Summary of Ode “We are the Music Makers” by Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy

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About the Poet- Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy (14 March 1844 – 30 January 1881) was a British poet and herpetologist Of Irish descent, he was born in London. He is most remembered for his Ode, beginning with the words “We are the music makers, /And we are the dreamers of dreams”, which has been set to music several times. He published his first collection of poetry, Epic of Women, in 1870, followed two years later by Lays of France in 1872, and then Music and Moonlight in 1874. When he was 30, he married and did not produce any more volumes of poetry for the last seven years of his life. He died at only 36 from a “chill” after he walked home from the theater on a rainy night. His last volume, Songs of a Worker, was published posthumously in 1881.


About the Poem- 

“We are the music makers” is an ode by the British poet or Irish descent Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy. O’Shaughnessy was deeply influenced by French poetry, by the Pre-Raphaelite group and by Charles Swinburne. His first published collection of poetry was called “Epic of women” (1870), which was followed by “Lays of France” (1872) and “Music and moonlight” (1874) under which the first poem is the ode which is popularly known by its famous first line “We are the music makers”. This poem is a tribute to all creative artists in the world.

Summary of Ode “We are the Music Makers”

Stanza I

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.

The poet begins the poem by addressing all the artists like musicians, writers, painters and so on. He calls them “music-makers” and “dreamers of dreams”. He doesn’t mention a specific art form which gives the poem a universal appeal. Music offers the best escape routes from the harsh monotony of everyday life. The artists are capable of creating a world of their own where they can wander alone by the sea and ponder over things by the secluded stream. There is a sense of despondence in every artist which serves to feed the fire in them and shape their creativity into artistic works. The poet also brings into limelight the hard life of the artists who are often regarded as “losers” and “forsakers” by the society as they are often believed to be eccentric as they are beyond the reach of the society.. They suffer from loneliness and often there comes a point where all they have is their art as they do not pursue worldly pleasures. “The pale moon” is a symbol of the minimal income of the artists in our society. This also draws our attention to the poor artists who look for a good fortune or patrons to help them sell their art. However, even though the artists remain isolated and aloof from the mainstream society, they are the ultimate “movers and shakers”. This is exactly where the phrase “movers and shakers” originated. Artists are rebellious; they are capable of stirring powerful emotions in the minds of the people. Through their art, they can bring a change in the world.


Stanza II

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 an empire down.

In this stanza, the poet highlights the contributions of different artists to the world in the form of their creations. The immortal songs created by the musicians or the poets are capable of building new cities and civilizations in people’s minds. They inspire people to think and feel things that they otherwise don’t pay heed to. Similarly, a writer is capable of shaping a glorious empire through his fabulous stories. The artists are responsible for taking an empire to its artistic heights. An artist’s fantasy motivates people to “dream at pleasure”. Men are mortal but the works of art transcend the concept of time and space and create a lasting impact on the civilization. A man with a dream is fit to move forward and do something productive for the society. He can wear the crown of achievement. Artists can bring change in people’s mind and thought process by giving them the freedom to bring about a revolution for betterment. They are almost equated with the leaders of tomorrow for the kind of effect their works leave on the minds and souls of people.

Stanza III

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.

In this stanza, the poet tries to equate art with divinity as he alludes to the Biblical cities of Nineveh and Babel. Artists belong to all ages. The ancient city of Nineveh was built by the artists with was later abandoned and destroyed and was never built again.  The people of Babel were dedicated to build a tower so high that it reaches heaven. It is believed that Nineveh was created by artists out of distress whereas Babel was created out of joy. Nineveh and Babel are symbolic of an artist’s ability to destroy and create. Artists are capable of deconstructing the old world into a new world by their prophecy. The dreams of the artists allow them to achieve immortality in the world. Dreams and aspirations of each age is replaced by new dreams and aspirations of another. These are subjective concepts that help in making a change. Thus, the music makers of this world are the most precious gift to mankind who not only create art but also destroy it for a better tomorrow.

You can go through the analysis of Ode “We are the Music Makers”.

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