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Poems Every Child Should Know by  Mary E. Burt

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A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT

"A Musical Instrument" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-61). This poem is the supreme masterpiece of Mrs. Browning. The prime thought in it is the sacrifice and pain that must go to make a poet of any genius.

"The great god sighed for the cost and the pain."



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.


[276]

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 flow'd the river;

And hack'd and hew'd as a great god can,

With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,

Till there was not a sign of a 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," laugh'd the great god Pan

(Laugh'd 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 reviv'd, and the dragon-fly

Came back to dream on the river.


[277]

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.


ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.


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