A historical back ground about the phrase we are the music makers. In Arthur O'Shaughnessy's (1844–1881) poem and in particular the introduction in his ode to The Music Makers, he takes a look a group of cotemporaries in a personal and timeless reflection on the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood's outlook and their emphasis on the continuity of the artist's place in history.
The poets of Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood are sometimes referred to as Pre-Raphaelites. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a both a poet as well as a painter and the Pre Raphaelite crowd was the place to be. This group as a general rule also tended to be interested in poetry. Formed in London in 1848 by Rossetti it's members consisted of painters by the likes of William Holman Hunt and John Millais. It's purpose was as the name implies to restore to the art of painting the attention to detail that was found in Italian art before Raphael. Rossetti eventually became the center of a group of poets that included Coventry Patmore, William Morris, Rossetti's sister, Christina, Swinburne, and Austin Dobson. One of the last to drift into this group was a retiring herpetologist from the British Museum named Arthur O'Shaughnessy.
The motif of the poem, writes the Musical Times, "is the idea that the poets - the music makers and dreamers - are really the creators and inspirers of men and their deeds, and the true makers of history and human societies. Their dreams and their visions are the fore-shadowings of what the rest of mankind are predestined to work out in endless conflict: today is a realization of the dream of the generations past; tomorrow will bring into being the dream of today."
Composed sometime in 1870s The Music Makers is not only O'Shaughnessy's best, but is, because of its perfect blending of music and message, one of the immortal classics of verse. Always delicate in health, his hopes were dashed by periods of illness and an early death in London in 1881. O'Shaughnessy's work created a transition
of time and place between the past loving Pre Raphaelites, whose influence began to decline in the 1870s, and the more future looking Aesthetic movement which reached its zenith in the late 1800s; and continues to define emphasis in artistic and poetic attitudes today.
O'Shaughnessy, Arthur William Edgar:
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: