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Coming up from Northamptonshire where his grandfather was a rector of one of the local vicarages, Dryden attended Westminster and then Cambridge (Trinity). In 1657, Dryden came down to London and through valuable family connections became a play writer. Dryden, in his play writing, catered to popular taste. Dryden's labour in the writing of plays and the translation of the classics, came to an end in 1663; as, in that year, his fortunes took a considerable turn for the better when he married a daughter of an earl; soon, he was appointed poet laureate and royal historiographer (1670). In his later years Dryden turned to the writing of satires, Absalon an Achitophel (1681) being his best known, an allegory written in heroic couplets satirizing the contemporary politics of his age.
A SONG FOR ST. CECILIA'S DAY, 1687
1 From harmony, from Heav'nly harmony
2 This universal frame began.
3 When Nature underneath a heap
4 Of jarring atoms lay,
5 And could not heave her head,
6 The tuneful voice was heard from high,
7 Arise ye more than dead.
8 Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
9 In order to their stations leap,
10 And music's pow'r obey.
11 From harmony, from Heav'nly harmony
12 This universal frame began:
13 From harmony to harmony
14 Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
15 The diapason closing full in man.
16 What passion cannot music raise and quell!
17 When Jubal struck the corded shell,
18 His list'ning brethren stood around
19 And wond'ring, on their faces fell
20 To worship that celestial sound:
21 Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
22 Within the hollow of that shell
23 That spoke so sweetly and so well.
24 What passion cannot music raise and quell!
25 The trumpet's loud clangor
26 Excites us to arms
27 With shrill notes of anger
28 And mortal alarms.
29 The double double double beat
30 Of the thund'ring drum
31 Cries, hark the foes come;
32 Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat.
33 The soft complaining flute
34 In dying notes discovers
35 The woes of hopeless lovers,
36 Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.
37 Sharp violins proclaim
38 Their jealous pangs, and desperation,
39 Fury, frantic indignation,
40 Depth of pains and height of passion,
41 For the fair, disdainful dame.
42 But oh! what art can teach
43 What human voice can reach
44 The sacred organ's praise?
45 Notes inspiring holy love,
46 Notes that wing their Heav'nly ways
47 To mend the choirs above.
48 Orpheus could lead the savage race;
49 And trees unrooted left their place;
50 Sequacious of the lyre:
51 But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder high'r;
52 When to her organ, vocal breath was giv'n,
53 An angel heard, and straight appear'd
54 Mistaking earth for Heav'n.
55 As from the pow'r of sacred lays
56 The spheres began to move,
57 And sung the great Creator's praise
58 To all the bless'd above;
59 So when the last and dreadful hour
60 This crumbling pageant shall devour,
61 The trumpet shall be heard on high,
62 The dead shall live, the living die,
63 And music shall untune the sky.
© 2000 Elena and Yacov Feldman