Saturday 20 January 2018

From An Ode in Honour of St Cecilia's Day

St Cecilia was a third-century Christian martyr who is the patron saint of music. As such, she has been saluted by the poets. WH Auden wrote a rather jaunty ode to her of which I hope a snatch will appear here shortly. But John Dryden's great ode, written in the 17th century, is still the most famous. Dryden was the great poet of his day and universally recognised to be such. Like other poets of his time, he wrote humorous plays in verse, but he also wrote long poems, mostly about religion, politics and the personalities of statesmen. Dryden was a Catholic in a much-troubled and divided era, and his religion gave him a sense of eternity flowing through time which redeems these poems from mere contemporaneity. He was also the most accomplished craftsman who has ever used the English language.

John Dryden

'Twas at the royal feast, for Persia won By Philip's warlike son:

Aloft in awful state

The god-like hero sate

On his imperial throne:

His valiant peers were placed around;

Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound.

(So should desert in arms be crowned)

The lovely Thais by his side,

Sat like a blooming Eastern bride

In flower of youth and beauty's pride.

Happy, happy, happy pair!

None but the Brave

None but the Brave

None but the Brave deserves the Fair.

The mighty master smiled to see

That love was in the next degree:

'Twas but a kindred sound to move,

For pity melts the mind to love.

Softly sweet, in Lydian measures

Soon he soothed his soul to pleasures.

'War', he sung, 'is toil and trouble;

Honour but an empty bubble.

Never ending, still beginning,

Fighting still and still destroying;

If the world be worth thy winning,

Think, O think it worth enjoying.

Lovely Thais sits beside thee,

Take the good the Gods provide thee.'

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