From the Book of Myths

by Bliss Carman




This is something that I heard,—
Half a cry and half a word,—
On a magic day in June,
In the ghostly azure noon,
Where the wind among the trees
Made mysterious melodies,
Such as those which filled the earth
When the elder gods had birth.

Ah, the world is growing old!
Of the joys it used to hold,

Love and beauty, naught have I
But the fragrant memory.

Once, ah, once, (ye know the story!)
When the earth was in her glory,
Ere man gave his heart to breed

Iron hate and heartless greed,
Near a meadow by a stream
Quiet as an ageless dream,
As I watched from the green rim
Of a beech grove cool and dim,
Musing in the pleasant shade
The soft leafy sunlight made,
What should gleam and move and quiver
Down by the clear, pebbly river,
Where the tallest reeds were growing
And the bluest iris blowing,—
Gleam a moment and then pass,
(Ah, the dare-to-love she was,
In her summer-fervid dress
Of sheer love and loveliness!)
Wayward, melting, shy, and fond,
Lissome as a bulrush wand,
Fresh as meadowsweet new-blown,
Sandal lost, and loosened zone,
Our own white Arcadian
Touched with rose and creamy tan,
Eyes the colour that might fleck
The red meadow lily’s neck,
Hair with the soft silky curl
Of some strayed patrician girl,
Beech-brown on the sunlit throat,
Cheek of tawny apricot,
Parted lips and breast aglow,—
Who but Syrinx, as ye know!

Gone, swift as a darting swallow,

What could young Pan do but follow?
(Have ye felt the warm blood leap,
When the soul awakes from sleep,
At a glance from some dark eye
Of a sudden passing by?—
Known the pulse’s hurried throb
And the breathing’s catch and sob,
When, upon his race with Death,
Life the runner halts for breath,
Taking with a happy cry
His brief draught of ecstasy?)
Call I did, with only laughter
Blown back, as I hurried after;
Till I reached the riverside,
Where I last had seen her glide
In among the reeds, and there
Lost her. But a breath of air
Moved the grass-heads, going by,
And I heard the rushes sigh.

So the chase has always proved;

And Pan never yet has loved,
But the loved one all too soon
Merged in music and was gone,—
Melted like a passing strain,
Vanished like a gust of rain
Or a footfall of the wind,
Leaving not a trace behind.
All that once was Pitys stirs
In the soft voice of the firs.
Lovers, when ye hear that sigh,
Not without a prayer pass by!
And, O lovers, when ye hear,
On a morning soft and clear,
All that once was Echo still
Wandering from hill to hill,
Breathe a prayer lest ye too stray,
Lost upon the mountain way,
And go seeking all your lives
Love, when but his ghost survives!

Then a swaying river reed

From the water, for my need,
In a dream I blindly drew,
Cut and fashioned, ranged and blew,—
Such a music as was played
Never yet since earth was made.
Shrilling, wild and dazed and thin,
All my welling heart therein
Trembled, till the piping grew
Pure as fire and fine as dew,
Till confusion was untangled
From the crowding notes that jangled,
And a new-created world
To my wonder was unfurled,
Sphere by sphere, as climbing sense
Faltered at the imminence
Of the fragile thing called soul
Just beyond oblivion’s goal,
And creation’s open door
Bade me enter and explore.

Slowly hill and stream and wood

Merged and melted, for my mood,
With the colour of the sun
In the pipe I played upon.
Slowly anger from me fell,
In the coil of that new spell
My own music laid on me,—
Like the great rote of the sea,
Like the whisper of the stream,
Like a wood bird’s sudden gleam,
Or the gusts that swoop and pass
Through the ripe and seeding grass,—
Perfect rhythm and colour cast
In the perfect mould at last.

Slowly I came back to poise,—
A new self with other joys,

Other raptures than before,
Harming less and helping more.
I could strive no more for gain;
Being was my true domain,
And the smiling peace that ever
In the end outruns endeavour.
It was not enough to do;
I must feel, but reason too,—
Find the perfect form and fashion
For the elemental passion;
Else must blemish still be hurled
On the beauty of the world,—
Gloom and clang and hate alloy
Colour, melody, and joy,
And the violence of error
Fill the earth with sound and terror.

