Advancing in Poetry Advancing in Poetry    

Lesson 35: The Musical Instrument

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Performer: Librivox - Alan Davis Drake

I. What was he doing, the great god Pan,

Down in the reeds by the river?

Spreading ruin and scattering ban,

Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,

And breaking the golden lilies afloat

With the dragon-fly on the river.

II. He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,

From the deep cool bed of the river:

The limpid water turbidly ran,

And the broken lilies a-dying lay,

And the dragon-fly had fled away,

Ere he brought it out of the river.

III. High on the shore sate the great god Pan,

While turbidly flowed the river;

And hacked and hewed as a great god can,

With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,

Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed

To prove it fresh from the river.

IV. He cut it short, did the great god Pan,

(How tall it stood in the river!)

Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,

Steadily from the outside ring,

And notched the poor dry empty thing

In holes, as he sate by the river.

V. This is the way, laughed the great god Pan,

(Laughed while he sate by the river,)

The only way, since gods began

To make sweet music, they could succeed.

Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,

He blew in power by the river.

VI. Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!

Piercing sweet by the river!

Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!

The sun on the hill forgot to die,

And the lilies revived, and the dragonfly

Came back to dream on the river.

VII. Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,

To laugh as he sits by the river,

Making a poet out of a man:

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, —

For the reed which grows nevermore again

As a reed with the reeds in the river.

    Advancing in Poetry Advancing in Poetry    

Lesson 35: The Musical Instrument

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Performer: Librivox - Alan Davis Drake


Study the poem for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read or listen to the poem.
  • Review the synopsis.
  • Read about the poet.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'The Musical Instrument' describes the mythological half-human and half-goat Pan making and playing a reed down by a river. Pan makes beautiful music, but it comes at the cost of the life of the reed, which grows no more.


  1. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born in 1806 in Kelloe, Durham, England.
  2. Zoom in and find Elizabeth's country of birth, England (UK), on the map of Europe.
  3. Elizabeth was the eldest of twelve children. She had health problems growing up, including lung problems and pain in her neck.
  4. Elizabeth wrote her first poems around age 6 and published her first collection of poems around age 32.
  5. Elizabeth became well-known as a poet while still alive.
  6. Elizabeth married Robert Browning, another famous poet, in secret, for they feared her father's disapproval. When Elizabeth's father found out about the marriage, he disinherited her.
  7. Elizabeth and Robert moved to Italy, where she lived out her life.
  8. Elizabeth died of an unknown illness in Florence, Italy at age 55.
  9. Find Browning's country of death, Italy, on the map of Europe.


Activity 1: Recite Poem Information

Recite the title of the poem and the name of the poet.

Activity 2: Study the Poem Picture

Study the poem picture and describe how it relates to the poem.

Activity 3: Recite the Poem

Practice reciting the poem aloud.

Activity 4: Complete Book Activities   

  • Click the crayon above, and complete pages 224-229 of 'Elementary Poetry 4: Advancing in Poetry.'


  1. 'Elizabeth Barrett Browning.' Wikipedia. n.p.