Ode by Arthur O’Shaughnessy

We are the music makers,

We are the dreamers of dreams…

“Music makers” and “dreamers” are symbols that speak to the heart and vibrancy of the human experience. Music and dreams give honour to our creative spirits, encouraging us to embrace the unknown with courage and expectancy. We are all artists.

With the words “movers and shakers” comes an awakening that we are part of the wider narrative. “Wandering by lone sea-breakers, And sitting by desolate streams” is a solitary existence. But to be a mover and shaker, we must act on our creativity. And that takes audacity, boldness, and perseverance.

These were the thoughts as I recited “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy. Winter was in the last stages when I walked the Vancouver Seawall and viewed the skyline and mountains from my vantage point. It was just a few weeks before lockdown. Today, the words “For each age is a dream that is dying, Or one that is coming to birth” have added strength and resonance. As we enter a new reality, may we become the movers and shakers that create positive outcomes for our families, friend and communities.

Vancouver, British Columbia

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 O’Shaughnessy’s Ode, published in 1873, has nine full stanzas, but only the first three are most known and quoted. While he was considered a “second rate” poet during his time, Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s words from “Ode” have been quoted many times beyond the works of his contemporaries. Somehow, history has a way of bringing out the truth.

Vancouver, British Columbia


  1. What a timely poem and such an inspired reading. I found the entire ode at the Poetry Foundation. It has a great feeling of adventure with the welcoming of new generations and new peoples from far off places. Some of the best lines are: “For each age is a dream that is dying, Or one that is coming to birth.” The last stanza of the complete poem is beautiful. I always enjoy your selections, especially from “unknown” poets, and of course your wonderful photography. These are quite dreamy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad that you enjoyed this post. What I found most interesting was what Arthur O’Shaughnessy did when he wasn’t writing poetry. He was a transcriber in the library of the British Museum and was given the post of a herpetologist in the museum’s zoological department. During his tenure, he described six new species of reptiles, and after his death, he was honoured in the specific name, “oshaughnessyI”. Who knew?!


  2. There is something about the words of this poem that reach the heart, I read it several times and enjoyed your reading. There is something about your voice that gives added depth. Thank you. I enjoyed Vancouver’s skyline. We live in a beautiful city. It is interesting to me that only the first three verses of the poem are well known–and the poet is better know than his contemporaries. Thank you! ! for sharing this poem!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was surprised by how his contemporaries felt about him. Very short-sighted indeed!! Which is a reminder to me to look more closely at art, poetry, books that may not be my first choice to begin with, but will end up as the ones I treasure the most.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I hadn’t encountered this poem or the poet before. Thank you for featuring him with a moving recitation. As As you say these words couldn’t be any more apt for the present day:
    For each age is a dream that is dying,
    Or one that is coming to birth.
    On the heels of this profound truth, your comments about O’Shaughnessy’’s reputation among his contemporaries as a “second-rate” poet reminds me once again of how limiting value-judgments of good or bad are when discussing writing and other forms of creative expression. The question shouldn’t be, Is it good or bad; the question should be, what does it do?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, how very very well said, Liz: “The question shouldn’t be, “is it good or bad; the question should be, what does it do.” I am very interested in the bio of O’Shaughnessy. His friends included Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Maddox Brown. He married Eleanor Marston, the daughter of author John Westland Marston and the sister of the poet Philip Bourke Marston. It was only after his death at 36, did the accolades come. His wife and two children preceded him – so he had a difficult life. His love for literature was his true passion. I’m so glad you enjoyed the recitation. I’m trying out Shakespeare next – I confess it is daunting.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m intrigued by the details you’ve provided about O’Shaughnessy’s life. How did you come to hear of him and his work?

        I enjoyed the two Shakespeare courses I took in college. If you take an immersive approach to reading his work, it shouldn’t take too long before the reading starts to feel natural.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I found the book “Voices & Poetry of Ireland” a few years ago. All the royalties from the books went to Focus Ireland, one of the leading charities in Ireland working with and for the homeless.” It is a brilliant collection and has an audio of recitations to go along with it. This is probably where the idea of reading poetry out-loud first came to me. “Ode” is the fourth poem, the first being “The Mystery” by Armergin, the Milesian prince or Druid who settled in Ireland hunts of years before Christ. Thank you for the encouragement re: Shakespeare! I continue to learn and learn and learn….

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I may have said this before, but I love Elgar’s setting of this poem in his work The Music Makers. I went to YouTube to find you a link to a suitable performance. Amazingly, this one, at the BBC Proms in 2004, is one in which I am singing as a member of the BBC Symphony Chorus. Thank you for stirring such happy memories! Xxx https://youtu.be/EixX7n3QAjg

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Liz, I listened to the entire piece – absolutely outstanding. I did not know that you were a member of the BBC Symphony Chorus. (I was looking for your face) I can only imagine the joy of being involved in the fabulous evening. I love the Proms. The mezzo soprano’s voice extraordinary as was her brief interview at the beginning. I am going to look more into Elgar. Arthur O’Shaughnessy understood the artist’s pivotal role as the foundation upon which to build our societies. We have talked about this concept before, and now, at this juncture in history, “Ode” is a call to action.

      Liked by 1 person

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