Friday 22 November 2019

Hail, Bright Cecilia

It's St Cecilia's Day today.
This calls for some music –

and this, from John Dryden – A Song for St Cecilia's Day, 1687

Stanza 1 
From harmony, from Heav'nly 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 pow'r obey. 
From harmony, from Heav'nly 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 list'ning brethren stood around 
         And wond'ring, 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 whisper'd 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 Heav'nly 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 rais'd the wonder high'r; 
         When to her organ, vocal breath was giv'n, 
An angel heard, and straight appear'd 
                Mistaking earth for Heav'n. 

As from the pow'r of sacred lays 
         The spheres began to move, 
And sung the great Creator's praise 
         To all the bless'd 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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