So I felt the subtle change,
Large, enduring, keen, and strange;
And on that day long ago
I became the god ye know,

Made by music out of man.
Mow ye have the pipes of Pan,
Which ye call by Syrinx’ name,
Keeping bright a little fame
Few folk ever think upon.
Ah, but where is Syrinx gone?

As the mountain twilight stole
Through the woods from bole to bole,
A dumb warder setting free
Every shy divinity,

I became aware of each
Presence, aspen, bass, and beech;
And they all found voice and made
A green music in the shade.

Therefore, therefore, mortal man,

When ye hear the pipes of Pan,
Marvel not that they should hold
Something sad and calm and old,
Like an eerie minor strain
Running through the strong refrain.
All there is of human woe
Pan has fathomed long ago;
All of sorrow, all of ill,
Kindly Pan remembers still;
Disappointment, grief, disdain,
Stifled impulse and bleak pain,—
Pan has learned them; Pan has known
Hurts and passions of his own.

Thus Pan knows the secret hid
Under the Great Pyramid;

Why young lovers for their love
Think the stars are light enough,
And they very well may house
In the odorous fir boughs,—
Think there is no light of day
With the loved one gone away,
Use in life, nor pleasure more
By the hearth or out of door,—
Since all things begin and end
But to glad the little friend,
And all gladness is forgot
Where the little friend is not.

Thus Pan melts your human heart
With the magic of his art.
Yet, O heart-distracted man,

When you hear the pipes of Pan,
Marvel not that they should hold
Something sure and strong and bold,
Like a dominant refrain
Heartening the minor strain.

Come into the woods once more;
Leave the fire and close the door;
Trust the spirit that has made
Musical the light and shade,
Still to guard you, still to guide you,
Somewhere in the wood beside you,
Pace for pace upon the road
To your larger next abode.
Though the world should lay a finger
On your arm to bid you linger,
Ye shall neither halt nor tarry
(Little be the load ye carry!)
When ye hear the pipes of Pan
Shrill and pleading in the van.
'Tis the music that has freed you
From the old life, and shall lead you,
Gently wise and strongly fond,
To the greater life beyond.
Yet I whisper to you, "Stay;
That new life is here; to-day
Is your home, whose roof shall rise
From the ground before your eyes."

For Pan loves you and is near,
Though no music you should hear.
Hearken, hearken; it will grow,

Spite of bitterness and woe,
Clear and sweet and undistraught,
(This old earth’s impassioned thought,)
And the sorry heart shall learn
What no rapture could discern.
All the music ye have heard:
Mountain brook and orchard bird;
Fifers in the April swamp,
Fiddlers leading August’s pomp;
All the mellow flutes of June
Melting on the mating tune;
Pale tree cricket with his bell
Ringing ceaselessly and well,
Sounding silver to the brass
Of his cousin in the grass;
Hot cicada clacking by,
When the air is dusty dry;
Old man owl, with noiseless flight,
Whoo-hoo-hooing in the night;
Surf of ocean, sough of pine;
Note of warbler, sharp and fine;
Rising wind and falling rain,
Lowing cattle on the plain;
And that hardly noticed sound
When the apples come to ground,
On the long, still afternoons,
In the shelter of the dunes;
Chir and guggle, bark and cry,
Bleat, hum, twitter, coo and sigh,
Mew and belling, hoot and bay,
Clack and chirrup, croak and neigh,
Whoof and cackle, whine and creak,
Honk and chatter, caw and squeak;
Wolf and eagle, mink and moose,
Each for his own joyous use
Uttering the heart’s desire
As the season bade aspire;
Folk of meadow, crag, and dale,
Open barren and deep swale,—
Every diverse rhythm and time
Brought to order, ranged in rhyme:
All these bubbling notes once ran
Thrilling through the pipes of Pan.
Think you Pan forgets the tune
Learned beneath the slim new moon,
When these throbbings all were blent
To the dominant intent?

