1.   About the Poet

Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy

Arthur William Edgar
O’Shaughnessy was a British poet of Irish descent who was born in London on
March 14,1844. He spent the outer portion of his minimal life of 36 years, from
the age of seventeen, in the service of the library as a transcribed in the Natural
History Department of the British Museum. A couple of years later, at the age
of nineteen, he became a herpetologist( someone who specializes in the concise
study of amphibians and reptiles).

However, his love for
literature supplanted everything. His inner life is expressed in four volumes
of verse- the ‘Epic of Women’(1870), ‘Lays of France’(1872), ‘Music andMoonlight’(1874) and ‘Songs of a Worker’ (published posthumously in 1881).

Arthur was associated
with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and especially Charles Swinburne of
Pre-Raphaelites. In a small comic limerick, which was posthumously published by
Michael Rossetti, D. G Rossetti describes his friend O’Shaughnessy as:

“There’s the Irishman
Arthur O’Shaughnessy

On the chessboard of
poets as pawn is here:

Though bishop Or  king

Would be rather the

According to
anthologist Francis Turner Palgrave, Arthur had “a haunting music all his own “

“We are the Music
Makers”  got published in 1873 under the
famous title ‘Ode’. This poem portrays a universal appeal towards the contribution
of the artists, musicians, writers, and others to the society. Finally, Edward
Elgar quotes ‘ The mainspring of O’Shaughnessy’s Ode is the sense of progress,
of never-ceasing change; it is the duty of the artist to see that this
inevitable change is progress.”


2. About the Poem


The  Ode, famously known by its very first line “
We are the Music Makers”  is the first
poem in the collection of O’Shaughnessy’s ‘Music and Moonlight’(1874). The line
has been reflected in many different media:

    a)    Spoken by Willy Wonka in ‘Charlie and The
Chocolate Factory’.

    b)    Used in the Aphex Twin song, “We are the Music
Makers” from the album Selected Ambient Works.


The motif of
O’Shaughnessy’s poem is the notion that the poets- the music makers and
dreamers-are the true makers of history and of human civilization. Their dreams
and their visions are the foreshadowings of what the rest of mankind are
predestined to work out in tireless conflict: to-day is the realisation of a
dream of generations of past; to-morrow will bring forth the dream of today.
This gives an indication of “The Good Morrow” 
of John Donne.

3. Structure of the poem


We are the music makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams; —

World-losers and world-forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties

We build up the world’s great cities,

And out of a fabulous story

We fashion an empire’s glory:

One man with a dream, at pleasure,

Shall go forth and conquer a crown;

And three with a new song’s measure

Can trample a kingdom down.

We, in the ages lying,

In the buried past of the earth,

Built Nineveh with our sighing,

And Babel itself in our mirth;

And o’erthrew them with prophesying

To the old of the new world’s worth;

For each age is a dream that is dying,

Or one that is coming to birth.

A breath of our inspiration

Is the life of each generation;

A wondrous thing of our dreaming

Unearthly, impossible seeming —

The soldier, the king, and the peasant

Are working together in one,

Till our dream shall become their present,

And their work in the world be done.

They had no vision amazing

Of the goodly house they are raising;

They had no divine foreshowing

Of the land to which they are going:

But on one man’s soul it hath broken,

A light that doth not depart;

And his look, or a word he hath spoken,

Wrought flame in another man’s heart.


The poem ‘We Are the
Music Makers’ is an Ode. An ode is a serious and dignified composition. It is
exalted in subject-matter and elevated in tone and style. The theme and its
treatment cannot be trivial or undignified. The poem follows a rhyme scheme
that adds to the musical note of the poem. According to anthologist Francis
Turner Palgrave, O’Shaughnessy had “a haunting music all his own”. The poem was
composed to chords in 1912 by Edward Elgar in his famous work entitled The
Music Makers. It follows the rhyme scheme ABABABAB in the first stanza,
followed by AABBCDCD in the second and lastly ABABABAB in the final stanza. The
various rhyming words in the poem such as makers, breakers, movers, shakers,
streams, ditties et al.add a rhythmic tone in the poem. The changing rhythm
conveys the change in the tone of the poetic voice.


Poetic persona-


Here, in the poem,
the speaker should not be identified with the poet. Although it is obvious that
the narrative of the poem is in the first person ‘we’- the collective voice of
the artists which gives the poem its universal appeal. Thus, the speaker
represents all the strata of creative personas- poets, musicians, painters,
artists, etc. who are the harbinger of creative rebellion in the otherwise
sombre society.

4.The theme of the poem


Appreciation of Art

The leading theme of
the poem is certainly an appreciation of art and bringing out its
transformative power through the form of poetry. The poem discusses two things;
the importance of arts and the pivotal role that artists play in this world to
bring about a blissful change. Their timeless and immortal workpieces not only
give positive vibes into the society but also help people come out of the
unimaginative, dull and monotonous existence. Thus, the poet puts them in the
highest pedestal and calls them almost immortal beings. Though art does not
cause any physical change, it acts as a goading cause for change. The artists
don’t practically get involved in the prevailing social cacophony, their art
makes them ‘movers’ and ‘shakers’. They plunge the society on the way of
progress and growth in the realm of ideas by shaking it from its stagnation and
slumber. The artists remain outside of the predestined societal norms and bring
about desirable changes in the world. Shakespeare’s Theseus recognizes the
power of the poet’s pen that “gives to airy nothing/A local habitation and a
name”. O’Shaughnessy makes it clear in his poem that fantasies of the artist
are not mere fantasies. Their fantasies, dreams, myths, and legends inspire
civilizations. They are to be seen as revolutionaries:


Yet we are the
movers and shakers

Of the World forever,
it seems


Their world of
imagination is conceived to be ‘Infinite and Eternal’ by William Blake, Percy.
.Shelley, John Keats, in fact, all the Romantic poets in one way or the other.


In the third stanza,
the poet has attributed saintly status to art by referring to biblical cities
of Babel and Nineveh which designates them as both creators and destroyers of
this human world through their angelic art form. Moreover, he has rejected the
concept of Aestheticism, which glorifies the idea that artist’s only the relationship is to his art itself, referring to the popular 19th-century
movement of art for art’s sake and that created the artists as the harbinger of
creative rebellions.

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