A Musical Instrument

A Musical Instrument Summary and Analysis of Stanzas 5 - 7


Stanza Five

Stanza five begins with Pan speaking for the first time. Addressing no one in particular, Pan declares the reason for cutting and notching the reed. Sitting and laughing by the river, he proclaims that cutting the reed is the only way to make music. Since gods first began to make beautiful music, they found that the only way to do so was by fashioning such a reed. After this statement, the speaker resumes narrating once again and reveals that Pan then plays his new musical instrument.

Stanza Six

The speaker’s tone makes a sudden shift once again in stanza six. The stanza’s overall tone is jubilant and rapturous, unlike the rest of the poem. The speaker is in awe of the beautiful music Pan creates, repeating the word “sweet” for emphasis. The speaker addresses Pan directly in a reverent tone, repeating that he is indeed a great god. The music seems to have entranced the speaker.

The speaker then describes the effect of the music on the surrounding nature. The music is so beautiful that the sun fails to set; rather, it remains in the sky and shines even brighter than before. The once-dying lilies revive and find their vitality again. Lastly, the dragonfly returns to the river to “dream”—he too is enchanted by the lovely music and is caught in a reverie.

Stanza Seven

In the last stanza, the speaker completes the narrative. The speaker reminds the reader that Pan is only half a god; he is also half beast. While Pan has fashioned an instrument which makes beautiful music, the speaker insinuates that the fact that he continues to sit and laugh by the river makes him a beast and less holy than the true gods.

By making the flute, Pan elevated the status of man to that of a poet who brings beauty into the world. However, the true gods view Pan's actions differently than does Pan himself. They regret that Pan caused so much destruction to nature to produce the beautiful music. They know that nature suffered dearly, and the reed that Pan transformed is forever destroyed and removed from the other reeds that were left in peace.


Pan is given a voice for the first time in stanza five, and he appears to be proud and confident. Once again depicted as a “great god,” his power seems more evident than ever as he justifies his actions by referring to his godly status. His laughing in the first line suggests a carefree attitude; he carries no guilt over harming the reed. In the second line, the speaker briefly interjects with an aside in parentheses once again, this time clarifying that Pan is still sitting by the river. By repeating the term “laughing,” the speaker seems to emphasize his carelessness.

In the third and fourth lines of stanza five, Pan justifies his behavior by explaining that what he has done is simply the way of the gods. Since gods first existed, they have known that “this” is the way to create lovely music. While the use of “this” is ambiguous, the reader may assume that Pan is referring to the act of creating the flute. He declares the creation of his instrument a success, suggesting an arrogant air. He feels no remorse for what he has done. On the contrary, he reminds anyone who will listen that his way is a god’s way, and that he has succeeded in his mission. Viewed through the lens of the myth, one might say that Pan feels no guilt over harming Syrinx. He has possessed her, and he declares it as the way things have always been. From a feminist perspective, it may be interpreted as Pan saying that male domination of females is historic and the way things are simply supposed to be. He is entitled to pursue his desire for beauty, and it does not matter what this may cost the female victim. In the last two lines, the poem picks up its song-like rhythm once again as the speaker continues to narrate. By stating that Pan blows the new flute in “power,” the speaker confirms his overall strength. Pan is, after all, a half-god, and he has the power to do as he pleases.

In stanza six, it initially appears that the speaker has become enchanted with Pan’s music. In the stanza's opening line the skepticism and disdain of earlier stanzas seem to have vanished. By repeating the word “sweet” three times, the speaker makes her joy obvious. However, a closer look at the diction in the second and third lines suggests a somewhat contradictory and even ironic tone. The speaker describes the music as “piercing sweet,” contrasting a positive term with one that suggests pain. The word “piercing” conjures the earlier image of the reed being notched, suggesting that the beauty of the sound emanating from the flute is still tainted by the violence involved in its creation.

In line three, the speaker uses another seemingly contradictory phrase: “blinding sweet.” While light can be blinding in its brightness, the idea of blinding also conjures a violent image. The lovely music is overpowering, just as one might be shocked by blinding. The juxtaposition of these words gives the speaker an ironic tone, leaving the reader unsure whether the music is actually as beautiful and harmonious as it initially seems to be.

In the last three lines of stanza six, the speaker exaggerates the effect of the music. Assuming that the sun would have faded with the destruction of the reed, the speaker is instead thrilled to exclaim that the sun “forgot to die.” In other words, life carries on just the same; it has even gotten stronger, as if by some miracle the music stopped the normal progression of the sun and prolonged, even strengthened, the daylight. In addition, the once-frail and dying lilies have come back to life. The dragonfly that was once scared of all the commotion returns to “dream” pleasantly on the river. The last three lines of the stanza may allude to the artistic process, in that the destruction of extraneous material is often necessary to arrive at a final, perfected result. Just as a poet must pare down their words, or a sculptor chip away at a block of stone, Pan tortures the reed to create a flute that will produce beautiful music. On another level, one might interpret this stanza as pointing to the hypocrisy and duality of human nature. Humans have the ability to do great things, but many times people have little regard for the cost of arriving at those achievements. Pan justifies his behavior by praising his flute, while some might say that the music was produced at the cost of nature or even an innocent being (Syrinx). There may be beauty present, but there is also pain and destruction.

The ecstatic joy of the previous stanza subsides in stanza seven. The speaker’s tone shifts to one of sadness and regret. With the use of the word “yet,” the speaker draws the reader’s attention to the fact that this beautiful music has come with a cost. The speaker’s reminder that Pan is “half a beast” has a deeper meaning than the mere fact that he is part animal. The speaker seems to imply that Pan’s actions were that of a beast, or someone with no conscience. Despite all the destruction he has caused, he continues to laugh away by the river.

The speaker then states that Pan has made “a poet out of a man.” In other words, he is no ordinary human being and has elevated the role of a human to that of a poet who creates beauty. However, the colon following this line leads to the true gods’ reaction to this act: They are not happy with the outcome. The “true gods” are the holiest ones who are more benevolent than the half-god Pan, and all they can do is “sigh” at his behavior. They believe in protecting their creation: nature. While Pan’s flute music may be lovely, they lament the “cost and pain” of his actions. He created the flute at the cost of his natural surroundings, and he caused great pain to the creatures there. In particular, they mourn the loss of the innocent reed that will never grow again. It has lost its life, just as a tormented or abused woman might lose her life or soul after a violation of her body. The reed has been forever separated from the other reeds and will never thrive again. As a reflection on the artistic process or human nature, the poem’s conclusion may also be interpreted as a reminder that all beauty comes with a cost. If a person exploits another for personal gain, there is a cost to that victim. If a poet or artist attempts to create a great work, the person may suffer in the process. And if Victorians idealized women as merely lovely creatures, these women suffered as they were not recognized for their intellect, and thus were confined by strict social codes.