A Musical Instrument

A Musical Instrument Character List


The main character in the poem is Pan, a half-god. He is depicted in both Greek mythology and Ovid’s Metamorphoses as half-goat and half-man. He is the god of the shepherds, hunting, and rustic music and he attempts to court the nymph Syrinx. When Syrinx refuses him and flees, she is turned into a reed. It is this reed that Pan uses to construct his pipe, the musical instrument. In the poem, Pan represents many concepts. He symbolizes the duality of mankind and human nature as both good and evil, as he creates beautiful music by destroying nature. His creation also represents the duality of art, as art can be both destructive and beautiful in its process of creation and in its final result. Lastly, he represents male oppression of females, as he harms and exploits the transformed nymph (now a reed) in order to console himself and create an object of pleasure. As a figure who is part god, part man, and part animal, he encompasses the lofty ideals people strive for in life (beauty, love, faith) as well as the recklessness and destruction that animals and humans cause.

The dragonfly

The dragonfly is mentioned in three stanzas of the poem. Initially, it is resting peacefully on the river. When Pan charges along the river and disrupts everything in his immediate surroundings, the dragonfly is startled and flees. Eventually, the dragonfly returns in the sixth stanza once Pan has constructed his pipe. The dragonfly represents the effect of art’s creation. It is disturbed by Pan’s reckless stomping, which makes it flee the quiet river. However, by the poem’s conclusion, it appears enchanted by the music, settling into a quiet reverie back on the river.

The true gods

The true gods described in the final stanza look down upon Pan with a critical eye. They appear to lament the fact that to create music, Pan needed to destroy nature. The term “true” implies that Pan is lesser than them—less holy and wise. Despite Pan’s lovely music, the true gods only see his destruction of nature with sadness.