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The Passing of Pan

Author(s): T. Inglis Moore

Source: The Australian Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Mar., 1945), pp. 76-84
Published by: Australian Institute of Policy and Science
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Accessed: 29-12-2017 20:16 UTC

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"The Passing of Pan"

It is not so many years ago that Peter Hopegood divined the

advent of the goat-god to Australia:
Wnere, in sooth, our works and days still proceed in ancient ways,
And herd and hunter, beast and tree enjoy the old fraternity,
Hither hoary Pan is fled, with His charm and with His dread,
With His honey-fluted stave, with His lore to salve and save, . . .
To the very oldest land, product of His prentice hand,
Under tawny Capricorn, cloven hoof and gnarly horn,
Here the living Pan is fled, while the Old World mourns Him dead.

Other poets hailed his coming. But no one has yet recorded his
passing, even though he took an epoch away with him. For the
phenomenon of Pan in our poetry is a story of social significance
indicating stages in Australia's cultural growth, reflecting changes in
our economy and in the national spirit which it partly conditions.
Above all, the rise and fall of Pan in our poetry shadows the relation
of Australians to Australia itself.
Thus I discern three stages in the attitude of the people, as
represented by our poets, to our country. Our earlier poets, even
when native-born, still looked on the bush with slightly alien eyes, or
through the lenses of European tradition. Furthermore, they had to
struggle against the harsh conditions of a pioneering age where the
writer was neglected and starved. Hence a strong vein of melan
choly runs through the verses of Essex Evans and Brunton Stephens,
Gordon and Kendall, Daley and Lawson. Even the bush balladists,
with the notable exception of "Banjo" Paterson, often twanged a
nostalgic lyre. The poets as a whole took their ease a bit uncom
fortably, even sadly, in this rough colonial Zion.
Paterson, however, galloped cheerily along the Castlereagh and
up the Snowy River. This was his homeland and he was at home in
it. His rhyme did not soar high, but it was sturdy and home-bred.
And from the exuberant 'nineties down to contemporary times our
best poets have treated the land as their own. True, their language
was still derivative, often infected with the artifice of the "literary"
* Author of Adagio in Blue (Poems), Emu Parade (Poems), and Six Aus
tralian Poets (literary criticism), etc.

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diction handed down by the English Romantics. Comparatively few,
like Furnley Maurice, R. D. FitzGerald, and the later Slessor, were
genuinely modern in idiom. But they painted Australia joyously as
a revelation, just as Streeton and Roberts, Gruner and Heysen dis
covered it on canvas in colours an age and a mentality removed from
Buvelot and Martens. No sombre clouds of a colonial or exiled
o?tlook darkened the azure of their indigenous skies. Pan has ar
rived, and his pipes are heard exultant from bush gullies.
The third stage of our poetry, which began, I feel, with the
depression, years and comes down to contemporary writing, has lost
this exaltation. It is the time of the passing of Pan. The poets,
like the people, have grown more thoughtful and critical of their
world. They look less at Australia and more at Australians?and
as a natural result they frequently get depressed or irritable. Our
land overflows with beauties, and it can reveal wonders of colour
and line, of space and atmosphere, which are all its own. But the
critical realist will find little that is lovely in Australian society with
its greed, dishonesty, and selfishness, its shallow materialism and
cultural poverty, its feckless want of unity or vision. In this
transition period writers are questioning, uncertain, or satirical,
and, if. affirmative in their nationalism, rather self-consciously
In the second stage of our literature, it is the natural affirmation
of life that is characteristic. The poets on the whole accept life
joyously and positively; they believe in it in a healthy, even a simple
and hearty, fashion. In Whitman's self-descriptive phrase, they,
too, are "sane and sensual to the core." To grasp this truth fully,
we have only to place the work of O'Dowd, McCrae, Shaw Neilson,
Baylebridge, Mary Gilmore, Furnley Maurice, and FitzGerald?to
mention some outstanding names?beside that of such modern
English poets as Pound, Eliot, Auden, Spender, McNeice, Bottrall,
Day Lewis, and Madge. The latter all find the times disjoint. They
immerse themselves, as Mr. Spender has acutely shown, in what
Joseph Conrad called "the destructive element." So T. S. Eliot,
truly representative of his English age, wanders around cryptically
in his Waste Land and vents "thoughts of a dry brain in a dry
season," stating (not singing)
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And, in short, I was afraid.

