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The Well Read Poem

Jun 14, 2021

Welcome to Season 3 of The Well Read Poem podcast. In this third season we will explore six lyric poems by the great English modernist W. H. Auden. The study of Auden’s poetry is in many respects a study of the 20th Century itself, and of its religious, philosophical, and political concerns. 

Auden was one of the great chroniclers of the so-called “Age of Anxiety,” a term he coined, and a brilliant and sympathetic analyst of modern man’s fears and hopes, beliefs and unbeliefs. Poem begins at timestamp 3:31.

Anthem for St. Cecilia’s Day, Part 1

By W. H. Auden

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.