A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day

John Dryden (1631-1700)


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 clangor

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 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.


Orpheus could lead the savage race;

And trees uprooted 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.

Grand Chorus

As from the power 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.

Heard on high2

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