Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Song for St. Cecilia's Day - John Dryden

No, it's not St. Cecilia's Day today, but I didn't want to wait till November to post this one.  :)  It's a poem in celebration of music, and sections 3-7 are especially awesome in their sound-effects as Dryden evokes the sounds of various musical instruments.  In the first stanza, he describes the role music played in the world's creation; in the last one, he talks about its role in earth's final days.

A Song for St. Cecilia's Day

Stanza 1
From harmony, from Heavenly harmony
               This universal frame began.
       When Nature underneath a heap
               Of jarring atoms lay,
       And could not heave her head,
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.
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.

Stanza 2
What passion cannot music raise and quell!
                When Jubal struck the corded shell,
         His listening brethren stood around
         And wondering, on their faces fell
         To worship that celestial sound:
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!

Stanza 3
         The trumpet's loud clangor
                Excites us to arms
         With shrill notes of anger
                        And mortal alarms.
         The double double double beat
                Of the thund'ring drum
         Cries, "Hark the foes come;
Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat."

Stanza 4
         The soft complaining flute
         In dying notes discovers
         The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whispered by the warbling lute.

Stanza 5
         Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs, and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion,
         For the fair, disdainful dame.

Stanza 6
But oh! what art can teach
         What human voice can reach
The sacred organ's praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their Heavenly ways
         To mend the choirs above.

Stanza 7
Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place;
                Sequacious of the lyre:
But bright Cecilia raised the wonder higher;
         When to her organ, vocal breath was given,
An angel heard, and straight appeared
                Mistaking earth for Heaven.

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

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