But oh! what art
What human voice can reach
The sacred organ’s praise?
Notes inspiring holy love, 45
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; 50
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.
As from the power of sacred
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, 60
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky.
NOTE.—Dryden wrote this song in 1687 for the festival of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. To be appreciated it must be read aloud, for it is full of musical effects, especially stanzas 3-6. St. Cecilia has been represented by Raphael and other artists as playing upon some instrument, surrounded by listening angels.
[1.] From harmony, etc. Some of the ancients believed that music helped in the creation of the heavenly bodies, and that their motions were accompanied by a harmony known as “the music of the spheres.”
[2.] This universal frame, the visible universe.
[3.] The diapason, etc. The diapason means here the entire compass of tones. The idea is that in man, the highest of God’s creatures, are included all the virtues and powers of the lower creation.
[4.] Jubal. It is said of Jubal: “He was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.”—Genesis iv, 21.
[5.] The corded shell, i.e. the lyre. The first lyre was supposed to have been formed by drawing strings over a tortoise shell.
[6.] Mortal alarms, i.e. notes that rouse men to deadly conflict.
[7.] Discovers, reveals.
[8.] Mend, amend, improve.
[9.] Orpheus is said to have been a Thracian poet who moved rocks and trees and tamed wild beasts by playing upon his lyre.
[10.] Straight, straightway, immediately.
[11.] The last and dreadful hour, the Day of Judgment.
In speaking of Gray, some one has said that no other writer has come down to posterity with such a small book under his arm; and to this may be added the statement that every piece in his book shows careful finish. His fame rests mainly on three poems: the Elegy, The Progress of Poesy, and The Bard. Of these the Elegy is by far the most popular, because it expresses in simple and beautiful language sentiments which appeal to all, whatever their condition.