A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day by John Dryden

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.

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!

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.

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 Heav’nly 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 high’r;
When to her organ, vocal breath was giv’n,
An angel heard, and straight appear’d
Mistaking earth for Heav’n.

Grand Chorus

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.

Summary

John Dryden wrote his ode entitled “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Doy” to celebrate the memory of St. Cecila, a pious Christian lady who sacrificed her life in Rome in the year 230 AD. She is adored as a saint and great patron of music.Her music had divine qualities.

The poet explains the genesis or creation of this universe by the power of divine music. The poet imagines that the frame of this universe evolved through the power of music. The power or harmony of heavenly music brought to the various elements of the universe to make it a compact whole. Nature lay under a heap of discordant atoms, scattered away from one another.

The power of nature, which was responsible for the creation of life, could not function, as the planets were in a disorderly position. The atoms of the universe were disorderly. Order comes from harmony and harmony is created with the power of music.

God commanded all the disorderly atoms through the sound or symphony of his music. On the command received through musical sound, all the atoms sprang up at once. They occupied their proper positions in accordance with divine orders conveyed through music.

The poet believed that the universe came into existence because of this divine music. Music was in orderly form and it brought the elements of the universe in harmony with one another. The music created by the almighty ran through all the length and breath of the musical scale. Every note of the musical scale was sounded in the creation of all sorts of living objects.

Creatures from the smallest size to the biggest were created by the initiative power of different musical notes. In the end God created man.

Then Dryden points at the importance of music. He says that music can generate and also calm down the feelings which man’s passion cannot do.When Jubal the father of music, sounded the strings of his stringed musical instrument and produced music, his brothers and sisters were captivated on hearing that sweet music and stood around him to listen to that music. They thought that instrument to be something divine, which could produce music of divine quality.

Then all fell on their faces to praise and worship that instrument. That instrument was made from a big shell. They imagined that there must be some God inside the shell, because such a music could only be created or produced by the God.

Dryden goes on to explains the effect of the tunes of different musical instruments on the psyche of man. The sound of the trumpet and the drum is loud and harsh. The notes or rhythm of these instruments raise the feeling of anger and fear . These encourage man to take up arms to fight or wage war against their enemy. The repeated sound produced through the beating of drums attract attention of people. This boosts up people to face the attack of their enemies in defence and also to make attack on their enemies. This sound encourages people to make use of weapons.

The poet then describes the effect and quality of flute’s is sound or its music.Flute can captivate any person who listens to the music produced by it. Its music has a melancholy effect. Dryden is of the opinion that its music seems to be the complaint made by a lover, who is not able to meet his beloved.

Music produced by lute is used for songs sung at the time of funeral. Its tune is like the songs of birds. Similarly violin reveals the great pain of the hopes that are being lost. The notes produced by the violin express great pain and anger of heart for the lady love who has deserted her lover.

After describing the power of music, the creation of universe through the music and then explaining the arousal of different passions and feelings of love, anger,attack, hated, fear, support and longing for oneness, the poet comes to the music of St. Cecilia.

The poet tells the reader about the music instrument, which he calls ‘Organ’. This Organ was invented by St. Cecilia. It is beyond the powers and capacity of man to fully praise the Organ. No man and man made instrument can produce music which could match the music produced by the Organ.

When St. Cecilia struck the notes on her Organ it produced heavenly music.It produced feelings of love and praise for God. When the sound of the Organ’ s music was heard by an Angel, he came down on earth mistaking it for heaven. He listened to St. Cecilia’s song.

The poet also tells about the music produced on the Lyre of Orpheus. Orpheus is the Greek God of music. His song had such power that even lifeless objects were imbibed with life on hearing it and followed him. Even trees uprooted themselves and followed Orpheus under the impact of his music.

The concluding lines of this ode from the Chorus. The chorus tells us that the music which created the universe, would also cause the end of the universe.

When the angles began to sing their holy songs, the power of music set the heavenly bodies into motion. That produced the harmony of the spheres because they began to sing the praise of God to all the God’s angles living in heaven.

