In Algernon Charles Swinburne's lyric poem, "A Nympholept," the speaker attempts to reconcile the dual nature of God. God's benevolence fills the still silence of the brightly lit noon: "The perfume of earth possessed by the sun pervades/ The chaster air that he soothes but with sense of sleep." However, a sense of tension underlies the dream like peace of the afternoon hinting at God's ability to destroy. Thus, the speaker feels both fear and love for God, Pan. "If death do service and doom bear witness to thee — / We see not, — know not if blood for thy lips be wine."

Unlike Christianity's God, who evokes similar feelings, Pan's "likeness is here at hand."

I seek not heaven with submission of lips and knees,
With worship and prayer for a sign till it leap to light:
I gaze on the gods above me, and call on these.

Pan is everywhere and in all things: from man's soul to waves on the ocean from the most horrible to the most peaceful. Thus, however shackled by man's innate blindness, with contemplation and dreams, Pan may be perceived. "And yet, if with steadfast mind,/ Perchance may we find thee and know thee at last for God." Heaven becomes earth and earth becomes heaven as both are products of Pan.

Questions

1. Rather than in "Evening on the Broads," where the speaker observes nature from a distance, here, the speaker is in nature itself. Indeed, it is through his proximity to nature that he perceives Pan. How does these different treatments of nature contribute to the speakers' spiritual states?

2. Near the end of the poem, the speaker seems to perceive Pan: "A form, a face, a wonder to sense and sight,/ Grows great as the moon through the month; and her eyes embolden/ Fear, till it change to desire, and desire to delight." Is this Pan? How does the ambiguity fit into the poem? Does it?

3. If Swinburne was an atheist, why did he choose to write a poem about man's desire to recognize God?

4. How is Pan depicted as different from other Gods who "endure for a season"? Why is this significant?


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Last modified 5 November 2006