All the beauties ye have seen:
Autumn scarlet, young spring green;
Floating mists that drift and follow

Up the dark blue mountain hollow;
Yellow sunlight, silver spray;
The wild creatures at their play;
Through still hours the floating seed
Of the thistle and milkweed,
And the purple asters snowed
In a drift beside the road;
Swarthy fern by pebbly shoal;
Mossed and mottled beech-tree bole;
Fireflies in a dewy net,
When the summer eyes are wet;
All the bright, gay-coloured things
Buoyed in air on balanced wings;
All earth’s wonder; then the sea
In his lone immensity
Only the great stars can share,
And the life uncounted there,
Where the coral gardens lie
And the painted droves go by,
In the water-light and gloom,
Silent till the day of doom:
These have lent, as beauty can,
Colour to the pipes of Pan.

Think you Pan forgets the key
Of their primal melody,—

Phrase and motive to revive
Every drooping soul alive?

All the wilding rapture shared
With the loved one, when ye dared
(Lip to lip and knee to knee)

Force the door of destiny,—
Greatly loved and greatly gave,
Too divine to stint or save;
All the passion ye have poured
For the joy of the adored,
Spending without thought or measure
Young delight and priceless treasure,
Grown immortal in the hour
When fresh manhood came in flower;
All the ecstasy unpent
From sweet ardours finding vent
In the coming on of spring,
When the rainy uplands ring,
And the misty woods unfold
To the magic as of old;
All the hot, delicious swoon
Of the teeming summer noon,
When the year is brought to prime
By the bees among the thyme,
And each mortal heart made over
By the wind among the clover:
All these glad things ye shall find
With a free and single mind,
Dreaming eye and cheek of tan,
Lurking in the pipes of Pan.

So the forest wind went by,—
Half a word and half a sigh,—
On a magic night in June,
When the wondrous silent moon
Flooded the blue mountain clove,
And the stream in my beech grove
Uttered secrets strange and deep,
Like one talking in his sleep.

Would ye enter, maid and man,
The novitiate of Pan?

Know the secret of the strain
Lures you through the summer plain,
Guess the meaning of the thrill
Haunts you on the autumn hill?
Would ye too contrive a measure
Out of love, to fill your leisure?
Learn to fashion a flute-reed
That should answer to love’s need,
When the spirit in you cries
To be given form and guise
Others may perceive and love,
Fair and much accounted of,—
Craves to be the tenant heart
In some wild, new, lovely art,
Such as haunts the glades of spring
When the woodlands bloom and ring?

While the silver night still broods
On the mountain solitudes,
And the great white planet still
Is undimmed upon the hill,—

Ere a hint of subtile change
Steals across the purple range
To arouse the sleeping bird,—
Hear the wise old master’s word,
When he leads the pregnant notes
From the reedy golden throats,
And the traveller, in their spell,
Halts, and wonders what they tell!

Here is Pan’s green flower, the earth,
He has tended without dearth,

Brought to blossom, fruit, and seed
By the sap’s imperious need,
When the season of the sun
Sets its fervour free to run.
Sap of tree and pith of man,
Ah, but they are dear to Pan!
Not a creature stirs or moves,
But Pan heartens and approves;
Not a being loves or dies,
But Pan knows the sacrifice.
Man or stripling, wife or maid,
Pan is ever by to aid;
And no harm can come to you,
But his great heart feels it, too.

Love's use let the joiner prove

By the fit of tongue and groove;
Or the smith, whose forge's play
Stubborn metal must obey;
Let the temple-builders own,
As they mortise stone to stone;
Or the sailor, when he reeves
Sheet and halliard through the sheaves;
Or the potter, from whose wheel
Fair and finished shapes upsteal,
As by magic of command,
Guided by the loving hand.

