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During the Appear! Inspire! A Celebration of Music concert taking place on November 22 the ASU Chamber Singers and Chamber Orchestra will perform Handel’s setting of John Dryden’s “A Song for St. Cecilia”

Conductor and Professor of Music David Schildkret and poet and Associate Professor of English Sally Ball curated the following exhibit of poems that, like Dryden’s and Auden’s, take up the story of the disdainful dame or the black swan, or otherwise riff on the language of the Dryden or Auden poems, or that address the muse who permits us to wear our tribulation like a rose. 

Curated Poetry Exhibit @ The Concert

Arrive early to see an exhibit of poetry broadsides written for the event by ASU faculty poets—including Arizona State Poet Laureate Alberto Ríos, and Griffin Prize winner Norman Dubie, and Dine-Navajo poet and librettist Laura Tohe—and student poets from ASU and around the valley. 

Original Poetry by Community Poets

Read the poems submitted for the St. Cecilia’s Day Project by members of our local community and then continue scrolling for links to other related poetry.

A Vision of St. Cecilia

The organ sat in candid light

With clouds that hid in misty night

A shadow of a dame so queer

It caused the ghostly tarn to fear

She came upon the hallowed place

And played each key with lasting grace

The moon seduced by her, it slept

With storm clouds quelled until they wept

Each note rang clearly in the sky

And woke the angel up on high

His tears caressed his golden lyre

Her notes had burned his heart like fire

These gentle hymns danced on a star

And reached the realms of souls afar

Who rose from dreams of light divine

And heard on them would Heaven shine

In time, the tones that God heard ring

Morphed into gleaming golden string

That shone betwixt the halo bound

To sackcloth in eternal sound

Krishna Sinha

Brophy College Preparatory

Grade 11

Thundering Drum

(After Handel’s “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day”)

The double double double beat

Of the thundering drum

Back against the wall

No place to run


A girl with blonde hair

A boy with ripped jeans

A man who inspires children

A woman I’ve never seen




Whose skin is this?

These arms are not mine

This body remains foreign

My soul is not my mind


The closer they come

The sooner I realize

The only way to escape

Lies between my eyes


The double double double beat

Of my thundering drum

Up against my head

Has my own time come?

 – Bernardo Reyes

Brophy College Preparatory

Grade 12

 Musica Sacra

Ascend that scale towards Parnassus

            that mellifluous ladder of intoned creation,

Good Cecilia who hath ascended,

            met the muses in elation

For the world turn’d and sang,

            and the zephyr winds and basso rang,

and the flute that lay untouch’d, 

            like the cadenza inspired,

made Musick into nascent fire, 

fashioning chords of desire

It must mutter and mark,

            potency from acidity

            all against the bark;

But no verdancy is entertained

            by that black thing birthed in vain,

that creation, undine in distress

            wailing, landed at the littoral crest 

May Harmony make haste in her breast

            and let forth an adorable fest…

Martín Hans Eslava

Brophy College Preparatory

Grade 12

For Saint Cecilia: The True Mother of Jazz

It is easier to want a jazz musician to roll himself

to the edge of a cliff to play a set of whale songs

than it is to want a jazz musician to play the last blues song

behind the dumpster of the corner convenience store.


Have you actually been in the ocean below the cliff

to see a man die alone – the salt spray animating

his clothing as conduit for the departing soul? It was first

carried through the water to leave record of The Black Saint.


Preferring to ask Charles Mingus’ whales to sing mourning

songs instead of Garbage Truck’s percussion of diesel,

hydraulics, concrete, and steel, Saint Cecilia untuned

the sky space above the cliff to carry up a true music.


Three weeks of untuned sky absorbing mourning will crack

the cliff from the ocean floor. Mingus was taught his last phrase

in harmony with his whales, playing a double bass, seated,

in his wheelchair. A call never to be responded.


It is easier to need jazz musicians and their blue notes

for an equal temperament has never untuned the sky.

Saint Cecilia is the true mother of jazz, giving to us the liminal note

requiring us to roll ourselves to the cliff in sanctified accompaniment.

– Scott Hodnefield

ASU English, Creative Writing


Join Claws and Bark Hallelujah

Drive your feet through the amplifier of your heart,

you, each the coyotes caught in the barbed wire of the 24-hour news cycle.

Howl in to the harps lain just past the border of the empire.

The bolt cutters have arrived,

all jaws to the wire, all glories lifted in the bite.


Ours is the empire of forgiveness,

the entry paid by a spear through the cheek

and the jaws again splayed naked in praise, this night, and the moon

is not beautiful, is not available, no.

The glory here is the ground swell in your chest.


The savior here is behind the eyes that look for a distant light

and find the backlit skyline rising from the shale.

The Via Appia lead to flowers wreathing belief.

The honeybees tremolo pious in romantic frustration,

yes, here is the hand that helps the other through the garment.


Untune the drumming moth that keeps the chest from retreating

in on itself, believe the speed will tighten the frequencies and then

Hosanna, the lord, Hosanna, the Southern lights, Hosanna.

Glory be to the mosh pit, peace be unto the punks,

and good will to the martyrs who heard the song in each of us, the animals.

