Hymn of Pan: Poem by P. B. Shelley - Summary & Analysis

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From the forests and highlands
We come, we come;
From the river-girt islands,
Where loud waves are dumb
Listening to my sweet pipings.
The wind in the reeds and the rushes,
The bees on the bells of thyme,
The birds on the myrtle bushes.
The cicale above in the lime.
And the lizards below in the grass,
Were as silent as ever old Tmolus was, Listening to my sweet pipings.

Liquid Peneus was flowing,
And all dark Tempe lay
In Pelion's shadow, outgrowing
The light of the dying day,
Speeded by my sweet pipings.
The Sileni, and Sylvans, and Fauns,
And the Nymphs of the woods and the waves
To the edge of the moist river lawns,
And the brink of the dewy caves,
And all that did then attend and follow,
Were silent with love, as you now, Apollo,
With envy of my sweet pipings.

I sang of the dancing stars,
I sang of the daedal Earth,
And of Heaven—and the giant wars,
And Love, and Death, and Birth,—
And then I changed my pipings,—
Singing how down the vale of Menalus
I pursued a maiden and clasped a reed:
Gods and men, we are all deluded thus!
It breaks in our bosom and then we bleed:
All wept, as I think both ye now would,
If envy or age had not frozen your blood,
At the sorrow of my sweet pipings.

Summary & Analysis


      Hymn of Pan was composed in 1820 and was published with Posthumous Poems in 1824. It is lively and tripping in its measure. It contains three Stanzas of twelve lines each. Each Stanza ends with the delicate refrain 'my sweet pipings'. The origins of this poem are the same as those of Hymn of Apollo.


      Pan speaks these lines to arouse the sympathy of his present listeners. He gives an account of the places he has visited, the audiences he has charmed, and the extent of his repertoire. He travels through the forests and highlands, through the island surrounded by rivers, where noisy waves are silently listening to his sweet music played on his pipe. The wind in the reeds and the rushes, the bees on the buds of half-shrubby plants, the birds on the myrtle-bushes, the cicale above in the citron tree and the lizards below in the grass are as silent as in the immemorial past. The inhabitants of this region are as responsive to his music as old Tmolus (who is to judge the musical contest of Apollo and Pan) listening to his melodious music on the pipe.

      Pan paints a vivid picture of his influence over nature and its denizens. The river Peneus in Thessaly flows faster and the dark valley of Tempe which lies under the shadow of the Mount Pelion forestalls, the dim light of sunset to fade away under the charm of Pan's music. The demi-gods of the earth, water, and forest listen to him silently struck by the magic of love for his music. Apollo, says Pan, is silent out of envy.

      Then Pan traces the progress of his art to its climax in the lyric of disappointment and suffering, which are the fate of men and gods alike. Pan sings of dancing stars, beautiful Earth, and of Heaven, and the historic battles of Love, Death, and Birth. Then he sings of his disappointed love—how down the valley of Maenalus Moimt he chased a maiden and caught a reed (by mistake). The fate of Love is alike to Gods and men—ultimately all are deceived. It hurts our feelings and we bleed. Pan concludes his song on a melancholic note. If envy or age have not made the listeners insensitive, Pan thinks, they would weep at the melancholic note of his sweet music.

Critical Appreciation & Analysis

      In Hymn of Pan, Shelley states allegorically what was the central problem of his life as well as of his poetry:

I pursued a maiden and clasped a reed.
Gods and men, we are all deluded thus!
It breaks in our bosom and then we bleed.

      In itself this theme may lay claim to a poignant and universal human applicability; for its meaning is the eternal contradiction between the One and the Many, the abstract and the concrete, man and men, the Prometheus of keen ethical aspiration and the Asia of broad expansive sympathy, ideal Beauty and Goodness and the Janes and Emilia's of actual life. In many of his lyrics some phase of this problem, or his emotions in its presence, are treated without any direct reference to his doctrine. Yet some of these express a relaxation from it, in the form of self-pity. The poignancy of frustration in love expressed in this poem (contrasted as it is with the victories obtained in the musical, lyrical sphere) form the motif, even though indirectly stated; Shelley falls a prey to the feeling of self-pity which is characteristic of the early Keats.

