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Dante stumbles into a Valley of Echoes
as macabre chants rumble
and grim the crags
splashed roseate from random flares
casting their cloak of heat.
He pauses and wishes for Virgil.
Following the sounds he finds
a patch of burning reeds
guarding the mouth of a cave.
In the middle of the blaze
stamps a hideous sight
horned half-man, half-goat
tethered by a length of hemp
to a burning stump of pine.
Winged demonic nymphs
swoop and taunt the beast
their cries more rants than songs
made all the worse by echoes.
“I am Pan,” shouts the goat man
as his name bounces back.
“I seek word of the nymph for which
these hills are named.”

Dante leans against a rock
which feels like fists.
“Echo has not crossed my path as yet.”

Pan stamps his hooves and strains
against his rooted prison.
He bats at nymphs
even as they nick him
and arc away with tufts of his hair.
“With her I roamed Arcadian hills,” says Pan
“to catch a glimpse of Fauns and Dryads.”

“I heard you chased instead of roamed with her,”
says Dante.
“I heard she fled you just as Syrinx did
and even made herself invisible
that you might never run her to ground.”

Pan roars and tries to charge.
“I caught enough of them!” he yells
and points his finger like a dagger.
“And what did you catch, Pilgrim?
Nothing but fancies in your head!
You never touched your love!
That’s why you seek her here!”

Dante feels his face flame
even hotter than the burning reeds.
“Sometimes the mind unveils a better stage.”
Bitter words, leaving a tang of shame
sunk costs and chances missed.

He draws back from this milieu
putting distance from the burning reeds,
the rants and screams
but not away
    from the taste
        of regret.

To the Greeks, Pan was the god of fertility and springtime. He had the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, and was worshipped in the form of a fawn or satyr. Pan was also believed to be the companion of the nymphs. Stories from Greek mythology remember him for his pursuit of the nymphs Syrinx and Echo, among others.



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