ODE – We are the Music Makers and We are the Dreamers of Dreams…


“We are the Music Makers and We are the Dreamers of Dreams…”

If you haven’t heard of the famous poem which featured this line, but it sounds familiar, that’s because it features a lot in popular culture. You may remember it from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) when Willy Wonka, played by Gene Wilder said these words. Here’s the clip…

“We are the Music Makers and We are the Dreamers of Dreams” was the first line in a wonderful poem published in 1874 by the late Arthur O’Shaughnessey called “Ode”. The first 3 stanzas of “Ode” are in wide circulation. However the full poem is actually 9 stanzas long and it’s certainly worth reading the whole poem in it’s entirety.


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.

Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy

Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy was a poet of Irish descent born in London to Irish parents. He was born March 1844 and died January 1881. “Ode” is the poem he is most remembered for and is so famous it has even been set to music. O’Shaughnessy sadly died very young at only 36 when walking home from the theatre one rainy night and getting a chill.

He began working in the British Museum age 17, first in the library then in the zoology department where he studied reptiles and was noted for apparently describing 6 new species. He never seemed suited to his day time role and his true calling was literature. By 1870 he had published his first volume of poetry called “Epic of Women”. His second volume was called “Lays of France” published in 1872.  “Music and Moonlight” was published in 1874 and it was this volume that contained his famous poem “Ode”.

“In Ode, Arthur O’Shaughnessy dedicates his work to the artists, the writers, the painters, the people who have lived in fantasy and built worlds outside the world. It is one of the most uplifting and hopeful poems about art that has been written, which makes it no surprise, then, that it is so often quoted in other works of art.”


Do you see yourself as a “Mover and Shaker”? O’Shaughnessy coined this phrase in “Ode”. It has come to mean a group of influential individuals who have the power to change the world and those who make great accomplishments in life. You may not see yourself as one of these people but one small ripple can make a mighty wave. In his poem he reminds us that we all have the power to be this even if we are “wandering by lone-sea breakers and sitting by desolate streams”.

Even though some associate “movers and shakers” with powerful elites, politicians, celebrity jet sets and material wealth, this was not his meaning of it. There’s a touch of the power of grass roots rising in his poem with “building up the worlds great cities, conquering a crown and trampling a kingdom”. The power is with the people here. And the power of one mans dream. A poetic creative man confined in a job that was likely not one of his dreams.

There is a rebellious spirit to this poem and it romanticises the artist as one who should be admired and esteemed, yet is relegated to being slightly outside society. It evokes a feeling that a world order might be overthrown for the less power driven to inherit the earth and artists be awarded a higher place. After all when politicians are long gone and battlefields of death lay deserted, great works of art stand immortal like beacons of hope celebrating life, vision and the power of imagination.

I could write a detailed analysis of what this poem means but the words really speak for themselves. I found a great analysis of the poem on www.poemanalysis.com with some interesting facts and historical background. It’s interesting to note that such a talented poet had his critics. Yet this poem is considered a masterpiece. He had fans in high places too. The Irish poet William Butler Yeats was an admirer of his work and O’Shaughnessy was one of his influences.

“The anthologist Francis Turner Palgrave in his work The Golden Treasury declared that of the modern poets, despite his limited output, O’Shaughnessy had a gift in some ways second only to Tennyson, and “a haunting music all his own.”


O’Shaughnessy did not marry until he was 30 and did not publish any poetry for the last 7 years of his life. His last volume of poetry “Songs of a Worker” was published after his death in 1881. By the time he had died at a tender age his wife and children had tragically already passed away before him, his two children dying as infants and his wife a few years before him. There is certainly a feeling of melancholia in his work and his father died when he was just 4 years old.

Arthur O’Shaughnessy will be remembered as a timeless poet and “Ode” will be remembered as a haunting poem that gives inspiration to artists, musicians, poets and dreamers across the globe. Like all great artists his writing came from the soul. His words still resonate today and remind us true art comes from the heart and is timeless, classless and capable of touching people when the creator has left the mortal world long behind. For me personally, I think it’s one of the best poems ever written.

“Ode’s” words echo from the past into the present and will carry on into the future such is the spiritual intensity and uplifting power of his verse. He was a dreamer of his time providing hope to dreamers now. His words remind us never to give up, to embrace our creativity and to inspire others.

“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”

Arthur OShaughnessy Ode

Willy Wonka Dreamer of Dreams gif


7 thoughts on “ODE – We are the Music Makers and We are the Dreamers of Dreams…

  1. I found the poem in an anthology and went on to read O’Shaughnessy’s collection Music And Moonlight, but I didn’t know he died so young. It’s good he hasn’t been completely forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such a beautiful name, Music and Moonlight. No he’s not been forgotten. Yet strangely he was a poet I only discovered in Adulthood. When you look into the lives of some famous artists, poets, composers etc some were very tragic. And yes some died young. Ode is a very timeless piece of writing.

      Liked by 1 person

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