Sunday, May 19, 2013

Poetry Sunday: Ozymandias


    The Kate Atkinson book that I read this week referred to Shelley's iconic poem Ozymandias. It served as a plot device related to one of her main characters and I was reminded that I had not read the poem in quite a while. So, I looked it up and read it and decided to feature it for this Poetry Sunday.

Ozymandias
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

    Shelley was supposedly inspired to write this poem by stories of archaeological finds in Egypt as a result of the Napoleonic expeditions there. In particular, there was a story of a giant broken statue found in the sands that had an inscription similar to the one he describes. Supposedly, it was a statue of Ramses II.

    Egypt's greatest pharoah died as all men do and in time his kingdom and all that he had accomplished fell into chaos. Still, many of his works did survive and we can look at them today and marvel. But he is a lesson for us. Our great works which we think will outlive us and maybe last forever seldom do. It is hubris to believe they will. The message of Shelley's poem is clear: Time is the destroyer of pride. Or, as someone famously said, in the long run, we are all dead.

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