There’s a bit in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—the 1971 version, with Gene Wilder—where that sweet, lovely child Veruca Salt looks down her nose at Mr. Wonka and says, “Snozzberry? Who ever heard of a Snozzberry?”
In reply, he takes her chin and says, very quietly, “We are the music-makers. And we are the dreamers of dreams.”
When I was a kid, watching the movie on tv,* I thought this was an example of the character’s random weirdness. It wasn’t until later that I realized what a straightforward answer it was.**
The lines are from a poem that was published in Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s 1874 collection, Music and Moonlight. Mr. O’Shaughnessy was a herpetologist with the British Museum at the time,*** and I can only imagine that one of his co-workers might have said, “Poetry? Who ever heard of a scientist writing poetry?”
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.
This poem answers a lot of questions. Or maybe just one: Why do you do what you do?
If this poem doesn’t answer that question for you, what on earth are you doing?
*Or at least the parts that didn’t scare the living crap out of me—and I know I’m not alone in that. Were the projections in the tunnel really necessary? It took me several tries, at a time where I had to wait for it to come around on regular television again—and yeah, I just dated myself pretty severely—just to get past the blueberry scene . . .
**And only a little later after that, my favorite English lit prof handed us this poem and asked us to speak aloud the first thing that came to mind and half the class said, “Willy Wonka!” and the other half said, “Snozzberries!”
***How cool is that? A few of his other poems—not the cheerful ones—show some snake imagery and some interesting rhythms.