Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I have been working on a long poem about Marsyas and the great goat god-Pan.

Pan is the son of Hermes and I have been thinking about this god for a long time.

Recently, my mother sent me a large notebook that I left at her home in 1972. The notebook is full of poems, stories, and essays that I wrote between the ages of seventeen and twenty.

Within this collection of very embarrassing juvenilia is a series of poems about Pan.

In the poems Pan visits me and becomes my guide. It was obvious that he was a counter balance to the Christian Fundamentalism of my family. At the time I was considering entering the seminary.

Pan was the perfect guide to a young man, who feared he was about to be drafted at any moment and sent to Vietnam. Pan is the god of panic and brutish sexuality. For centuries he has stood as God’s shadow in his Christian form- Satan.

At that time, in the late sixties, I needed to reach a balance; I needed something that offset the repression of our church and the demands of my body. Pan was a sensualist and a perfect image for what I was looking for-compensation and attachment to the physical world.

Pan is Hermes’ son and Hermes as we have seen is not afraid of his more sensual side. Hermes is not a god of repression; he is a messenger and a connector. His son is an extension of the earthy side of the god, a representation of the god’s carnal propensities, and an inhabitant of the forest and the glens.

The story of Pan is set forth succinctly in The Homeric Hymns, translated by Jules Cashford, Penguin Books, 2003.

The mythologem begins with Hermes providing service to a human, a mortal man, a shepherd, because he has fallen in love with” the nymph with the beautiful hair, daughter of Dryops.”

The nymph gives birth to Pan, “who from the first was marvelous to look upon with goat’s feet and two horns, loving noise and laughing sweetly.”

The gods love this child but the human mother is terrified. As soon as she caught sight of his harsh face and his thick beard she was terrified and left the child alone.

The human abhors the animal. The god embodies both sides of man-his rational human side as well as his animal, irrational side. The gods love the creature and think he is beautiful, horns and all.

My poem on Marsyas is eight hundred lines. I am including the first four stanzas.

Marsyas, virtuoso of the twin flute,
Cybele’s invention, carved from the shins
Of Artemis’ sacred stag, by Hyagnis,
Dances within a ripe green circumference
A jig with Silenoi, round and round
In a frenetic gyre, and awaits his god
To release the Sylvans from their pale fire
Of ruddy greed and un-sated desire.

Pan, horned god, whose features are so horrid,
That the young midwives flee his countenance
Crawls from a distant cave, on a high ledge,
Above the snow line, overlooking
A clearing in the resinous Grecian pines,
Where in the center burns a merry fire
And Sylvan folk dance to pipe and stringed lyre.

Pan squints hooded eyes and sniffs the frosted air
And catches the musk of the rough sylvan folk and
Detects the blond curly nymphs, the red curled fur
Of the Silenoi, northern tribe of goat
Men, who dance on their hinds, tripping on hoofs,
Of cloven leather, wood nymphs, with pointed ears,
And musicians playing sweet notes from flute,
The many reeded Syrinx, and the charmed lute.

Pan, the son of Hermes, gods’ messenger,
Gazes down upon the forest revelers
And steels himself for the task before him
To descend the mountain high, to relieve
The tension of the pagan ritual down below,
To find the vaunted maestro of the glade
To guide him to the magic flute soon lost
And to his death where wyrd will dissect cost.

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