Hymn to St. Cecilia, Benjamin Britten (1942)

Lyrics by W. H. Auden

Elise Becker, soprano

Maggie Gilmore, “flute”

Austin Spivey, “violin”

Alex Reid, “timpani”

Ned Sieverts, Saturday “trumpet”

Ben Pattison, Sunday “trumpet”

 

I.

In a garden shady this holy lady

With reverent cadence and subtle psalm,

Like a black swan as death came on

Poured forth her song in perfect calm:

And by ocean's margin this innocent virgin

Constructed an organ to enlarge her prayer,

And notes tremendous from her great engine

Thundered out on the Roman air.

Blonde Aphrodite rose up excited,

Moved to delight by the melody,

White as an orchid she rode quite naked

In an oyster shell on top of the sea;

At sounds so entrancing the angels dancing

Came out of their trance into time again,

And around the wicked in Hell's abysses

The huge flame flickered and eased their pain.

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions

To all musicians, appear and inspire:

Translated Daughter, come down and startle

Composing mortals with immortal fire.


II.

I cannot grow;

I have no shadow

To run away from,

I only play.

I cannot err;

There is no creature

Whom I belong to,

Whom I could wrong.


I am defeat

When it knows it

Can now do nothing

By suffering.

All you lived through,

Dancing because you

No longer need it

For any deed.


I shall never be

Different. Love me.

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions

To all musicians, appear and inspire:

Translated Daughter, come down and startle

Composing mortals with immortal fire.


III.

O ear whose creatures cannot wish to fall,

O calm of spaces unafraid of weight,

Where Sorrow is herself, forgetting all

The gaucheness of her adolescent state,

Where Hope within the altogether strange

From every outworn image is released,

And Dread born whole and normal like a beast

Into a world of truths that never change:

Restore our fallen day; O re-arrange.

O dear white children casual as birds,

Playing among the ruined languages,

So small beside their large confusing words,

So gay against the greater silences

Of dreadful things you did: O hang the head,

Impetuous child with the tremendous brain,

O weep, child, weep, O weep away the stain,

Lost innocence who wished your lover dead,

Weep for the lives your wishes never led.

O cry created as the bow of sin

Is drawn across our trembling violin.

O weep, child, weep, O weep away the stain.

O law drummed out by hearts against the still

Long winter of our intellectual will.

That what has been may never be again.

O flute that throbs with the thanksgiving breath

Of convalescents on the shores of death.

O bless the freedom that you never chose.

O trumpets that unguarded children blow

About the fortress of their inner foe.

O wear your tribulation like a rose.

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions

To all musicians, appear and inspire:

Translated Daughter, come down and startle

Composing mortals with immortal fire.