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Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Song for St Cecilia's Day, 1687 by John Dryden

This is St Cecilia's Day, and here is her song.

John Dryden's poem (sometimes it's called an ode) is rather declamatory for modern tastes, and sometimes it does lurch about a bit.

Still, I don't think anyone can beat it for sheer enthusiasm.


A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687

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. 
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
When Jubal struck the chorded 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?
The trumpet's loud clangour 
Excites us to arms,
With shrill notes of anger,
And mortal alarms.
The double double double beat
Of the thundering drum 
Cries Hark! the foes come;
Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat!
The soft complaining flute,
In dying notes, discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers, 
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.
Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains, and height of passion, 
For the fair, disdainful dame.
But O, 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.
Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place,
Sequacious of the lyre; 
But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder higher:
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard, and straight appear'd
Mistaking Earth for Heaven.
 
 GRAND CHORUS*
 
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!


If this isn't enough magnificence, Handel set the words to music. And here it is, for St Cecilia, the patron saint of music.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOGGZ3mlC48&list=PL12DC72B57E09D451&index=2)

I'm hoping not to hear any trumpets on high just yet, however magnificent, though.

Word To Use Today: Cecilia. This name comes from the Roman family name Caecilius, which comes from the Latin caecus, blind.

 *How splendid to have something with a Grand Chorus!

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