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Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

Poems: 1708–12

Ode for Music on St. Cecilia’s Day

  • This ode was written at the suggestion of Richard Steele, in 1708. It was recast in 1730 in briefer form so that it might be set to music; and the first four stanzas were considerably changed.

  • I
    DESCEND, ye Nine, descend and sing:

    The breathing instruments inspire,

    Wake into voice each silent string,

    And sweep the sounding lyre.

    In a sadly pleasing strain

    Let the warbling lute complain;

    Let the loud trumpet sound,

    Till the roofs all around

    The shrill echoes rebound;

    While in more lengthen’d notes and slow

    The deep, majestic, solemn organs blow.

    Hark! the numbers soft and clear

    Gently steal upon the ear;

    Now louder, and yet louder rise,

    And fill with spreading sounds the skies:

    Exulting in triumph now swell the bold notes,

    In broken air, trembling, the wild music floats:

    Till by degrees, remote and small,

    The strains decay,

    And melt away

    In a dying, dying fall.

    By Music minds an equal temper know,

    Nor swell too high, nor sink too low.

    If in the breast tumultuous joys arise,

    Music her soft assuasive voice applies;

    Or when the soul is press’d with cares,

    Exalts her in enlivening airs.

    Warriors she fires with animated sounds,

    Pours balm into the bleeding lover’s wounds;

    Melancholy lifts her head,

    Morpheus rouses from his bed,

    Sloth unfolds her arms and wakes,

    List’ning Envy drops her snakes;

    Intestine war no more our passions wage,

    And giddy Factions hear away their rage.

    But when our country’s cause provokes to arms,

    How martial music ev’ry bosom warms!

    So when the first bold vessel dared the seas,

    High on the stern the Thracian rais’d his strain,

    While Agro saw her kindred trees

    Descend from Pelion to the main:

    Transported demigods stood round,

    And men grew heroes at the sound,

    Inflamed with Glory’s charms:

    Each chief his sev’nfold shield display’d,

    And half unsheath’d the shining blade;

    And seas, and rocks, and skies rebound

    To arms, to arms, to arms!

    But when thro’ all th’ infernal bounds,

    Which flaming Phlegethon surrounds,

    Love, strong as Death, the Poet led

    To the pale nations of the dead,

    What sounds were heard,

    What scenes appear’d,

    O’er all the dreary coasts!

    Dreadful gleams,

    Dismal screams,

    Fires that glow,

    Shrieks of woe,

    Sullen moans,

    Hollow groans,

    And cries of tortured ghosts!

    But hark! he strikes the golden lyre,

    And see! the tortured ghosts respire!

    See, shady forms advance!

    Thy stone, O Sisyphus, stands still,

    Ixion rests upon his wheel,

    And the pale spectres dance;

    The Furies sink upon their iron beds,

    And snakes uncurl’d hang list’ning round their heads.

    By the streams that ever flow,

    By the fragrant winds that blow

    O’er th’ Elysian flowers;

    By those happy souls who dwell

    In yellow meads of Asphodel,

    Or Amaranthine bowers:

    By the heroes’ armed shades,

    Glitt’ring thro’ the gloomy glades;

    By the youths that died for love,

    Wand’ring in the myrtle grove,

    Restore, restore Eurydice to life!

    Oh, take the husband, or return the wife!

    He sung, and Hell consented

    To hear the Poet’s prayer:

    Stern Proserpine relented,

    And gave him back the Fair.

    Thus song could prevail

    O’er Death and o’er Hell,

    A conquest how hard and how glorious!

    Tho’ fate had fast bound her,

    With Styx nine times round her,

    Yet music and love were victorious.

    But soon, too soon, the lover turns his eyes:

    Again she falls, again she dies, she dies!

    How wilt thou now the fatal sisters move?

    No crime was thine, if ’t is no crime to love.

    Now under hanging mountains,

    Beside the falls of fountains,

    Or where Hebrus wanders,

    Rolling in meanders,

    All alone,

    Unheard, unknown,

    He makes his moan;

    And calls her ghost,

    For ever, ever, ever lost!

    Now with Furies surrounded,

    Despairing, confounded,

    He trembles, he glows,

    Amidst Rhodope’s snows.

    See, wild as the winds, o’er the desert he flies!

    Hark! Hæmus resounds with the Bacchanals’ cries—

    Ah see, he dies!

    Yet ev’n in death Eurydice he sung,

    Eurydice still trembled on his tongue;

    Eurydice the woods,

    Eurydice the floods,

    Eurydice the rocks and hollow mountains rung.

    Music the fiercest grief can charm,

    And Fate’s severest rage disarm:

    Music can soften pain to ease,

    And make despair and madness please:

    Our joys below it can improve,

    And antedate the bliss above.

    This the divine Cecilia found,

    And to her Maker’s praise confin’d the sound.

    When the full organ joins the tuneful quire,

    Th’ immortal Powers incline their ear;

    Borne on the swelling notes our souls aspire,

    While solemn airs improve the sacred fire,

    And Angels lean from Heav’n to hear.

    Of Orpheus now no more let poets tell;

    To bright Cecilia greater power is giv’n:

    His numbers rais’d a shade from Hell,

    Hers lift the soul to Heav’n.