From A Concise Treasury of Great Poems by Loius Untermeyer
5:46 PM


(1844 - 1881)

Arthur O’Shaughnessy is known for a single famous poem, and that one is never quoted in the form in which it was written. The “singer of the song” was born in London, March 14, 1844, and was employed in various clerical capacities by the British Museum; he ended up in its zoological department, where he specialized in ichthyology. O’Shaughnessy was, for a while, one of Rossetti’s undistinguished disciples. Frail in health, he rarely left his native city, had no experience outside of the books, and died of influenza in his thirty-seventh year.

Most of O’Shaughnessy’s poetry is facile, the kind of verse which is easier to write than to read. Even the continually reprinted ODE was once a garrulous string of verses. The anthologist F. T. Palgrave deserves at least part of the credit for the fame of the lines, Palgrave having cut down an overwritten poem of nine stanzas to an almost perfect three. It is Palgrave’s condensed version that is quoted, one of the most musical and most imaginative poems about poetry ever written.


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 greatest 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.

Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah



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