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So Louis MacNeice mourns:
I think things draw to an end, the soil is stale . . .
The jaded calendar revolves,
Its nuts need oil, carbon chokes the valves.

But out in the antipodes, far from these ditherers, Hugh McCrae
strides lustily as a follower of Pan, chortling
I blow my pipes, the glad birds sing,
The fat young nymphs about me spring,
I am the lord,
I am the lord,
I am the lord of everything!

This Australian affirmation expresses itself in two striking ways?

sun-worship and homage to Pan. Book after book of Aijstralian
poetry calls on the sun right away with their titles?Satyrs amd Sun
light, To Meet the Sun, Sun-Freedom, Corroboree to the Sun. Fitz
Gerald begins his song by the cheerful shout: "I go to meet the sun
with singing lips." Even Chris Brennan, for all his Celtic twilight
and symbolist glooms, starts the first piece of his collected poems by
hyming "the Sungod's glow" and invokes the tirhe
when in my soul first moved
desire to breathe in one
love, song and sun.

Jack Lindsay celebrates Elioth Gruner by crying

And all the roads of earth, its dewy ways
Lead only to the sun,
Upwards for ever.

In this Australian chcvnson de joie earth joins with sun, giving

the airy rapture a warm-bodied richness, a sappy lustiness that
laughs at all "thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season." The poets
are pagans and turn spontaneously to the Greek gods for their
symbols of expression. Thus Baylebridge sees Christianity being
entombed while
Redeemed again, High Pagan hails the turn.

McCrae praises Norman Lindsay as "our eagle-eyed Olympian," who

brings new colours,
And gloriously crowned
With roses round
Athens makes Grecian ground
Of her Antipodes . . .
Ionian seas
Sing through our Southern trees.

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Bernard O'Dowd sees Australia as a new Hellas, and pictures Alma
Venus, as universal goddess of Love, active in Australia. FitzGerald
the intellectualist naturally writes his ode to "the Greater Apollo,"
lord of light and reason. But these are exceptions. Dorothy Mackel
lar revealed a sound intuition when she declared that it is the lesser
spirits of Hellas that haunt our ways, and
Of the great gods only Pan walks hourly here?Pan only!
In the warm, dark gullies, in the thin clear upland air,
On the windy sea-cliffs and the plains apart and lonely,
By the tingling silence you may know that he is there.
Ken Slessor discovers him at Lane Cove and announces:

Now earth is ripe for Pan again,

Bararic ways and paynim rout,
And revels of old Samian men,
0 Chiron, pipe thy centaurs out!

Baylebridge also pays the god homage on his return to earth in his
"Palingenesis of Pan":
Pan shall now returned be,
Past his former majesty?
Healthy, holy, honest Pan,
Broadening out the breath in man.
Who hath said that Pan is dead,
And his lieges lapped in lead?
From this breathing foliage round me,
From the vital hills that bound me,
From the earth, the sky, the sea,
A spirit doth commune with me!
It has found the wide and deep
Where the holies dwelling keep!

Brennan sees Pan alive in the bush, whether disappearing

With chuckle of laughter in his thicket-beard,
And rustle of scurrying faun-feet,

or?in another mood of rejection yet admission?when man

rare traveller, feels, athwart the knitted bale
watching, now lord of loathly deaths that creep,
maliciously the senile leer of Pan.

The quotations could be multiplied from our poets in their greetings

to Pan, but it is enough, at this point, to close with Peter Hopegood,
mystic and symbolist, who has poured out the deepest libation to our
favourite god. In his autobiography "Peter Lecky" he has described
powerfully his experience of the Pan-force as a reality in the wild
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West Australian country, as a spirit perceptible and dynamic stamp
eding the cattle?Pan making pamic. In his poem "Austral Pan" he
celebrates the original Pan as an elemental force living regenerated
in Australia:
He seeks again his ancient haunts,
A squatter born, a squatter bred, with horns, Himself, upon his head,
His steps outback with glee are bent. He snuffs the saltbush with content
The deeper for his knowledge sure, His ancient ways and works endure.