On the final doom’s day of judgment, Gabriel will appear and blow his trumpet aloud. With the effect of this sound the dead would be filled with life and raise from their graves to hear the judgment.

The living persons would die. God would pronounce his find judgment according to the good and bad deeds of people. Thus the same power of music which made order from disorder would produce disorder from order.

Analysis

John Dryden wrote this ode entitled “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” to describe the power of music. Poems in praise for music of St. Cecilia had become the fashion in the 17th century. In writing this ode. Dryden was in a way just following a common practice of his time.

This ode was designed for performance on the festival in 1687 by a newly formed musical society in London. The 22nd of November is celebrated as St.Cecilia’s Day in her memory. St. Cecilia was a pious Christian lady who sacrificed her life in Rome in the year 230 A.D. She is adored as a saint and patron of music.

Dryden signifies the importance of music for the formation of the universe and the existence of life on universe. When nature lay under a heap of disordered atoms, God’s musical voice commanded them to arise on listening to the command, all the cold, hot, moist and dry atoms arose and occupied their proper positions. They obeyed the power of the divine music. Divine music created the harmony of the spheres.

The cosmos is called “this universal frame” at the beginning of the poem.Gradually the heavenly music passed through the whole range of the universal frame and created all living and non-living objects. Man was created in the end after all the smallest and biggest animals were created.

Music which created this universe, has the power of destroying it too. In the scheme of creation, this universe is merely a passing shadow. Music will one day end this passing shadow, this pageant. This is the reason that at the end of the poem, the poet calls the universe as the crumbling pageant. This would happen on the day of final judgment or the Doom’s day.

It is written in the Bible that Angel Gabriel, will appear with his trumpet on the final day of judgment and blow his trumpet. Gabriel conveys his message through his music that all living beings shall die and that the dead shall come out of their graves and stand before God, who will pronounce his judgment according to the record of good and bad deeds performed by each one of us during our life time.

The orderly position of the atoms of the universe would be scattered by the effect of the music created by The trumpet and as a result the universe will crumble down. Thus the music which made this universal frame shall create confusion and disorder. At the end of the ode the poet describes the end of the universe, so he calls the cosmos as ‘the crumbling pageant.’

Dryden discusses the effect of music produced by different instruments. But the instrument invented by St. Cecilia is best amongst all instruments of music.This instrument is divine. When St. Cecilia produced music on this organ, an angel came down to Earth, mistaking it for heaven.

Dryden means music by harmony. He tells us the process of harmony and its effect. Harmony is the basic thing for formation and then development of the universe. This also hints towards the harmony amongst people and harmony between nature and man.

Theme

As a lyric poet, Dryden’s fame rests on his three odes, and ‘A Song for St.Cecilia’s Day’ is prominent amongst them. Here the poet illustrates his skill in making the lines march to the major theme of his thought. Harmony emerges to be the basic idea in this ode.

When harmony and order is being established, the world is created. The world would be disrupted and crumble down when harmony would be untuned.

Structure

It is a lyric poem of elaborate metrical structure solemn in tune and in the form of address. The theme is grave and universal and the presentation is dignified.Dryden attempts to imitate the effects of music in language which reach their height in this ode. It is Pindaric in its structure and thus consists of a number of short stanzas, similar in length and arrangement.

Dryden introduces the chorus to adopt the true Stophic structure. In ancient drama Strophe was the song sung in the chorus while dancing towards one side of the orchestra. The cadence of one line is carried to the next, and the sound of the former glides gently into that which follows without leaping from one extreme to another.

Style

Dryden has maintained strict uniformity. His heroic couplet shows uniformity,precision and regularity. His diction is in tune with his ideas; he disciplines himself to use the precise word rather than the word with a vogue area of association, endeavouring always to express as clearly and firmly as possible what he means to say. But words, he held were only the colouring of the poem-picture; what was important was the idea, though the colouring was what first struck the eye. So whatever words he uses he is still uses language that might be spoken by man to man. It is never mere poetic. That is one of his great triumphs.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *