Arthur O’Shaughnessy

1844-1881 [Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy]; b. London; worked in Museum as transcriber and became herpetologist in Zoology Dept. of British Museum; contrib. to Le Livre in French; friend of J. T. Nettleship, who also illustrated editions of Yeats’s poetry; translated Sully Prudhomme; published Epic of Women and Other Poems (1870); Lays of France (1873), and Music and Moonlight (1874); his Celtic “Ode” [infra] widely anthologised. CAB ODNB DBIV JMC

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William Alexander Percy, sel., The Poems of Arthur O’Shaugh[n]essy [1923] (rep. Greenwood Publications [1994]).

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See Irish Book Lover, Vol. 6.

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‘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 forever, 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 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.’

“Song: I Made Another Garden”

I made another garden, yea,
      For my new love;
I left the dead rose where it lay,
   And set the new above.
Why did the summer not begin?
   Why did my heart not haste?
My old love came and walked therein,
   And laid the garden waste.

She entered with her weary smile,
   Just as of old;
She looked around a little while,
   And shivered at the cold.

Her passing touch was death to all,
   Her passing look a blight:
She made the white rose-petals fall,
   And turned the red rose white.

Her pale robe, clinging to the grass,
      Seemed like a snake
That bit the grass and ground, alas!
   And a sad trail did make.
She went up slowly to the gate;
   And there, just as of yore,
She turned back at the last to wait,
   And say farewell once more.

“Song: Summer Has Come Without the Rose”
Has summer come without the rose,
   Or left the bird behind?
Is the blue changed above thee,
   O world! or am I blind?
Will you change every flower that grows,
   Or only change this spot,
Where she who said, I love thee,

   Now says, I love thee not?

The skies seemed true above thee,
   The rose true on the tree;
The bird seemed true the summer through,
   But all proved false to me.


“A Love Symphony”

A long the garden ways just now
   I heard the flowers speak;
The white rose told me of your brow,
   The red rose of your cheek;
The lily of your bended head,
   The bindweed of your hair:
Each looked its loveliest and said
   You were more fair.

I went into the wood anon,
   And heard the wild birds sing
How sweet you were; they warbled on,
   Piped, trilled the self-same thing.

Thrush, blackbird, linnet, without pause,
   The burden did repeat,
And still began again because
   You were more sweet.

And then I went down to the sea,
   And heard it murmuring too,
Part of an ancient mystery,
   All made of me and you.
How many a thousand years ago
   I loved, and you were sweet -
Longer I could not stay, and so
   I fled back to your feet.

—See “The Poets’ Corner” on The Other Pages - online [accessed 24.09.2010].


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Arthur Quiller Couch, ed., Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918 (new ed. 1929), 832-33; Irish Literature, ed. Justin McCarthy (Washington: University of America 1904), gives ‘Supreme Summer’, two Songs, and ‘The Fountain of Tears’.

John Cooke, ed., Dublin Book of Irish Verse 1728-1909 (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis 1909); selects “Ode” [as supra]; also “Song”; “At the Last” [‘My long-neglected shrine / Still holy, still mine’]; and “The Line of Beauty” [‘God become human and man grown divine’].

A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats (London: Macmillan 1984): ‘W. B. Yeats makes use of a stanza from “Music and Moonlight” to fortify a point in his essay on “The Symbolism of Poetry” (1900) [quotes]: “This is may what Arthur O’Shaughnessy meant when he made his poets say they had built Nineveh with their sighing; and I am certainly never sure when I hear of some war, or some religious excitement, or of some new manufacture, or anything that fills the ear of the world, that it has not all happened because of something that a boy piped in Thessaly.” (Essays and Introductions, 1961, pp.157-78). The stanza to which he refers includes the lines: “they [the poets] built Nineveh with their sighing ... For each age is a dream that is dying / Or one that is coming to birth.” [Music and Moonlight, 2]’. (Jeffares, op. cit., p.246; and see fuller quotation from Yeats in “Notes”, infra.)

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W. B. Yeats: ‘A little lyric evokes an emotion, and [157] this emotion gathers others about it and melts into their being in the making of some great epic [...] as one sees rings in the stem of an old tree. This is maybe what Arthur O’Shaughnessy mean twhen he made his poets say they had built Nineveh with their sighing; and I am certainly never sure, when I hear of some war, or some religious excitement, or of some new manufacture, or of anyuthing else that fills the ear of the worled, that it has not all happened becuase of something that a boy piped in Thessaly.’ (“The Symbolism of Poetry”, in Essays and Introductions, London: Macmillan 1961, pp.158-59.)

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