– Jordan Dahlen

ASU English, Creative Writing


 Composing Love


Notes fall flat and

Diminuendo into silence




This solo is my refrain

My requiem

The augmentation of quiet deafens my heart

Yet I strain to hear

I search for sound


Crossing the bridge, we meet


Our prelude whispers to my heart

A pianissimo that brightens and shapes

Our future


Waltzing through the steps

We count the rhythm

Fumbling in a meandering staccato

Then slip into a rallentando

Losing the tempo


I look into your eyes



You look into mine



We start again, pick up the stride

With modulation, we change key

Sharpen our focus


An arpeggio to a sforzando of our


They sing in unison and

Crescendo to fortissimo


Though our songs may differ

They harmonize to write the most beautiful music


The strings of my heart play and


For only you


Whether we play nocturnes or rhapsodies

Our tune will flow





Sing with me

– Kimberly Nicole Kottman

ASU English, Creative Writing


Where Cecilia Goes to Pray

She’s in the city square with her guitar case at her feet.

Strangers pay Cecilia as she prays, drop crumpled dollar bills

into a sea of purple velvet. She sings a song she heard once

from a Spanish man in flip-flops and a Johnny Cash shirt.

Cecilia learned the hymns of unlawful men, plays

their psalms on her daddy’s old guitar for loose change

and the coy, apologetic smiles of those who cannot pay.

Cecilia does not do this for the money. She does it

to keep the music moving, to keep the divine nearby.

– Charlee R. Moseley

ASU English, Creative Writing


Organ of Fire

Ukraine, 2013 AD: A man wearing a mask and a wedding ring plays the Ukrainian national anthem on a piano in the snow on top of a burned bus. The bus, in the middle of a square, the square in the center of a city lined with barricades to keep out Communism. The man calls himself the Piano Extremist. 


U.S., 2015 AD: A man wearing a wedding ring sends a girl a song. The song, sent via email in the middle of the night, the middle of the week. The girl, in the center of her bed, the bed cold, listens to the song on repeat until she knows it by heart. 


Rome, 500 AD: A girl is married to a man. She hears music in her heart, and on her wedding night, she tells him she is watched over by an angel. The man is baptized, returns to his wife, and sees the angel. The man is burned, his brother is burned, and the woman becomes a saint, holding an organ. 


Ukraine, 1240 AD: A church, St. Michael’s, sounds the bell tower for days, the city seized by Mongols. The Mongols won the battle, destroying the tomb of Pope Clement. The next time the bells ring, it is November 2013. The police circle the square, the people build a barricade, the president breaks a promise.


U.S., 2015 AD: The girl meets the man with the wedding ring at a park. They make love in his car. She finds, weeks later, she is pregnant. The girl takes a pill. The girl gets a rose tattoo. The man takes off his wedding ring, watching her. They listen to the song on repeat, headphones on.  


Ukraine, 2015 AD: Russian soldiers without insignia invade Crimea. Annex: from annectere, ‘to join,’ ‘to bind.’ The Ukrainian people go to war, their cities bombed, their army anemic. 

– Kalani Pickhart 

ASU English, MFA in Creative Writing

Fiction, first-year


after St. Cecilia 

They took her body as their own to destroy—

first in a warm bath, they failed to take her breath.

Three times beheaded and she lived: still

enough time to sing to her friends

and her pain before slipping into the tomb

where later they’d find her body

as warm and alive as it had ever been living.        

Hers was the first body found untouched

by decomposition—rejecting the violent

touch of man with whatever 

little we have left: our bodies dying or already dead.

– Natasha Murdock

ASU English, MFA in Creative Writing

Poetry, third-year

Our Severance

            a poem for St. Cecilia’s Day

And so it is with every song, Cecilia,

played and sung that we chase

black over the staff, line and space,

those footsteps your swan left.


We manage, terminally, accordingly,

with our instrument to the beat and time

of our circumstance, a blind pitch cast

into some far off field with little guidance,


those fleeting notes that warble

inside us to wilt beautifully or bellow.

Through the pass, we shall look

for your angel, beyond the coda,


beyond the trail of the pen, the sword

come down on all of us to the tune

of the trumpets, that brass music

promising to lead us into the sky.

– Dustin Pearson

ASU English, MFA in Creative Writing

Poetry, third-year


Links to Existing Poetry Related to St. Cecilia’s Day

Geoffrey Chaucer, “Second Nun’s Prologue” in The Canterbury Tales, tells the story of St Cecilia, 1373 

John Dryden, “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day,” 1687 

Christopher Smart, “Ode on St Cecilia’s Day,” 1770

“Sainte,” A poem by Stéphane Mallarmé, 1865, and first titled “Sainte Cécile jouant sur l’aile d’un chérubin” (Saint Cecilia Playing on an Angel’s Wing), in which the material image of a viola has faded from a stained-glass window but has been replaced, as shafts of light radiate from the setting sun, by immaterial images: first of the feathers of an angel’s wing and then, in a second mutation, by the strings of a harp on which the fingers of Saint Cecilia can create music, thus drawing sound from silence. (Poetry Foundation)

George Barker, “Ode Against St. Cecilia’s Day,” 1949

James Tate, “It Happens Like This,” 2003 

 Not St. Cecilia by Name But Relevant Literature

Susan Stewart, from “Lessons from Television,” 2003

Brigit Pegeen Kelly, “Black Swan,” 2010 

Rebecca Wolff, “Am I Special,” 2015 


Inspired to create your own poetry? Share your inspiration in the comment section below!

Explore the annotations (or add your own) to W. H. Auden’s Anthem to St. Cecilia Day

 Find out more about music inspired by St. Cecilia and #StCeciliasDay



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