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A Song For St. Cecilia's Day


From harmony,[1] from heavenly harmony
This universal frame[2] began.
When Nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head, 5
The tuneful voice was heard from high:
"Arise, ye more than dead!"
Then cold and hot and moist and dry
In order to their stations leap,
And Music's power obey. 10
From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began;
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.[3] 15


What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
When Jubal[4] struck the corded shell,[5]
His list'ning brethren stood around,
And, wond'ring, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound, 20
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell
That spoke so sweetly and so well.
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?


The trumpet's loud clangor 25
Excites us to arms,
With shrill notes of anger
And mortal alarms.[6]
The double double double beat
Of the thundering drum 30
Cries, "Hark, the foes come!
Charge, charge, 't is too late to retreat!"


The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers[7]
The woes of hopeless lovers, 35
Whose dirge is whispered by the warbling lute.


Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion, 40
For the fair disdainful dame.


But oh! what art can teach,
What human voice can reach
The sacred organ's praise?
Notes inspiring holy love, 45
Notes that wing their heavenly ways
To mend[8] the choirs above.


Orpheus[9] could lead the savage race,
And trees unrooted left their place,
Sequacious of the lyre; 50
But bright Cecilia raised the wonder higher:
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard, and straight[10] appeared--
Mistaking earth for heaven.


As from the power of sacred lays 55
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator's praise
To all the blest above:
So, when the last and dreadful hour[11]
This crumbling pageant shall devour, 60
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky.

NOTE.--Dryden wrote this song in 1687 for the festival of St. Cecilia,
the patron saint of music. To be appreciated it must be read aloud,
for it is full of musical effects, especially stanzas 3-6. St. Cecilia
has been represented by Raphael and other artists as playing upon some
instrument, surrounded by listening angels.

[1.] From harmony, etc. Some of the ancients believed that music
helped in the creation of the heavenly bodies, and that their motions
were accompanied by a harmony known as "the music of the spheres."

[2.] This universal frame, the visible universe.

[3.] The diapason, etc. The diapason means here the entire compass
of tones
. The idea is that in man, the highest of God's creatures,
are included all the virtues and powers of the lower creation.

[4.] Jubal. It is said of Jubal: "He was the father of all such as
handle the harp and organ."--Genesis iv, 21.

[5.] The corded shell, i.e. the lyre. The first lyre was supposed to
have been formed by drawing strings over a tortoise shell.

[6.] Mortal alarms, i.e. notes that rouse men to deadly conflict.

[7.] Discovers, reveals.

[8.] Mend, amend, improve.

[9.] Orpheus is said to have been a Thracian poet who moved rocks and
trees and tamed wild beasts by playing upon his lyre.

[10.] Straight, straightway, immediately.

[11.] The last and dreadful hour, the Day of Judgment.

John Dryden