A Musical Instrument

A Musical Instrument Themes

The exploitation of women

The myth behind the poem represents the pursuit of male desire. When Syrinx rejects Pan, she is turned into a reed in order to escape his advances. However, Pan finds the reed and, in a highly destructive manner, hollows it out to make his flute. The poem may be read as a representation of the male desire to oppress and exploit women. Browning disapproved of Victorian ideals regarding women, namely that they should be meek and passive and revered for their beauty rather than their intellect. By overpowering the reed (Syrinx), Pan possesses her and symbolically takes advantage of her for his own pleasure. The underlying tone is a sexual one, and Syrinx is reduced to being an object of pleasure.

The beauty and pain of art’s creation

By the poem’s conclusion, Pan has created a musical instrument with which he can make beautiful music. However, he first disturbs and destroys nature to do so. One may read the poem as a description of the artistic process, just as a poet or an artist may have to suffer through many attempts in order to create something of true meaning and beauty.

The duality of human nature

As rational beings, humans differ from other animals. When humans cause destruction, they may do it for the purpose of gaining pleasure and are also conscious of their actions. This contradictory tendency to destroy for the purpose of creating something meaningful is the duality of human nature. We are intelligent beings capable of finding solutions to problems, yet we are equally capable of destroying the very things we have created or might otherwise be able to leave alone if we chose to do so.