“A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687,” consisting of seven stanzas and a grand chorus, describes the involvement of music in both the makings of the universe and the subtleties of human emotion and piety.
In Stanza 1, an unnamed speaker opens the poem by describing how the world was created according to a certain kind of “heavenly harmony” or divine order. From a chaotic state (in which the universe existed in the form of scattered atoms), nature was summoned to existence by Music. The creation of the universe, initiated by the command of Music, then culminated in the creation of Man. In Stanza 2, the speaker goes on to describe music's capacity to inspire passion, giving as an example the story of Jubal (the very first musician mentioned in the Old Testament) and the power of his instrument to move the hearts of his listeners.
From Stanza 3 to Stanza 6, the speaker describes different musical instruments and their abilities to incite different kinds of emotions: Stanza 3 describes the trumpet and drum and their power to inspire militant anger; Stanza 4 the ability of the flute and lute to inspire melancholy; Stanza 5 the diversity of strong emotions (e.g., jealousy, fury, anger, pain, passion) that the violin can incite; Stanza 6 the organ’s capability to inspire piety. Stanza 7 continues the previous stanza’s description of the organ, elaborating upon its appearance in the story of St. Cecilia. Alluding to Roman mythology, the speaker argues that St. Cecilia’s organ possesses a power superior to that of Orpheus’s lyre, in that the former even caused an angel to mistake Earth for Heaven.
The Grand Chorus closes the poem with the description of the “dreadful hour,” in which the spheres of the world are reordered, the reign of the great Creator (the Christian God) is celebrated, the existing laws of the world are reversed, and the universe is rebuilt and restructured with the force of music.