So Pan caine to Australia and flourished. Why? There are two

answers, I think. The first is that our poets have expressed the
deepening paganism of Australians. The religious habits and beliefs
brought here by our forefathers have weakened, as the Christian
Churches themselves so frequently repeat. The loosening of the old
bonds was even noticeable at the beginning of this century when
A. G. Stephens?keenest and most penetrating of our literary critics
?wrote in a volume punningly but aptly termed The Red Pagan:
"And upon religion, as upon everything else, the spirit, of Australia
?that undefined, indefinable resultant of earth, and air, and con
ditions of climate and life?has seized; modifying, altering, increas
ing, or altogether destroying. In the case of religious belief the
tendency is clearly to destruction . . . partly, it seems, because the
Australian environment is unfavorable to the growth of religion."
This contention appears to be sound. Our poets of the second stage
are generally pagan and even anti-religious. They feel, it seems
that the hard exclusiveness of orthodox religion and the ascesticism
of Pauline Christianity are denials of their own Australian senti
ments of easy-going tolerance and full-blooded joy in life. They are
naturally vitalists who champion what Baylebridge terms "This Vital
Flesh" against the traditional dualism of body and soul.
In this affirmation of pagan delight our poet turns to the pagan
symbols, partly because they express his spirit so aptly, and partly,
no doubt, because he needs new symbols to "humanise" or "spirit
ualise" his environment in place of the religious ones which he had
discarded. In an article some years ago (Australian National
Review, June, 1938) Professor A. R. Chisholm, after declaring that
the European landscape had been "humanised," suggested: "In Aus
tralia the landscape is not yet 'old' enough to have undergone this pro
cess of humanisation, and for this reason the Australian poet is desti
tute of one of the commonest sources of inspiration." Applying this

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theory to Hugh McCrae, he explains his "falling back on the Greek
past" and other pasts as merely forms of escape from Australia?
"refuges from a poetically insufficient reality." Now I would put
it quite differently and proclaim rather that with the poets mentioned
the Hellenic gods?and notably Pan?are not mechanisms of escape
but something far deeper, far truer. They are universals. They
are realities. So, too, we as Australians are something far deeper
than British or transplanted Europeans. We are human beings,
legatees of the past of the human race, heirs to the myths and symbols
of all ages and all lands. There is no need for' the Australian poet
to use his landscape as a key; rather the gods are the keys to the
world of nature, symbols expressing realities, ubiquitous and time
less. They are embodiments of forces as vital in Sydney and
Melbourne as in Athens or London, as dynamic in the Australian
bush as in the forests of Hellas. When creatively realised here they
are indigenous because universal. They are as much ours as Shake
speare's. As O'Dowd demanded:
Who fenced the nymphs in European vales?
Or Pan tabooed from all but Oxford dreams?

Marie Pitt, too, prophesied to Australia:

The gods shall come again, not shrined ascetic
Nor swagman, poring still the wayside page,
Nor seer nor sibyl know the hour prophetic
That brings the coming of thy golden age.
When southern Sigurds forth thy Fafnirs drive,
Australia Felix, shall the gods arrive.
With McCrae the gods have come, and he can say
O often have I seen in these new days
The deathless gods . . .
alive, and singing in the woods.

Here he is not trying to escape from Australia. He is realising

Australia as well as himself, giving it spiritual extensions, human
ising and spiritualising our land. We do not say that Keats and
Shakespeare were mere escapists, running away from themselves and
"a poetically insufficient" England because they visioned Hyperion
or saw Venus bending over Adonis. Why, then, adopt a different
logic with McCrae?or any other Australian poet who brings the
old gods back to earth? In short, the gods in Australian poetry are
not a refuge, but a vital expression; not a flight but a discovery.
Going deeper, we can see how naturally, perhaps inevitably,

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Pan came to us. He is the earth-god, fleshly, primitive, a trinity
of the animal, human, and divine. He is robust, affirming life,
sense-delighting yet conscious of pain and suffering. He is in
fact, typically Australian. Such a pagan god is the right symbol
for Australia?especially for the Australia between the 'nineties of
last century and the depression of this. Its people had little liking
for the intellectual, the artistic, or the spiritual; they could not sing
of Apollo or Hermes or Christ. No; they were?as they still are for
the most part?affirmers of physical delight and primitive strength.
Their heroes and prototypes are the strong, sun-bronzed Anzacs
whom Masefield saw on Gallipoli striding as pagan gods or the lusty
life-savers marching on the beaches. And so a poem like Peter
Hopegood's "Austral Pan" advanced our poetry to a more developed
national stage because it expressed consciously the Australian type
and divined the force of our land shaping our people. So, too, Bayle
bridge in his National Notes declared that "Our goal shall be .
the overrunning of Earth with Australians, strong, hot-necked,
natural men."

