(National Poetry Month, Day 21)

willy wonka

One of the most popular yearbook quotes (do they even make yearbooks any more?) in the 1990s, if I recall correctly, was “We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” Without exception, in the yearbooks I saw, it was attributed to Willy Wonka. (These were the days when the only cinematic Willy Wonka we knew was Gene Wilder; Johnny Depp was still just Edward Scissorhands.)

Only years later did I learn that it’s part of a poem, oh-so-creatively titled “Ode,” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy.

Does this shatter your illusion of the mysterious chocolate factory owner’s literary creativity? At least he had done his homework, even if he himself was not a poet.

But O’Shaughnessy certainly was a poet. Here’s the famous yearbook quote: this time, in context!

by Arthur O’Shaughnessy

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 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.

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