Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 340
John Dryden's poem consists of eight stanzas with a grand chorus making up the final, nine-line stanza. St. Cecilia's Day is celebrated on 22 November in memory of the patroness of music who lived in third-century Rome.
In the opening stanza, the poem's speaker relates, using past tense, the role of music in the creation of the world. It lay dormant until "the tuneful voice was heard from high" and the world became enlivened. In the final "diapason" of the heavenly harmony, mankind was created.
The second stanza asserts that nothing exists that music's passion cannot "raise or quell." The speaker references Jubal, a figure in the Hebrew Bible who was said to be the "father of all who play the harp and flute." When he first introduced music, his peers felt that something heavenly, god-like, or "celestial" existed within the sounds that they heard.
In the third stanza, the speaker notes the role of music in battle. The "trumpet's loud clangor" moves men to take up arms and "the thund'ring drum" leads the charge when enemies are near.
The tone shifts in stanza four as the speaker notes that the sound of a flute expresses the sadness that accompanies the death of a love affair.
The fifth stanza offers a comparison of the high-stringed sound of a violin to the voice of "the fair, disdainful dame" in her various, impetuous moods.
In the sixth stanza, Dryden's speaker proclaims the importance of the "sacred organ." It outstrips the power of the human voice in offering praise to heaven, with the power to carry its notes aloft.
In the penultimate stanza, Dryden's speaker evokes a musical figure that pre-dates Jubal: Orpheus, the poet and musician of classical antiquity who married poetry and music with his mastery of the lyre. However, Cecilia's organ playing was said to be so heavenly that it summoned an angel.
The grand chorus that completes the poem predicts that on the last day of earth, music will mark the time, just as it marked the time of creation.