399. A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687

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 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.


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!

The Oxford Book of English Verse, HTML edition