Emily M. DeArdo

writer

Poems for St. Cecilia's Day

CatholicismEmily DeArdo1 Comment
Guido Reni, St. Cecilia

Guido Reni, St. Cecilia

Today is St. Cecilia's Day: she's an early Church martyr who is also the patroness of musicians. (Singers also have Pope St. Gregory the Great--the guy who invented Gregorian chant.) She's the patron saint of music and musicians because, as she walked toward her groom on her wedding day, she heard heavenly music playing, reminding her of her vow to be the Bride of Christ. (She was marrying against her will--and she managed to convince her husband to live in a celibate marriage. So she must've been a pretty gifted speaker, as well!) 

She inspires a lot of poetry, so I thought I'd share some of them here today. 

The first one is by WH Auden, and can be found here

Alexander Pope wrote a very long poem called "Ode for Music on St. Cecilia's Day". I won't quote the whole thing, but the last stanza is very nice: 

  Music the fiercest grief can charm,

  And Fate’s severest rage disarm:

  Music can soften pain to ease,        

  And make despair and madness please:

    Our joys below it can improve,

    And antedate the bliss above.

  This the divine Cecilia found,

And to her Maker’s praise confin’d the sound.        

When the full organ joins the tuneful quire,

  Th’ immortal Powers incline their ear;

Borne on the swelling notes our souls aspire,

While solemn airs improve the sacred fire,

  And Angels lean from Heav’n to hear.        

Of Orpheus now no more let poets tell;

To bright Cecilia greater power is giv’n:

  His numbers rais’d a shade from Hell,

    Hers lift the soul to Heav’n.

 

Detail of John William Waterhouse's St. Cecilia

Detail of John William Waterhouse's St. Cecilia

And finally, Dryden's "Song for St. Cecilia's Day", in its entirety: 

 

A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687

by John Dryden 

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. 

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.