paused not to hear the syrinx trembling low
In some deep dell, beneath the early stars?—
That day Doom’s wing had darked Arcadia's soul:
Three men had passed him in outlandish dress,
Slow-chanting as they moved; and one of them
Walked upright through the woods nor glanced aside;
And one outsprinkled water from a stoup;
And one of them, within whose eyes were seen
The bright wild flowers of a new faith blowing,
Held high the swaying Cross. Pan wailed aloud—
And they, with looks of saintly agony,
Fled all along the valley shrieking, Satan!—
While the God crouched and trembled in the pines,
With great fear-widened eyes.

                                             So trembling now,
But rather from infirmity than fear,
More with a strange and inward sickliness
That told the approaching end, great Pan moved down
With sluggish crawl, and sunless countenance
Toward the rustling border of the foam.
Removed a little from the leafless sand,
Built in the everlasting twilight of
The stiff, wind-buffeted pines, a temple stood
Within whose ancient shell-encrusted dome
The voices of the waves far-islanded
Seemed gathered in a smooth eternal hush,
A very dwelling and a silent sound.
Here once were voices too, and shepherd pipes,
But now there was no song;
And here were smouldering censers, and green sprigs
Of laurel and of ivy and of bay,
But withered now, and gone.
The very cornice, where the swallows housed
And spiders worked to catch the stars in rain,
Tipped to the Pan-pipes and the wreathed horns
Along the frieze. Here paused the dying God,
And stayed his step upon the threshold twigs,
And gazed like one that has a shaded thought
Upon those empty walls a long, deep time.
Then, sighing, like a giant of the woods
That men lay low upon a misty morn
In dank October, to the waves he turned
And left the slow-obliterating sands
The only vestige of his passing there,
The stamp of earth's own strong Divinity,
The footmark of the latest of the Gods,
Fallen and fallen for ever.

                                                Tide and wind,
Tide and tempestuous wind among the pines—
Wild tossing leaves from leaves—high birds from them—
And thence all green Arcadia from the banks
Of swift Alpheus to the Ladon flood,
And Erymanthus twining to the sea—
Sprang all to life beneath the sudden wind;
The sun's clear beauty was all blotted out,
Burdened with clouds; and darknesss, like a mask
Wherein the sun burned with a hollow eye
Giving frail light, concealed the face of heaven!
Then candles were lit up in many a farm
Among the hills; and in a low-roofed shrine
Men praying to their God were all struck dumb
In terror and bewildement—the prayer
Congealed within their hearts—for from the woods,
And from the waves, and all the depths of air,
It seemed a strange and awful voice arose,
Wailing upon the darkness—PAN IS DEAD.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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