The praise of Pan by our poets manifested, therefore, Australia's

masculine vitality, born of the country and its society. It is the
natural fruit springing out of Australian earth, warmed and ripened
by our Australian sun. Just as the more complex, misty intellectual
quest?of the modern English poets dissolves in our sun-bright
air, so our closeness to earth made us earthy and vital, turning us
to vitalism, naturalism, and the earth-god. Even in our crowded
cities it is but a comparative stone's throw to sun-bright beach or
bush. We are an earth-people and hence affirmative. In England,
on the other hand, the malaise that drained the red blood from
English Poetry was really the vampire of industrialisation, which
flies in the night of cities and factories and machines. It comes
upon man when he is urbanised and mechanised?and it tends to
conquer poetry. For poetry is our great Antaeus; it draws its
strength from the earth, and when that foothold is lost, poetry is
lost too. The English poets themselves felt this truth. Eliot sym
bolised the disillusionment of his time by calling it "The Waste
Land." Auden writes:
'O where are you going?' said reader to rider,
'That valley is fatal where .furnaces burn.,

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MacNeice puts it that
There is no pinpoint in any of the ordnance maps
To save you when your towns and town-bred thoughts collapse.

Spender is more explicit still

Watch me who walk through coiling streets where rain
And fog drowns every cry: at corners of day
Road drills explore new avenues of pain,
Nor summer nor light may reach down here to play.
The city builds its horrors in my brain,
This writing is my only wings away.

Till the depression, Australia was only an empty land, not a

Waste Land. She was not lifted off her feet by the industrial revolu
tion. She was still a country of spaces, still healthy, natural, and
joyous because close to nature. So the poet in the Sydney metropolis
did not grow old and wear the bottoms of his trousers rolled like
Eliot or be afraid when the Eternal Footman held his coat; he merely
kept young by going surfing where, as FitzGerald phrases it, "the
untiring Sun" (worshipped with a capital S) summons his dancers
on Manly sands as "squanderers of mirth."
All this is still largely true. But the depression made Australia
nationally conscious of her economy. It drove home the extent to
which the society had become industrialised. It struck at the very
roots of our joyous, unthinking^ affirmation of physical life. It dis
placed earth by dragging the city, the factory, and the machine into
the focus of national consciousness. The pipes of Pan could not be
blown again so blithely. Australian poetry?or the people which it
expresses?could not be lighthearted again in the same oldxway after
the misery, poverty, and demoralisation brought about by unemploy
ment on a large scale. How could a worker out of a job for years cry
happily with McCrae:
Live! Let us live and love each other through,
Ours is the love of lusty hardihood.

The depression made Australians do something strange and queer

for them?for the first time it made them think. They even found
Public Libraries and started to read books, looking for clues to solve
the harsh problems of society and economics which had been thrust
upon them so closely. They began to talk in terms of class warfare.
In the decade since the depression the process of industrialisation
has gone on apace, speeded remarkably in the last five years by the

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demands of a mechanised war. The "drift to the cities" has in
creased. Australia has become urbanised more and more. The
people tend to become further divorced from nature, alien to our
earth itself. And all the ferment of this transitional period has
reflected itself in our poetry. Examine the volumes of verse pub
lished in the last decade. Scrutinise the pages of recent anthologies
of Australian verse, of Meanjin Papers, Angry Penguins, and the
publications of the Jindyworobak Club. There is still affirmation,
and the Australian poet has not yet lost his healthy positivism.
There is a renaissance of national fervour, a strong preoccupation
with our national problems and ideals. Both social and class con
sciousness have become quickened and intensified.
Most striking, however, is the change from the temper of the
poets in the preceding half-century. It has lost the earth-given
delight in the mere living and is troubled instead to answer the
queries raised by our social defects and ills. The land is no longer
a thing of beauty which is a joy for ever. It is rather a problem
of present and future soil erosion and primary production. The
immediate has replaced the immortal. The eternal symbol of the
timeless mythos has been discarded. The gods are gone. Pan is
dead. The depression struck him a mortal blow. Industrialisation
and the class war gave him the coup-de-gr?ce. A war-busy and
class-torn Australia has not even noticed his passing.
The trouble with Pan, however, is that he dies only to be born
again. Even soil erosion and coal strikes cannot kill the deathless
gods. And somehow I fancy that Austral Pan will reappear again,
because there is still so much of his spirit in the true Australian.
When a new order comes, in some healthier, happier age than our
own, there may be also a second coming of the earth-god.


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