Sunday, December 30, 2012
I read Ozymandias
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818
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".
Recorded with my new microphone. Thanks Alb!
The ultimate Romantic poem. For the Romantics the wilderness symbolised spiritual freedom whilst ancient ruins declared the triumph of time and nature over human tyranny.
Shelley’s inspiration was the news of the excavation of a colossal head of Rameses II, for whom Ozymandias is an alternative name. This head would later be shipped to the British Museum, but Shelley never saw it. The ancient Egyptian king reigned 1279-1212 BC.
There are three characters: the traveller who gives the eyewitness account of the ruined sculpture - a kind of Ancient Mariner, though one gifted with brevity; Ozymandias; and the sculptor, whose work outlives the pharaoh. Russian poets, Carol Rumens tells us in a Guardian blog, used to have a saying that the poet outlives the tsar.
Shelley took "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" and the name Ozymandias from a well-known ancient Greek source, Diodorus Siculus. This information comes from John Rodenbeck “Travelers from an antique land: Shelley's inspiration for Ozymandias."
The poem’s haphazard rhyme scheme tends to conceal the fact it's a sonnet. Once you recognise it as one however, it's finality is even more final.