Tuesday, July 05, 2005

We are the music makers

    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 worl'd 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 an empire down.

    We, in the ages lying
    In the buried past of the earth,
    Built Nineveh with our sighing,
    And Babel itself with 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.W.E. O'Shaughnessy

A historical back ground about the phrase we are the music makers. In Arthur O'Shaughnessy's (1844-1881) poem and in particular the introduction in his ode to The Music Makers, he takes a look a group of cotemporaries in a personal and timeless reflection on the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood's outlook and their emphasis on the continuity of the artist's place in history.

The poets of Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood are sometimes referred to as Pre-Raphaelites. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a both a poet as well as a painter and the Pre Raphaelite crowd was the place to be. This group as a general rule also tended to be interested in poetry. Formed in London in 1848 by Rossetti it's members consisted of painters by the likes of William Holman Hunt and John Millais. It's purpose was as the name implies to restore to the art of painting the attention to detail that was found in Italian art before Raphael. Rossetti eventually became the center of a group of poets that included Coventry Patmore, William Morris, Rossetti's sister, Christina, Swinburne, and Austin Dobson. One of the last to drift into this group was a retiring herpetologist from the British Museum named Arthur O'Shaughnessy.

The motif of the poem, writes the Musical Times, "is the idea that the poets - the music makers and dreamers - are really the creators and inspirers of men and their deeds, and the true makers of history and human societies. Their dreams and their visions are the fore-shadowings of what the rest of mankind are predestined to work out in endless conflict: today is a realization of the dream of the generations past; tomorrow will bring into being the dream of today."

Composed sometime in 1870s The Music Makers is not only O'Shaughnessy's best, but is, because of its perfect blending of music and message, one of the immortal classics of verse. Always delicate in health, his hopes were dashed by periods of illness and an early death in London in 1881. O'Shaughnessy's work created a transition of time and place between the past loving Pre Raphaelites, whose influence began to decline in the 1870s, and the more future looking Aesthetic movement which reached its zenith in the late 1800s; and continues to define emphasis in artistic and poetic attitudes today.


O'Shaughnessy, Arthur William Edgar
May 28 2001

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
Accessed May 28 2001

Public Domain text from
The Poet's Corner
Accessed July 5 2005