As the title 'Pan — Double Villanelle' might suggest, the poem self-consciously uses doubling or intentionally equivocating to advance an ironic stance from which the poet implores Pan, the Greek god of fertility, to come back to a world that seems to be lacking his virility and vitality. The poem is situated in 'this modern world' 'grey and old' where 'no more shepherd lads in glee' throw apples at the god, a world where London's river Thames is seen as 'dull' and 'dead' and 'winds are chill and cold'. Wilde sarcastically reminds us that
This is the land where liberty
Lit grave-browed Milton on his way, . . .
A land of ancient chivalry
Where gentle Sidney saw the day,
and he laments that
This fierce sea-lion of the sea,
This England lacks some stronger lay . . .
Milton and Sidney both being writers who in their poetry contrasted the pagan, pastoral world of Pan's Arcadia with their idealized conceptions of Christian and courtly England. So Wilde begins by asking Pan 'what remains to us of thee?' and then begs him to 'leave the hills of Arcady!', ending with 'this modern world hath need of thee!'.
Wilde's irony is not merely groping at revivalist or romantic ideology. Needless to say it is ironic that the modern world needs a figure from its antiquitated past and that Wilde's predecessors are being mocked for their idealism. But more importantly, like Vivian in 'The Decay of Lying' ,who is 'prepared to prove anything' and who uses dramatic utterances for effect, here too Wilde plays the Iagoesque villain simulating for the mere fun of it. The title of the poem is tongue-in-cheek and so are the heroic exclamations — 'O goat-foot God of Arcady!' — and if the poem regrets one thing it is the pitiful seriousness of the Victorians.
1. Is the poem a good support for the argument explained in 'The Decay of Lying'?
2. How does the poem compare to other pieces which use mythology such as Swinburne's 'Hertha'?
3. How ambiguous is the poem? Does the poet seem to have any argument at all?
4. Sarcasm is an important device for the poem? What other devices does it use?
5. What reasons do you think Wilde had for criticising the modern world and was his criticism simply aesthetic?
Last modified 29 November 2006