      Shelley here identifies himself with Pan, whose disciple he certainly was. He is ever at war with himself; the more he tries to achieve his ideal, the farther it recedes from him. He never realized that the ideal would not remain an ideal if it could be translated into practice. The language used is rich and colorful; odors and liquid bird-notes collaborate to make a sensuous, as against a purely spiritual, appeal. Shelley approaches the style of Keats in the following Stanza:

The wind in the reeds and the rushes,
The bees on the bells of thyme,
The birds on the myrtle-bushes,
The cicale above in the lime,
And the lizards below in the grass,
Were as silent as ever old Tmolus was,
Listening to my sweet pipings.

      Purity, magnificence and austerity—these are the characteristic marks of the Shelley diction. Ellon points out: "There is much of this in Shelley and it is always delightful, his favorite visions of a refuge, green and scented and solitary from the bitterness of the world of men, are full of such imagery."


      Stanza I. L. 1. highlands—a mountainous district, especially in plural, that portion of Scotland lying north and west of a line drawn from Dumbarton to Naim or Aberdeen. L. 3. river-girt—surrounded by river. L. 4. loud...dumb—the noisy waters stand still and spell-bound due to the magic of Pan's music played on his pipe. L. 5. My piping— Pan being the Greek god of Pastures, flocks and woods, worshipped in Arcadia, and fond of music—with goat's legs and feet and sometimes horns and ears, Pandean pipe is a musical instrument composed of reeds of various lengths, said to have been invented by Pan. L. 6. reeds—grass, growing in marshy places, rushes—marshy plants, destitute of leaves. L. 7. thymea genus of hiunble half shrubby fragrant plant, bells—the inner circles or whirls of the floral envelopes without the surrounding foliage. L. 8. Myrtlebushes—ever-green shrubs with beautiful and fragrant leaves. L. 9. Cicale—an insect remarkable for its chirping sound, lime—lemon-tree. L. 11. Tmolus—God of Mt. Tmolus in Lydia. He is said to have decided the musical contest between Apollo and Pan.

      Stanza II. L. 13. liquid—not frozen. Peneus—the chief river of Thessaly, rising in Mt. Pindus and after receiving many effluents, forcing its way through the vale of Tempe. L. 14. Tempe—lies between Mt. Ossa and Mt. Olympus to the sea. L. 15. Pelion—lofty range of mountains in Thessaly in the district of Magnesia, situated between Lake Boebeis and the Pagessean Gulf. Li. 15-16. outgrowing...day—forestalling the sunset that was yet to come. L. 17. speeded up—expedited; L. 18. Sileni—plants whose young shoots eat like asparagus. Sylvans— individuals of the woody regions. Fauns—Roman rural deities, protectors of shepherds. L. 17. Nymphs—beautiful goddesses who inhabited mountains, rivers and trees. L. 20. river-lawns—meadow's bordering the river and hence damp. L. 21. brink—edge. dewy caves—aves on which dew has been deposited. L. 22. all that...follows—the retinue and the following of the great god Pan. L. 23. Apollo—the sun-god of the Greeks and the Romans, patron of music and poetry, who entered into a musical competition with Pan, with Tmolus as the judge. L. 24. envy...piping—a desire for proficiency in music enjoyed by me.

      Stanza III. L. 26. daedal—intricate and artistic in design. L. 27. giant wars—legendary wars of times immemorial. L. 28. And...Birth—all abstract themes but so basic to the welfare of humanity L. 29. I...pipings—the motif shifts to 'personal' as against 'abstract'. L. 30. vale—valley. Maenalus—a mountain in Arcadia, extending from Megalopolis to Tegea, celebrated as the favorite haunt of the god Pan. L. 31. pursued—gave a chase to. clasped—caught (by mistake). L. 32. deluded— received. L. 33. It—the reed, breaks...bosom—hurts our feelings. bleed—due to our frustration. L. 34. both—gods and men. L. 35. If...blood—if envy or old age had not made you insensitive to the finer graces of life. L. 36. At...pipings—the melancholy note of my music will infect the entire world of gods and men, making them sorrow-stricken.

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