Last Updated on May 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327
The main character of this poem is the faun of the title, who narrates the poem. A faun is a mythological creature that is half man (on top) and half goat (on the bottom). This faun evidently fell asleep near a marshy stream somewhere in Sicily, and he...
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The main character of this poem is the faun of the title, who narrates the poem. A faun is a mythological creature that is half man (on top) and half goat (on the bottom). This faun evidently fell asleep near a marshy stream somewhere in Sicily, and he either had been dreaming of two nymphs just as he awoke, or he saw two nymphs near him when he awoke, but they fled. He is not sure which is the case, because, either way, the nymphs seem to be gone.
Though he is just waking up, he is feeling very amorous because the nymphs were very beautiful. He is a descendant, as a faun, of the nature god Pan, who was also associated with sex. In fact, the faun recalls the story of Syrinx, a chaste nymph who was so desired by Pan that he chased her near the stream. When she begged the water nymphs to help her, they changed her into the reeds that now grow there so that Pan could not rape her. He then cut some of those reeds in order to make his famous pipe, a flutey type of instrument consisting of reeds of varying lengths tied together side-by-side. This faun seems as lusty as Pan.
The Two Nymphs
The two nymphs may only be a dream or may exist in reality. If they were real, they likely did well to flee the scene of the faun's nap before he was awake enough to pursue them. Nymphs are mythological female creatures who inhabit natural places, like woods or bodies of water. They are always very beautiful, and gods and men alike often desire them. The nymphs spotted, or dreamed, by the faun are likewise beautiful and inspire lustful feelings within him; however, he does note that one of them seemed rather cold, while the other seemed much more warm and alive to the nature around her. They never do return to the scene.
Last Updated on May 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 313
The Faun, the hero and narrator. The faun of mythological antiquity, half man and half goat, was associated with bucolic settings and lascivious sexual appetites, so the Faun of this work is imagined to be a creature of considerable sensual indulgence. His sexuality links him to fundamental human desire, but his intellectual probing reflects the continuing human preoccupation with self-definition. In this way, he seems remote from his animal half. Through both his aesthetic and his physical preoccupations, the Faun presents himself as essentially a romantic hero. He seeks to dominate his surroundings both to find answers and to create his songs. He lives in a pastoral setting and creates a literal harmony with it through his songs. The Faun’s major role is as a representation of the poet himself. Throughout the poem, he speaks of the music he plays on panpipes, and his dreams either create or transform his encounter with the nymphs, depending on which perception of reality the reader accepts. Because the nymphs appear only through the musings of the Faun, they seem to be entirely his creatures. If the encounter with them is taken to be a literal event, the Faun has only a limited perception of the nymphs, illustrating the difficulty of finding poetic insight, something as difficult to capture as the nymphs themselves.
The nymphs, the only two other characters in the poem. They remain only partially revealed. Each is rendered specific by contrast with the other; one is younger and naïve, the other more sophisticated and aggressive. In their similarity and variety, they serve as emblems of the Faun’s desire and the poet’s ideal. In their variety, they encompass all women and all beauty, but described only obliquely, without realistic detail. They serve as an idealized focus for any specific concept of beauty the reader may bring to the poem.