Angels appear frequently in “A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687.” What is their role?
Angels in “A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687” serve several symbolic and narrative functions. First, angels are communicators between the heavenly and the earthly. The angel in Stanza 7—mistaking Earth for Heaven—is perhaps a sign of divine approval for St. Cecilia's music. Not only is it a liminal figure bridging the gap between the human world and the divine world, but it also complicates the dichotomy between the two. Perhaps through music, Earth can become more like Heaven, and Heaven closer to Earth; the angel, an entity straddling these two worlds, and also a figure influenced by the power of music, is a means to illustrate the spiritual connection and transcendence that music can allow.
Music itself, however, is also described as an angelic force. In Stanza 6, the notes of the organ are declared to be superior to any “human voice,” and compared to angels that “wing their heavenly ways / To mend the choirs above.” Ethereal, holy, and powerful, music is like an angel. Perhaps it also allows its listeners to achieve the glory of angels, and to transcend their earthly state.
How does the final line (“And Music shall untune the sky!”) complicate the message of this poem?
The final line of “A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687” can be interpreted in several different ways. First, the “untun[ing]” of the sky can be understood as the divine reconstruction and reordering of the universe during the Christian apocalypse. The “sky” here would represent the world of the present, which needs restoration by means of divine power. Music, in this case, functions as a force that purifies and reorganizes the world in accordance with the authority of the Christian God.
On the other hand, the final line can be interpreted as a challenge of music and other forms of manmade art to divine power. If the “sky” represents Heaven instead, then the last line means that music from Earth will reach the heavens and disrupt or undo its ordered state. The poem’s stress on harmony and order makes the word “untune” stand out—perhaps earthly music is destroying the balance of the musica universalis, and altering it so that it is out of tune. Because “A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687” is a poem that discusses the relationship between the heavenly and the earthly, and the function of music in between these two worlds, one’s interpretation the final line may influence one’s reading of the entire poem.