Movers and shakers. Who appears on your mindscreen when you hear that phrase? Corporate CEOs? Elected officials? Activist film stars? In other words, extroverts. Or at the very least, skilled extrovert emulators.
But if we look at the first verse of Ode, in which 19th century poet Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy coined that phrase, he seems to be describing an entirely different sort of person:
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.
Wandering alone in nature? World losing and forsaking? In other words, introverts. And what’s more, loners!
If you read the entire poem, which is much longer than most people realize, O’Shaughnessy goes on to describe in some detail the visionaries who inspire the actions of others behind the scenes, turning drudges to doers, ushering in the future.
Which is, no doubt, why extroverts co-opted the phrase. If you are skeptical that our 21st century world is extrovert-biased, consider O’Shaugnessy’s portrait of the instigators of change. He paints the actors as mere instruments of the passionate idealism which inspires them through story and song:
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 broken,
A light that doth not depart;
And his look, or a word he hath spoken,
Wrought flame in another man’s heart.
The oddness of this to the 21st century ear proves my point. But if you doubt the accuracy of it, try to imagine the 60s without music.
So let introverts everywhere celebrate the 170th birthday of the poet who immortalized the gift of introversion in its rightful aspect, as the brain trust and the spark of humankind. He died young, but we are still quoting him. ‘Nuf said.