Thursday, 22 July 2010

Who were the original 'Movers and Shakers' ?

We love to call ourselves 'movers and shakers'. Perhaps you've been called one. It sounds very modern, doesn't it? The phrase that encapsulates these fast moving times. But did you know where it came from? 

An ode by British poet Arthur O'Shaughnessy - written in 1874 -  is the origin.

I first came across the poem reading The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as a teenager - my favourite companion through nights of insomnia, brought about by getting up at 1pm. But many people discover it through the original Willy Wonka film, where Gene Wilder's Wonker quotes the first two lines to uber brat Veruca Salt. So, let's begin...

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamer 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 an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of 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 breath of our inspiration,
Is the life of each generation.
A wondrous thing of our dreaming,
Unearthly, impossible seeming-
The soldier, the king, and the peasant
Are working together in one,
Till our dream shall become their present,
And their work in the world be done.

They had no vision amazing
Of the goodly house they are raising.
They had no divine foreshowing
Of the land to which they are going:
But on one man's soul it hath broke,
A light that doth not depart
And his look, or a word he hath spoken,
Wrought flame in another man's heart.

And therefore today is thrilling,
With a past day's late fulfilling.
And the multitudes are enlisted
In the faith that their fathers resisted,
And, scorning the dream of tomorrow,
Are bringing to pass, as they may,
In the world, for it's joy or it's sorrow,
The dream that was scorned yesterday.

But we, with our dreaming and singing,
Ceaseless and sorrowless we!
The glory about us clinging
Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing;
O men! It must ever be
That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,
A little apart from ye.

For we are afar with the dawning
And the suns that are not yet high,
And out of the infinite morning
Intrepid you hear us cry-
How, spite of your human scorning,
Once more God's future draws nigh,
And already goes forth the warning
That ye of the past must die.

Great hail! we cry to the corners
From the dazzling unknown shore;
Bring us hither your sun and your summers,
And renew our world as of yore;
You shall teach us your song's new numbers,
And things that we dreamt not before;
Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,
And a singer who sings no more.

From From Music and Moonlight (1874)
Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy
(14 March 1844 – 30 January 1881)


  1. There are some good lines there! And I had no idea that this is where the phrase comes from (that's my 'learn one new thing' for the day). But "cities" and "ditties"? Not sure I can forgive that...

  2. Thanks for the comments.

    I must admit I do love the first verse, and have had it memorised for about 20 years. I knew of the second, too, but only discovered the rest when researching this blog. So we're all learning something new here :)

  3. I can't believe you actually got me to read a poem all the way to the end, and on a Tuesday no less.

  4. You read to the end Jamie? Wow I am impressed! Now it's time for the 1200 word essay...


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