The narrator of Oscar Wilde's "Pan" bemoans what he perceives as the degradation of contemporary society. Yet he does not speak of returning to a time of purity and morality—rather, the period he has in mind recalls the days of liveliness and even impropriety. The narrator beseeches Pan, the Greek god of fertility, to leave his Arcadian paradise and restore England to a state of vivacity it now lacks. Pan represents a world of color and life, into which the narrator hopes he will transform England:

Nor through the laurels can one see
Thy soft brown limbs, thy beard of gold,
And what remains to us of thee?

And dull and dead our Thames would be,
For here the winds are chill and cold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!

With the use of the word "remains," as well as by referring to shepherds who "no more . . . in glee Throw apples at thy wattled fold," the narrator conveys the sense that Pan once figuratively graced England and the world of men but has not appeared in quite some time. Now the narrator reaches out to Pan and pleads for his help in bringing modern society back into an age of hedonism and out of a bleak existence:

This fierce sea-lion of the sea,
This England lacks some stronger lay,
This modern world hath need of thee!

Then blow some trumpet loud and free,
And give thine oaten pipe away,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This modern world hath need of thee!

The world of Wilde's narrator needs a reminder to relax and engage in self-indulgence. Pan, with his perverse methods, seems to the narrator the appropriate mediator for this cause.

Questions

1. Wilde wrote "Pan" in the form of a double villanelle, which allows for the repetition of several lines in the poem. What does this repetition add to the sense of the poem as a whole?

2. Like "Pan," Ernest Dowson's "Extreme Unction" also deals with the idea of death and renewal:

From troublous sights and sounds set free;
In such a twilight hour of breath,
Shall one retrace his life, or see,
Through shadows, the true face of death?

How cyclical are these two poems? If the narrator of "Extreme Unction" goes from a state of decadence to atonement, does a chance of his reversion to former pleasure-seeking ways exist? Does "Pan" contradict or reinforce this?

3. Does the narrator mean to imply that Pan always possesses sovereignty over humans? If so, does Wilde intend to portray the request for Pan's return as paralleling a desire for the Second Coming of Christ?

4. Most, if not all, of the real world locations mentioned in "Pan" refer to England, possibly London in particular. Wilde spent much of his adult career in the London area but was Irish by birth. Does his focus on England in the poem hint at concerned disdain for his new country's habits, or is his criticism harsher and less well-meaning? Did national loyalty even matter to him, both in general and in writing "Pan?"

References

Sawhney, Paramvir '07. "Entendre? Jano's faces in Oscar Wilde's 'Pan — Double Villanelle,'" Brown University 2006.


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Last modified 26 April 2009