Ye behold in love the tether
Binding the great world together;
For without that coil of wonder
The round world would fall asunder,

And your hearts be filled with sadness
At a great god’s seeming madness,
Where they now have peace, and hope,
Somewhere, somehow, time will ope,
And the loneliness be sated,
And the longing be abated
In the loved one, lovely past
All imagining at last,
Melting, fragrant, starry-eyed,
Like a garden in its pride,
Odorous with hint and rapture
Of soft joys no word can capture.

Ah, the sweet Pandean strain!
He who hears it once shall gain
Freedom of the open door,

Willling to go back no more.
When ye hear the sea pipes thunder,
Bow the loving heart in wonder;
When ye hear the wood pipes play,
Lift the door latch and away;
When ye hear the hill pipes calling,
Where the pure cold brooks are falling,
Follow till your feet have found
The desired forgotten ground,
And ye know, past all unlearning,
By the raptured quench of yearning,
What the breath is to the reed
Whence the magic notes are freed,—
What new life the gods discover
To the loved one and the lover,
When their fabled dreams come true
In the wondrous fair and new.

For the music of the earth,
Helping joy-of-heart to birth,
(Field note, wood note, wild or mellow,

Bidding all things fare and fellow,)
Means that wisdom lurks behind
The enchantment of the mind;
And your longing keen and tense
Still must trust the lead of sense,—
Hint of colour, form, and sound,—
Till it reach the perfect round,
And completed blend its strain
With the haunted pipes again.
Ye must learn the lift and thrill
That elate the wood pipes still;
Feel the ecstasy and shiver
Of the reed notes in the river;
Shudder to the minor trace
In the sea’s eternal bass,
And give back the whole heart’s treasure
To supreme the music’s measure,
Glad that love should sink and sound
All the beauty in earth’s bound.

All this loveliness which ran

Searching through the pipes of Pan,—
All this love must merge and blend
With Pan’s piping in the end.
All the knowledge ye draw near
At the ripening of the year,
Living one day at a time,
Innocent of fear or crime,
(When the mountain slopes put on
Their brave scarlet in the sun,
When the sea assumes a blue
Such as April never knew,
And the marshes, fields, and skies
Sing with colour as day dies,)
Peaceful, undistracted, free,
In your earth-born piety;
All the love when friend for friend
Dared misfortune to the end,—
Fronted failure, flouted harm,
For the sake of folding arm,—
Bravelier trod the earth, and bolder,
For the touch of hand on shoulder;
All the homely smiles and tears
Ever given childish years;
Every open, generous deed
Lending help to human need;
Every kindliness to age,
Every impulse true and sage,
Lifting concord out of strife,
Bringing beauty into life:
These no feeble faith can ban
Ever from the pipes of Pan.

Think you Pan forgets the scheme
Or the cadence of his theme?
Ah, your wit must still discover
No mere madness of a lover,

Headstrong, whimsical, and blind,
But a prompting sane and kind,
Scope and purpose, hint and plan,
Lurking in the pipes of Pan;
Calling ever, smooth and clear,
Courage to the heeding ear;
Fluting ever, sweet and high,
Wisdom to the passer-by;
Sounding ever, soft and far,
Happiness no grief can mar.

This enchantment Pan bequeaths
Unto every lip that breathes;
Cunning unto every hand
Agile under will’s command;
Unto every human heart
The inheritance of art,
Lighted only by a gleam
Of the dear and deathless dream,—
Power out of hurt and stain
To bring beauty back again,
And life’s loveliness restore
To a toiling age once more.

Yes, the world is growing old,
But the joys it used to hold,
Love and beauty, only grow

Greater as they come and go,—
Large, keener, and more splendid,
Seen to be superbly blended,
As the cadenced years go by,
Into chord and melody,
Strong and clear as ever ran
Over the rude pipes of Pan.

So the music passed and died
In the dark green mountain side;
The entranced ravine took on

A new purple, faint and wan;
And I heard across the hush
A far solitary thrush
From the hemlocks deep and still
Fluting day upon the hill.