A Song for St. Cecilia's Day

by John Dryden

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Jubal

Jubal is named in stanza 2; he is an Old Testament or Hebrew Bible figure credited as being the progenitor of musicians, or "those who play the harp and flute." Jubal's name and origin appear in Genesis 4:21. In the poem, the speaker describes how Jubal's music captivated all those who heard it, and that they concluded that the sounds were not of the Earth, hence god-like.

Saint Cecilia

Saint Cecilia is explicitly named in stanza 7. The speaker asserts that her organ-playing has the power to summon angels who believe that they are hearing the music of Heaven, not Earth. Cecilia was a third-century noblewoman of Rome who became a martyr when she was beheaded. The poem is dedicated to her, intended to be read, sung, or performed on St. Cecilia’s Day.

Orpheus

In stanza 7, the speaker acknowledges the story of Orpheus, a figure of Greek mythology known for his excellence in poetry and music as he combined verse with the lyre, a small harp-like instrument. His prowess is noted by the speaker, but the implication is that Cecilia's ability to attract Heaven's notice with her music is superior to Orpheus's ability to "lead the savage race."

The Creator

In the poem's concluding grand chorus, the Creator is named as the entity to whom praise was sung when "the spheres began to move." It is implied that both the act of creation and the ultimate day will be marked by music.

Unnamed Characters

The poet uses other unnamed figures in the poem as recipients of the benefits that music brings. Aside from these named entities, Dryden uses angels and everyday people to provide examples of how music has the power to express human emotions and convey sacred praise. Mankind in general was awakened, stanza one suggests, by the melodic voice of its creator, who had also galvanized Nature. Musical instruments convey human emotions, such as the flute which can be said to speak for disappointed lovers, or the violin which gives a wordless voice to an animated woman.

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