The first of John Dryden’s two Saint Cecilia’s Day odes, “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day,” was written to commemorate November 22 as the day devoted to the patron saint of music. His second, Alexander’s Feast (1697), a longer and more elaborate composition, appeared ten years later, near the end of Dryden’s career. The practice of writing odes to commemorate St. Cecilia began in England in 1683, and Dryden was among the first poets to write at the invitation of a London musical society. Giovanni Battista Draghi’s musical adaptation, the first of several for the poem, accompanied the initial publication. In form, it is an ode, consisting of seven stanzas and a grand concluding chorus, sixty-three lines in all.
The structure resembles the Horatian or Roman ode in its linear and logical development. Two general introductory stanzas are followed by five others, which identify and trace the effects of musical instruments, plus a concluding chorus. Yet the stanzas, unlike those of the Horatian ode, are irregular, employing a variety of meters and ranging in length from four to fifteen lines. Writing at a time when the classical ode was little understood, Dryden may have adapted this stanzaic irregularity from Pindar, whose Greek odes were highly esteemed.
The initial stanza opens the poem with the statement that creation, bringing order and harmony to chaotic matter, was accompanied by music. This vision of creation derives...
(The entire section is 538 words.)