Ode to Pan: by John Keats - Summary & Analysis

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      The Ode to Pan is included in the Endymion which is the story of the love of the shepherd Endymion and the moon-goddess Cynthia. This song is chanted at the time of the rustic festival by the friends of young Endymion while the priest worships Pan. It is said that Keats was influenced by Chapman’s Homeric Hymn to Paw and Drayton’s Man in the Moon. Other possible sources of inspiration are Ben Jonson’s Pen’s Anniversary and Fletcher’s Faithful Shepherdess. Keats addresses Pan in his different capacities as guardian of the fields and forests and the patron of arts and learning.

Summary

      The Ode sung in praise of Pan—the god of the shepherds begins with a description of his dwelling place It is made of tree trunks in the midst of flowers and birds and the place is full of wood-nymphs who are watched by the god, In these surroundings, Pan remembers his own love for Syrinx whom he chased and who changed into a seed. Pan is then addressed as the god flies, insects, birds, flowers and fruits which contribute their mite to their worship of him. He is the guardian-angel of gardens and forests. The birds sing songs to welcome him and the breeze blows to help the flowers blossom and the fruits ripen.

Friend of Fauns and Satyrs

      Pan is the guardian angel of the spirits of the forests, the rivers and seas. As such, Fauns and Satyrs offer him their service in protecting the hares and the lambs from eagles and rescuing the shepherds from the clutches of evil spirits. The sea-nymphs, in order to offer amusement and relaxation to Pan, throw sea shells at one another and giggle and run in merriment. Sometimes the wood-nymphs and the sea-nymphs gather the apple cones and throw them at one another, laughing all the time and their laughter is heard in the cave and the hills.

Protector of crops

      Pan admires the bleating and the shearing of the lambs and blows his horn to scare away the wild boars who destroy crops. Moreover, Pan protects the crops from damage through frost, blight or excessive rain; he sounds the horn to prevent the forest-spirits from damaging the corn.

God of universal knowledge

      Pan is the deity of the universe and as such a store-house of universal knowledge, an expert in the understanding of all mysteries and a fountain-head of all types of learning. He is the source of inspiration to philosophers and scholars and a patron of the men of arts. The devotees ultimately request Pan to accept their worship and devotion.

      Keats here represents Pan not only as of the god of shepherds and rural life, but also as the spirit of knowledge and the spirit of the universe. Wordsworth on listening to the poem called it "a very pretty piece of paganism". There is no doubt that the poet has captured the old world atmosphere, the Hellenic environment and Greek paganism as well as the mysticism of the rural environment.

Style

      This is a poem of five stanzas of fifteen lines each. Each stanza ends with an invocation or greeting to Pan. This is one of the beautiful poems showing Keats’s love of nature and mythology. The various roles assigned to Pan not only show the versatility of the god but also his concern for human welfare. Keats, however, does not clarify the mysterious thoughts and questions of which Pan is said to be the originator or inspirer. However, the poem is remarkable for its evocation of an atmosphere, of a mood which is both comforting and satisfying. The Hellenic spirit which inspired Keats’s poetry throughout his life is expressed here in precise vivid terms. In this connection, A.R. Weekes observes: “The world of Greek paganism lives again in Keats’s verse, with all frank sensuousness and joy of life, with all the mysticism and deep, hearted questioning of the natural world. More intensely than even Shelley, the pantheist, Keats, looks back and lives again in the time. The poem is to be enjoyed for its Arcadian atmosphere and rural ethos.

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