St. Cecilia is the patroness of music and musicians in several Christian traditions, including Dryden's own Anglican tradition. She was a famous Roman martyr who, despite her vow of virginity, was forced by her parents to marry a pagan nobleman named Valerian. During her wedding, Cecilia is said to have sat apart from the ceremony and sung her praises to God, which later earned her the title of Patroness of Musicians. Her feast is celebrated on November 22nd.
Nature is personified in the first stanza, when she is lying dead or dormant and is called to arise by a "tuneful voice from high." Then, Nature responds to the musical voice and "cold, and hot, and moist, and dry, / In order to their stations leap": Nature awakens and responds to God's command, starting off the process of Creation.
Jubal is a figure from the Hebrew Bible regarded as "the father of all who play harp and flute." He played the Kinnor, an Israelite stringed instrument comparable to a harp or lyre, referred to in the poem as the "corded shell."
Orpheus is a poet and musician from Greek mythology who was said to be able to charm all living things with his music. Some claim that Orpheus was able to introduce order and civilization to savages through his musical talents and even make trees and rivers dance, hence Dryden's allusion to Orpheus "lead[ing] the savage race" and "trees uprooted leav[ing] their place."
Thanks to the beauty of St. Cecilia's music, an angel mistakes Earth for Heaven and appears at the scene. This could be a reference to the angel who watches over Cecilia in the story of her marriage to Valerian.
The spheres—representative of God's creation—are personified in this poem. In the Grand Chorus, the spheres sing God's praises as they are created and begin to move.
A Song for St. Cecelia’s Day Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for A Song for St. Cecelia’s Day is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.