Monday, November 22, 2010

Sancta Caecilia

Today is the feast of St. Cecilia, a martyr from the second or third century (probably late second-century, under the persecutions by Marcus Aurelius). The name suggests the gens Caecilii, so we might not even actually have her name: it might just indicate some female martyr from the clan Caecilius. She is the patron saint of musicians because of a hagiographical legend that she sang to God while laying her neck bare for beheading. Because of this, she's found all throughout poetry and music.

A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, November 22, 1687
by John Dryden


I.

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 obye.
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.

II.

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?

III.

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.

IV.

The soft complaining flute,
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers;
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.

V.

Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains, and height of passion,
For the fair, disdainful dame.

VI.

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.

VII.

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.

2 comments:

  1. branemrys12:24 PM

    That's a good one that I don't know that I've come across before.

    ReplyDelete

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